Update federal rules protecting water

While power plants are supposed to stay within strict limits on the amount of pollutants they release into the air, rules intended to safeguard streams and lakes are much less restrictive. They have not been updated at the federal level in more than 30 years.

That is far too long, given the fast pace of changing technology.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials are proposing new water pollution standards for power plants. Reportedly, they will include the first-ever limits on some pollutants discharged into waterways.

Four alternatives are being considered by the EPA. Estimates are that, depending on which option is selected, the new limits could reduce the amount of toxins flowing into streams and lakes by as much as 2.6 billion pounds a year.

Utility company analysts are examining the proposals. At some point the industry will take a position on the EPA’s set of alternatives.

While the EPA is trying to enforce restrictions and enact new rules for coal-fired power plants’ air pollution, it appears the agency is not doing enough to safeguard water. It also seems that most states lack adequate water pollution standards for power plants.

Some new limits already are in the pipeline. Still, new limits on discharges into waterways appear to be long overdue. A reasonable set of standards – adequate to safeguard streams and lakes without burdening electric customers unduly – should be devised and enforced.