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Water: Steam Electric

Proposed Effluent Guidelines for the Steam Electric Power Generating Category

Photo of a power plant

EPA is proposing to amend the effluent limitations guidelines and standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating category (40 CFR Part 423). A proposed rule was published on June 7, 2013. The public comment period closed on September 20, 2013.


Steam electric power plants contribute over half of all toxic pollutants discharged to surface waters by all industrial categories currently regulated in the United States under the Clean Water Act. For example, steam electric plants annually discharge:

  • 64,400 lb. of lead
  • 2,820 lb. of mercury
  • 79,200 lb. of arsenic
  • 225,000 lb. of selenium
  • 1,970,000 lb. of aluminum
  • 4,990,000 lb. of zinc
  • 30,000,000 lb. of nitrogen
  • 682,000 lb. of phosphorus
  • 14,500,000 lb. of manganese
  • 158,000 lb. of vanadium; and
  • 27 other pollutants.

  • Discharges of these toxic pollutants are linked to cancer, neurological damage, and ecological damage. Many of these toxic pollutants, once in the environment, remain there for years. These pollutant discharges contribute to: 

    • over 160 water bodies not meeting state quality standards
    • 185 waters for which there are fish consumption advisories; and
    • degradation of 399 water bodies across the country that are drinking water supplies.

    The proposed rule would strengthen the existing controls on discharges from these plants. The proposal sets the first federal limits on the levels of toxic metals in wastewater that can be discharged from power plants, based on technology improvements in the industry over the last three decades.

    The proposal identified four preferred regulatory options that differ in the number of waste streams covered, size of the units controlled, and stringency of controls. Annually, EPA projects different levels of costs and pollutant reductions associated with these preferred options:

    • Compliance costs range from $185 million and $954 million
    • Pollutant reductions range from 0.47 billion to 2.62 billion pounds.


    You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.


    EPA conducted a webcast on August 20, 2013, which provided an overview of the proposed rule, and answers to questions submitted by participants. 

    Background Information

    Rulemaking Docket

    Documents related to this rulemaking can be found at EPA’s on-line docket website at regulations.gov. The Docket Number is EPA-HQ-OW-2009-0819.

    Under a consent decree entered into in Defenders of Wildlife v. EPA, No. 10-cv-01915 (D.D.C.), and since revised, EPA and plaintiffs have agreed to amend the consent decree to extend the schedule for EPA to complete its final rulemaking pertaining to revisions of the Steam Electric Effluent Guidelines. Under this agreement, EPA agrees to sign a decision taking final action on the rulemaking by September 30, 2015. The additional time will allow EPA to respond to the large volume of public comments received on the rule.

    For further information

    For additional technical information in the proposed Steam Electric Power Generating effluent guidelines, please contact Jezebele Alicea-Virella  (alicea.jezebele@epa.gov) or 202-566-1755. For economic information please contact James Covington (covington.james@epa.gov) or 202-566-1034.

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