Water Quality: EPA Sued Over Power Plant Effluent Guidelines
By Amena H. Saiyid

Nov. 20 — Union Electric Co. and a coalition of power utilities are challenging the Environmental Protection Agency's recently promulgated effluent limits to regulate discharges of selenium, zinc, arsenic and other toxic chemicals from about 1,080 power plants (Union Elec. Co. v. EPA, 8th Cir., 15-03658, 11/19/15).

The EPA published the final effluent guidelines for power plants Nov. 8 that mostly affect coal-fired power plants and natural gas and nuclear power plants to a lesser extent (80 Fed. Reg. 68,838).
Since the agency released the revised guidelines (RIN 2040-AF14), groups representing the power plants accused it of underestimating the cost of complying with the rule (2015 WLPM 44, 11/5/15).

The EPA estimated an annual average industrywide cost of about $480 million for designing, building and installing pollution controls and associated infrastructure to comply with the rule.

Harry M. “Pete” Johnson III, an attorney based in the Richmond, Va., office of Hunton & Williams LLP, filed the petition for review Nov. 19 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on behalf of Union Electric and the Utility Water Act Group.

The Utility Water Act Group represents the three main national groups representing investor-owned utilities, rural utilities and publicly owned utilities: the Edison Electric Institute, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), and the American Public Power Association. UWAG is scheduled to file its brief Dec. 29, with a response brief expected 30 days later.

Johnson didn't return calls seeking comment.

Tracy K. Warren, spokeswoman for NRECA, told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 19 that the group, speaking for itself only, had concerns about compliance costs that are based on erroneous modeling by the EPA. But she stopped short of commenting on the specifics of the petition.

Lawsuit: First Step in Long Process
“Filing this suit is the first step in a long process to determine which appeals court will hear the case. In the meantime, NRECA and the affected co-ops will be figuring out what the new guidelines require, how to comply and, in particular, how the effluent limitation guidelines intersect with new standards for coal ash disposal,” Warren said.
The final effluent guidelines require power plants to use a suite of controls to manage discharges of arsenic, selenium, nitrates, mercury, zinc and other pollutants from power plants.

Among those controls are chemical and biological technologies to treat wastewater generated by wet scrubbers, units to curb sulfur oxide emissions from burning coal. The rule also requires that power plant owners and operators use dry handling of fly ash and bottom ash to eliminate the potential for pollution from the wastewater containing either form of ash.

The rule would regulate wastewater associated with flue gas desulfurization, fly ash, bottom ash, flue gas mercury control, combustion residual leachate from landfills and surface impoundments, nonchemical metal cleaning wastes and gasification of fuels such as coal and petroleum coke.

To contact the reporter on this story: Amena H. Saiyid in Washington at asaiyid@bna.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com
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