While power plants must 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. In all likelihood, new equipment installed by some coal-fired power plants to meet air pollution standards has affected what they dump into streams and lakes - and possibly groundwater.
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 has proposed restrictions and new rules affecting coal-fired power plants and 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, however. For example, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., has introduced a bill regarding coal ash generated by power plants. It would include provisions relating to water pollution from that waste byproduct.
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.