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Cleaning Up Power Plant Water Pollution

A power plant located next to a waterway.

Power plants are the biggest sources of water pollution in the country. Power plant water discharges are filled with toxic pollution such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Photo

Overview

Power plant water discharges are filled with toxic pollution such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and selenium—heavy metals that can cause neurological and developmental damage, cause harm in utero, damage internal organs and cause cancer. Power plants are the biggest sources of water pollution in the country, yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not reviewed regulations for this industry in more than 30 years. To address this unacceptable delay, environmental groups, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in 2010 to force the EPA to take action and regulate this dirty industry.

In April of 2013, the EPA proposed a number of regulatory options, known as steam electric effluent limitation guidelines for power plants, two of which will finally clean up water pollution from hundreds of power plants.

Case Updates

February 10, 2017 | In the News: Associated Press

On The Effluent Rule

Thomas Cmar, Staff Attorney, Coal Program: "The rules were essentially establishing a standard that was many years overdue, and I think the industry has quickly adopted it because they've recognized that [failure to address the coal ponds] is a practice that needs to end. This is a significant liability for these plants."

September 30, 2015 | Blog Post

EPA Updates 30-Year-Old Water Quality Standards

After 30-plus years of inaction, the EPA recently issued requirements that power plants use affordable, state-of-the-art technologies to reduce their pollution—or eliminate it where feasible.