The proposed rules will go through a 60-day public comment period. The EPA must finalize the rules by May 22, 2014.
The measures will likely attract challenges from industry and Republicans who have opposed regulations affecting coal-fired power plants issued through the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
The agency said those pollutants have been linked to neurological and circulatory damage, as well as cancer and kidney and liver problems.
The American Public Health Association applauded the department's move.
“Toxic heavy metals have no place in our drinking water or on our dinner plate,” Georges Benjamin, the group’s executive director, said in a Friday statement.
The EPA estimated the rules would slash pollutant discharges by 470 million to 2.62 billion pounds annually. It also projected the measures would save 50 billion to 103 billion gallons of water each year.
That earned the plaudits of the Sierra Club, which called the proposed rules a “strong step toward putting an end to the coal industry’s dumping of toxic waste.”
Under the proposed rules, affected power plants would choose between four "preferred options" for pollution control. Those choices would depend on various factors, such as the size of the units.
The EPA said the requirements would not burden most power plants, as “many power plants already have the technology and procedures in place to meet the proposed pollution control standards.”
The agency said it would align the proposed rules with one it is considering for coal ash, a byproduct of coal burned in electricity generators.
Industry, Republicans and centrist Democrats have cautioned the EPA on coal ash regulations. They say coal ash is a vital material in roads and construction, and that the department would harm those markets if it lists coal ash as a hazardous waste.