Critique of EPA’s Failure to Quantify and Monetize Health and Economic Benefits of Cleaner Source and Drinking Water

September 19, 2013
Lynn Thorp

The 5.5 billion pounds of pollution that power plants discharge into our rivers, lakes, and streams each year places a heavy burden on our drinking water resources. Many of the pollutants discharged by power plants, including arsenic, mercury, lead, bromide, and nitrogen, have long been identified as contaminants that pose serious health risks when present in tap water or which complicate drinking water treatment. Nearly 40% of power plants discharge this dangerous pollution within 5 miles of an intake for a public water system. Eighty-five percent of power plants are located within 5 miles of a public well.

The record for the rulemaking to revise the Effluent Limitation Guidelines and New Source Performance Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category (Steam Electric ELGs) demonstrates that power plant discharges contaminate source waters, which Public Water Systems are responsible for treating to meet federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards. EPA notes that “[a]lthough many of the pollutants (e.g., selenium, mercury, arsenic, nitrates) in the evaluated waste streams would likely be reduced to safe levels during drinking water treatment, these pollutants could potentially impact the effectiveness of the treatment processes, which increase public drinking water treatment costs.” Yet EPA doesn’t quantify or monetize benefits arising from reduced drinking water treatment costs or better health as a result of cleaner source waters.