EPA Announces New Final Rule on Power Plant Discharges

On September 30, the EPA released a new final rule that will impact over 1,080 gas, coal, and nuclear power plants – as well as any new plants that come online – when it comes to power plant discharges and ash handling.

The rule, a modification for existing regulation 40 CFR Part 423, establishes new controls to regulate discharges from power plants that are associated with wastewater, fly ash, bottom ash, flue gas mercury, flue gas desulfurization, nonchemical metal cleaning wastes, combustion residual leachate, and gasification of fuels.

Beginning on January 1, 2018, existing power plants will be required to adopt technologies designed to better administer dry handling of fly ash and bottom ash. For new plants brought online after that date, the regulations will be stricter; for example, dry handling of fly ash and bottom ash will be required, but there will be more stringent limits on flue gas scrubbers.

Ash Handling Technology Under the Rule

The rule in its final form stipulates that meeting the terms of the regulation can be completed by making use of ash handling technology that is best available today and is economically achievable. Many power plants across the country are already making use of advanced ash handling techniques using existing technology, which makes it more likely that plants will be able to comply once the deadline has come and gone.

Of course, some in the industry are calling out the ruling for placing more of a burden on existing facilities, noting that the rule will “force technological and operational changes at existing facilities”, according to Quin Shea, the Edison Electric Institute’s vice president for environment.

While it is true that existing power plants will face the brunt of the ruling – future power plants in the planning stages are already being designed with advanced ash handling technology in mind – the shift is largely one that has already been initiated even prior to the ruling, based on the EPA’s recent drive to improve ash handling and power plant discharges in general.

Environmental Support and Costs

Environmental supporters are mostly in favor of the new rule. While they wish the timeframe for compliance was longer – plants have until 2023 to comply – they applaud the decision to force plants toward dry ash handling, which will cut down on waste by a significant amount.

The EPA estimates the annual compliance costs at $480 million, with benefits at $463 million. The agency estimates that toxic pollutants will be reduced by 1.4 billion pounds per year, with withdrawals of roughly 57 billion gallons of water.

For more information on adapting a power plant to dry ash handling, contact ProcessBarron today.