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EPA to legislate on the safe disposal of coal ash

Oilfield Technology,

Coal combustion residuals, often referred to as coal ash, are currently considered exempt wastes under an amendment to RCRA, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. They are residues from the combustion of coal in power plants and captured by pollution control technologies, like scrubbers.

Potential environmental concerns from coal ash pertain to pollution from impoundment and landfills leaching into ground water and structural failures of impoundments, like that which occurred at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plant in Kingston, Tennessee. The urgent need for management criteria of CCRs was spelled out vividly in December 2008 when CCRs from a surface impoundment near Kingston, Tennessee flooded more than 300 acres of land and flowed into the Emory and Clinch rivers.

EPA is proposing to regulate for the first time coal ash to address the risks from the disposal of the wastes generated by electric utilities and independent power producers. EPA is considering two possible options for the management of coal ash for public comment. Both options fall under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Under the first proposal, EPA would list these residuals as special wastes subject to regulation under subtitle C of RCRA, when destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments.  This would bring them under the close scrutiny of the EPA, who would enforce regulations including installing liners in landfill sites and groundwater monitoring.

Under the second proposal, EPA would regulate coal ash under subtitle D of RCRA, the section for non-hazardous wastes. This would require them to fit liners to landfill sites and surface impoundments, but they would essentially be recommendations and would not pass into state law. They could only be enforced by private citizen lawsuits though.

The agency considers both proposals to have their benefits, which will be considered in the public consultation period. However, the agency estimates that the first option would cost the industry US$ 1.5 billion, while the second option would cost them US$ 600 million a year.

EPA press release

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