After Four Years of Consideration, EPA Finalizes Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities Rule

In December 2014, the EPA finalized a rule that nationally establishes minimum criteria for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCRs) in landfills and surface impoundments. The rule establishes requirements for both existing and new CCR landfills and surface impoundments, including lateral expansions of any existing unit (expansions of existing landfills).

What are CCRs?

CCRs are generated from the combustion of coal for the purpose of producing power. CCRs include fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization materials. CCRs are one of the largest industrial waste streams generated in the United States. In 2012, more than 470 coal-fired electric utilities burned more than 800 million tons of coal, generating approximately 110 million tons of CCR.

Key Details

  • The final rule regulates ash as a solid waste under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA), rather than more restrictive hazardous waste under subtitle C of RCRA
  • The rule applies only to CCR impoundments located at active generating stations (i.e., those that generate electricity). CCR impoundments located at generating stations that are closed are outside of the scope of this rule
  • The compliance requirements of the new rule include the following:
    • Periodic inspections of CCR surface impoundments for minimum structural integrity requirements
    • Installation of monitoring equipment to detect the presence of hazardous constituents
    • Restrictions of CCR unit placement in wetlands, fault areas, seismic impact zones, and unstable areas
    • Minimum criteria for liner design to help prevent contaminants in CCRs leaching from the impoundment and contaminating the groundwater
    • Controls to stop fugitive dust, erosion, and water discharges
    • Publicly available documentation to verify CCR unit compliance with the rule
    • Closure of CCR impoundments that fail to meet new engineering and structural standards
  • The rule does not apply to CCR impoundments that are beneficially used to produce products such as cement and wallboard
  • Rule enforcement is partially delegated to the states and does not preclude a state from adopting more stringent requirements

Implications

The rule provides the communities impacted by the disposal of CCRs sufficient information about how CCRs are to be managed in their state, providing some degree of transparency with the compliance process. The rule also provides some certainty to power producers in managing the treatment of CCRs, but it is unclear whether compliance with the new federal requirements will provide a legal shield from civil suits. Electric utilities and independent power producers will need to work with their state regulators to ensure compliance with minimum state requirements and determine whether additional investments in equipment or infrastructure in their CCR landfills are needed.

More Information

EPA: http://www2.epa.gov/coalash/coal-ash-rule

The ScottMadden Energy Industry Update: http://www.scottmadden.com/insight/828/the-scottmadden-energy-industry-update-winter-2015.html

This report is part of the Fossil Minute series. To view all featured Minutes, please click here.

Contributing Author: Gerardo Morales

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