Four Major EPA Air and Water Rules Forthcoming Through May, Agency Schedule Shows

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates final regulations curbing greenhouse gas (GHG), mercury, and air toxics emissions from new sources could appear in the Federal Register by the end of April. Also forthcoming are final cooling water intake rules and proposed effluent guidelines. The coal ash rule, which has no target date for a final rule, may not be issued this year, the agency said.

A list of forthcoming rules on the EPA’s website projects the final Greenhouse Gas New Source Performance Standard for Electric Generating Units for New Sources could be published by the end of March. The rule establishes carbon dioxide standards for certain new and reconstructed coal and gas generators, limiting emissions to 1,000 pounds/MWh.

The final rule stemming from a reconsideration of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) as it applies to new sources is expected in April. The reconsidered proposal was issued last November, after petitioners raised concerns associated with measurement issues related to mercury and the data set to which the variability calculation was applied when establishing the new source standards for particulate matter and hydrochloric acid.

Proposed effluent guidelines that would curb pollutant discharges into U.S. waters from about 1,200 nuclear, coal, gas, and oil power plants are also expected in April. The proposal stems from a 2009-completed study in which the EPA found current rules, last updated in 1982, don’t adequately address pollutants discharged from ash ponds and flue gas desulfurization air pollution controls, as well as other power plant waste streams.

And this May—earlier than expected—the EPA projects it will publish its final rule under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act that governs the location, design, construction, and capacity of cooling water intake structures from generators, mandating that they are installed with the best technology available for minimizing environmental impacts. Settlements with environmental groups have forced the EPA to sign a notice taking final action on the proposed rule no later than June 27, 2013.

Responding to consolidated litigation brought last October by several interest groups that are seeking to force the agency to issue a final coal ash rule, the EPA recently acknowledged that "it may be before the end of the year before a final rule is announced," lawyers at Burr & Forman said. The EPA issued a proposed rule on June 21, 2010, in which it outlined two approaches: One would regulate combustion residuals under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) as a "special waste" and one would regulate these wastes under Subtitle D of RCRA as a nonhazardous waste. The EPA’s timeline notes that the final rule was sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in March 2012, but it has no projected publication date for the final rule.

For an infographic on several major air and water rules faced by generators in the U.S., see “THE BIG PICTURE” in POWER‘s October 2012 issue.

Sonal Patel is POWER’s senior writer (@POWERmagazine, @Sonalcpatel).

This article was first published in POWERnews March 14.

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