The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will delay implementation of an Obama administration regulation power companies feared could force more coal-fired power plants to shut down.
EPA will give power plant operators an extra two years to comply with effluent limitations guidelines and standards, which force utilities to install more wastewater treatment equipment.
“Today’s final rule resets the clock for certain portions of the agency’s effluent guidelines for power plants, providing relief from the existing regulatory deadlines while the agency revisits some of the rule’s requirements,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement.
EPA put the effluent rule under review in April in response to a petition from the Utility Water Act Group (UWAG). UWAG said the rule would “cause negative impacts on jobs due to the excessive costs of compliance – which were grossly underestimated by EPA – and regulatory burdens forcing plant closures.”
Utilities warned the effluent rule could cost them up to $2.5 billion a year. EPA, however, estimated the rule would cost utilities $480 million, but would yield $500 million in public health benefits.
Environmentalists say the guidelines are necessary to protect waterways from pollution. Utilities, on the other hand, say EPA withheld information in the rulemaking and oversold the effectiveness of their technology mandates.
“Power plants are by far the largest offenders when it comes to dumping deadly toxics into our lakes and rivers,” Thomas Cmar, a lawyer with Earthjustice, told the AP in August.
The Obama administration finalized the effluent guidelines in 2015, but they went into effect in January 2016. Utilities have challenged the rule’s legality in court and petitioned EPA to reconsider the rule.
Pruitt notified utilities and the Small Business Administration last month that EPA would issue a rule to revise the effluent guidelines. Environmentalists were furious.
“It’s hard to believe that our government officials right now are so beholden to big business that they are willing to let power plants continue to dump lead, mercury, chromium and other dangerous chemicals into our water supply,” Cmar said.
While many in the coal industry have worried about climate regulations, the most onerous rules for power plants have dealt with traditional pollutions.
For example, EPA’s rule to limit mercury emissions cost around $10 billion. Unsurprisingly, the biggest wave of coal plant closures occurred in 2015 when the mercury rule went into effect.
Industry officials worried effluent guidelines and other rules could result in more coal plants shutting down.
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