The U.S. EPA has announced further proposed revisions and flexibilities to the regulations for the management of coal combustion residuals (CCR), commonly known as coal ash, from electric utilities. “This proposal is the last in a set of four planned actions we are taking under the Trump Administration to stabilize coal ash regulations for the power-producing utilities that we rely on every day,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “While the majority of the protections in EPA’s 2015 rules are currently in place and being implemented on schedule, these common-sense changes will provide the flexibilities owners and operators need to determine the most appropriate way to manage CCR and the closure of units based on site-specific conditions.”
This proposal follows others that are intended to implement the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act, respond to petitions, address litigation, and apply lessons learned to ensure smoother implementation of the rule. It proposes four main changes:
- Procedures to allow a limited number of facilities to demonstrate to EPA that based on groundwater data and the design of a particular surface impoundment, the unit has and will continue to provide the equivalent protection from impacts on groundwater as provided by the composite liner system standards and therefore should be allowed to continue to operate.
- A modification to closure requirements for units that are unable to complete groundwater remediation by the time all other closure by removal activities have been completed. Under this new provision, groundwater remediation must continue until groundwater protection standards are achieved during a post-closure period.
- An amendment to the notification of intent to close requirement to include the date the facility began closure, and annual closure progress reports. This provision is intended to close a gap in reported information and increase transparency.
- Conditions under which coal ash can be used in the closure of landfills and surface impoundments.
In 2015, EPA promulgated a rule establishing a comprehensive set of requirements for the management of coal ash generated from coal-fired electric utilities, in landfills and surface impoundments, along with inspection, monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting requirements. Most of the 2015 rule remains in place and implementation continues on schedule as intended.
As the result of the application of the standards in the 2015 rule, the majority of existing impoundments designed and built before 2015 are on the path to ceasing the receipt of coal ash and conducting closure. Provisions in the 2015 rule – still in place today – remain unchanged to ensure the minimization of risk of release of contaminants into groundwater, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments. The 2015 requirements for facility inspection, monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting also remain unchanged.
Facilities managing coal ash are required to monitor groundwater, publicly report the data, and take corrective action to address exceedances of the groundwater protection standards, among other requirements. There have been no extensions for any of these obligations or their implementation.
EPA is seeking comment on this proposal during a 45-day public comment period, during which a public hearing will be held.