New Regulations Proposed for Coal Ash
Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the EPA has proposed a rule that would regulate coal combustion residuals (CCR) for the first time.
CCRs, commonly known as coal ash, are residues captured from the combustion of coal at power plants and are typically disposed of at large surface impoundments in liquid (wet or slurried) form and at landfills in solid (dry) form. CCRs are currently considered exempt wastes under an RCRA amendment.
The EPA is considering two possible regulatory options for coal ash management. Both proposed approaches would leave in place exemptions for beneficial uses of coal ash.* The main differences between the two proposals involve implementation and enforcement.
- Under the first proposal, the EPA would reverse its 1993 and 2000 Bevill Regulatory Determinations and list these residuals as special wastes subject to regulation under subtitle C of RCRA. This would include the generator and transporter requirements and the requirements for facilities managing CCRs, such as siting, liners (with modification), run-on and run-off controls, groundwater monitoring, fugitive dust controls, financial assurance, corrective action (including facility-wide corrective action), closure of units, and post-closure care (with certain modifications). In addition, facilities that dispose of, treat, or store CCRs would also be required to obtain permits for the units in which such materials are disposed of, treated, and stored. The rule would further regulate the disposal of CCRs in sand and gravel pits, quarries, and other large fill operations like landfills.
- Under the second proposal, EPA would leave the Bevill determination in place and regulate disposal of such materials under subtitle D of RCRA by issuing a national minimum criterion. The units would be subject to, among other things, location standards; composite liner requirements; groundwater monitoring and corrective action standards for releases from the unit; closure and post-closure care; and requirements to address the stability of surface impoundments. Under this rule new landfills and surface impoundments would require composite liners, while existing surface impoundments without liners would have to retrofit within five years or cease receiving CCRs and close. The rule would also regulate the disposal of CCRs in the same way as the first proposal described above; however, the rule would not regulate the generation, storage or treatment of CCRs prior to disposal. Because of the limited scope of subtitle D authority, the rule would not require permits, nor could the EPA enforce the requirements. Instead, states would be expected to enforce the requirements under RCRA citizen suit authority, as well as under their independent state enforcement authority.
The contaminants in CCRs that cause the most environmental concern are antimony, arsenic, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, and thallium, most of which are of known carcinogens and can cause serious neurological and developmental defects. Without proper protection, these contaminants can leach into groundwater and migrate to sources of drinking water.
Currently, the EPA estimates that there are 300 CCR landfills and 629 CCR surface impoundments across the US. More information about the proposed regulations may be obtained by visiting www.epa.gov/coalashrule or searching the federal register for docket # EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640.
* “Beneficial use” refers to use of material that provides a functional benefit, in which the material is recycled as product components instead of placed in impoundments or landfills.
Tags: antimony, arsenic, ash, barium, beryllium, bevill, cadmium, carcinogen, ccr, coal, coal combustion residuals, combustion, environmental protection agency, EPA, groundwater, impoundments, landfill, lead, Mercury, nickel, power plants, RCRA, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, selenium, silver, Subtitle C, Subtitle D, thallium, USEPA