By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
Federal environmental regulators have proposed a range of options designed to reduce toxic pollutants discharged by certain power plants close to waterways.
The proposals were made in accordance with a consent order issued in a lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The standards would be phased in between 2017 and 2022.
Power plants that generate electricity with steam — like OG&E’s Muskogee plant — could be affected by the regulations being proposed. They update Clean Water Act standards that have been in place since 1982 and incorporate technological improvements developed by the industry during the past three decades.
Steam-electric power plants account for more than half of all toxic pollutants discharged into America’s streams, rivers and lakes. Discharges from these plants often include mercury, arsenic, lead and selenium, pollutants that have been linked to neurological damage, cancer and damage to the circulatory system, kidneys and liver.
Toxic heavy metals like those targeted by the proposed rules do not break down in the environment. The accumulation of the pollutants contribute to the contamination of waterway sediments, impacting aquatic life and wildlife.
EPA officials estimate the rules would reduce discharges by 470 million to 2.62 billion pounds a year. They also would reduce water use by 50 billion to 103 billion gallons annually.
The EPA estimates most coal-fired power plants would incur no additional costs as a result of the proposed standards. But industry representatives were hesitant to accept that assessment as gospel.
Brian Alford, an OG&E spokesman, said the company is assessing the potential impact if the regulations are implemented as written.
“The short answer is that we don’t know the full impact at this point — these new regulations are very complex and are contained in more than 500 pages,” Alford said. “We, along with others in the industry, will be reviewing the regs to understand how they may impact customers and our business.”
Jenna Garland, deputy press secretary for the Sierra Club’s southeast and south central divisions, said the organization “supports this important new safeguard.”
“More than half of all toxic water pollution in the U.S. comes from coal plants, and currently four out of five coal-fired power plants have no limits on the amount of toxics they’re allowed to dump into our water ways” Garland said. “The Sierra Club will submit expert comments on the proposed rule, and we will also work with our nationwide membership to submit public comments supportive of the proposed safeguard.”
The proposed rules, Garland said, are another reason why electric utilities like OG&E should phase out coal as an energy source. She said replacing coal “with new, cleaner generation like Oklahoma wind” would eliminate or substantially reduce discharges of toxic pollutants and keep “our hard-earned dollars in Oklahoma.”
The public comment period on the proposed rule will be open for 60 days after the proposed rule is published in the Federal Register. The agency is under a consent decree to take final action by May 22, 2014.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rules proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the discharge of toxic pollutants from certain power plants into waterways and information about filing comments may be viewed here: water.epa.gov/scitech/wastetech/guide/steam-electric/upload/steam_prepub.pdf