On August 31, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced final revisions to specific effluent guidelines and standards for steam electric power plants, which limits wastewater discharges into surface waters and wastewater treatment plants. The final rule revised a 2015 former President Barack Obama-era regulation by taking a more flexible, phased-in implementation approach.

The final rule revises requirements for two waste streams from steam electric power plants: flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater and bottom ash (BA) transport water.

The new rule changes the technology-basis for treatment of FGD wastewater and BA transport water; establishes new compliance dates; revises the voluntary incentives program for FGD wastewater; and adds subcategories for high-flow units, low-utilization units and those that will cease the combustion of coal by 2028 and finalizes requirements that are tailored to facilities in these subcategories.

Power plants now have until the end of 2025 to comply with the new rule. The EPA also established the voluntary incentive program where power plants have until 2028 to comply if they adopt additional process changes and controls that achieve more stringent limitations on pollutants. Coal plants that will close, repower or switch to natural gas by 2028 are exempt.

According to the EPA, the new rule will save the U.S. power sector approximately $140 million annually.

“EPA’s revised steam electric effluent guidelines shows President Trump’s commitment to advancing American energy independence and protecting the environment,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “Newer, more affordable pollution control technologies and flexibility on the regulation’s phase-in will reduce pollution and save jobs at the same time.”

The agency considered input from a variety of stakeholders in developing the final rule and considered a wide range of data, information, and stakeholder input. The agency said it also updated its industry profile based on more recent data, conducted a limited information request, and collected voluntarily-provided sampling data.

In 2015, the EPA issued a rule that established new ELGs for the nation’s steam electric power plants. That rule was subject to legal challenge and the agency received two petitions for administrative reconsideration, including one from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. In response, the EPA agreed to reconsider the ELGs for two waste streams and undertook a rulemaking that changed the earliest compliance date in the 2015 rule from November 1, 2018, to November 1, 2020, to allow for reconsideration of the regulatory provisions.