On August 31, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final rule to roll back regulations issued under the Obama Administration for wastewater coming from coal-fired power plants, discharges that can contain high levels of toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic, nitrogen and selenium. The final rule, known as the Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELGs), also extends the timeline for power plants to comply. The ELGs goes into effect 60 days after publication in the federal register, which has yet to occur.
Compared to the 2015 rule, the ELGs loosens restrictions on the level of pollutants power plants can release into nearby waterways. Specifically, the final rule would set a daily maximum limit on selenium at 76 micrograms per liter, compared to 23 micrograms per liter, and sets the monthly average at 31 micrograms per liter, compared to 12 micrograms per liter. Additionally, the final rule allows power plants to use a shorter biological treatment process, which causes higher levels of selenium levels.
Counties with coal-fired power plants are most affected by the rule. NACo supports federal policy, after consultation with county governments, that prescribes realistic maximum limits for contaminants. NACo believes the federal government should adopt clear federal policies and regulations that allow flexibility to state and local governments to implement programs that will protect public health balanced with environmental and economic impacts.