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September 16, 2020
New power plant effluent limitation guidelines finalized

The EPA announced final revisions to specific effluent guidelines and standards for “steam electric” power plants on August 31, 2020. The final rule leverages improved and less expensive pollution-control technologies and provides a more flexible implementation approach.

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The two wastestreams from steam electric plants are impacted by this final rule, as are flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater and bottom ash (BA) transport water.

“Only those coal fired power plants that discharge bottom ash transport water or FGD wastewater may incur compliance costs under the 2020 final rule,” according to the EPA. The Agency “estimates that 75 plants may incur compliance costs under the final rule, in an industry population of 914 plants.”

According to the EPA, the new rule will save the U.S. power sector approximately $140 million annually while reducing pollution by nearly a million pounds per year over the 2015 rule.

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

“President Trump and his Administration understand that protecting our water quality doesn’t have to destroy jobs and raise electric rates,” said U.S. Congressman David McKinley (R-WV). “These revisions to the Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines will actually reduce more pollution … while reducing compliance costs and allowing for more flexibility.”

Key changes to the 2015 rule include:

  • Changing the technology basis for treatment of FGD wastewater and BA transport water
  • Establishing new compliance dates
  • Revising the voluntary incentives program for FGD wastewater
  • Adding subcategories for high-flow units, low-utilization units, and those that will cease the combustion of coal by 2028 and finalizing requirements that are tailored to facilities in these subcategories


The Clean Water Act (CWA) grants the EPA regulatory authority to establish guidelines to various industrial wastewater dischargers. These are known as Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Pretreatment Standards (ELGs); these regulations are technology-based and protect public health and the environment by limiting wastewater discharges into surface waters and wastewater treatment plants.

The EPA previously issued a rule establishing new ELGs for U.S. steam electric power plants in 2015. At that time, the new guidelines were the subject of some legal challenges, and the EPA received two administrative reconsideration petitions, including one from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy. In response, the EPA agreed to reconsider the ELGs for two wastestreams 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.

As per regulatory requirements, the EPA received comments and considered a variety of data in the process of developing the new final rule.

To learn more about the EPA’s final Steam Electric ELG Reconsideration rule, see: https://www.epa.gov/eg/2020-steam-electric-reconsideration-rule.

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