Final Rule: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities

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The EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, signed the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities final rule on December 19, 2014, and it was published in the Federal Register (FR) on April 17, 2015.

On July 26, 2016, the EPA Administrator signed a direct final rule and a companion proposal to extend for certain inactive CCR surface impoundments the compliance deadlines established by the regulations for the disposal of CCR under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The comment period for the direct final rule ended on August 22, 2016. Because no adverse comments were received, the rule will become effective on October 4, 2016.  

During the comment period, the Agency did, however, receive several requests for specific clarifications on how the regulatory requirements for these units would be implemented. These comments can be viewed in the public docket supporting this rulemaking at EPA is planning to address these requests in an upcoming publication that will be posted online. 

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Rule Summary

EPA finalized national regulations to provide a comprehensive set of requirements for the safe disposal of CCRs, commonly known as coal ash, from coal-fired power plants. The final rule is the culmination of extensive study on the effects of coal ash on the environment and public health. The rule establishes technical requirements for CCR landfills and surface impoundments under subtitle D of the RCRA, the nation's primary law for regulating solid waste. The final rule makes a number of changes from the proposal including providing greater clarity on technical requirements in response to questions received during the comment period.

These regulations address the risks from coal ash disposal -- leaking of contaminants into ground water, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments. Additionally, the rule sets out recordkeeping and reporting requirements as well as the requirement for each facility to establish and post specific information to a publicly-accessible website. This final rule also supports the responsible recycling of CCRs by distinguishing safe, beneficial use from disposal.

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State Solid Waste Management Plan Approvals

Early in the development of the waste management infrastructure, a process was created to encourage states to effectively plan for and manage their solid wastes through the development of Solid Waste Management Plans (SWMPs). Currently, most states have SWMPs that have been submitted to and approved by EPA. EPA recommends that states take advantage of this process, already in the regulations, by revising their SWMPs to address the issuance of the CCR rule and to submit revisions of these plans to EPA for approval.  Thus, the SWMP will serve as a mechanism where a state will be able to set out, as part of their overall solid waste program, how it intends to regulate CCR landfills and surface impoundments.

There are several ways in which a state can submit a SWMP for approval. If a regulatory agency wants to have their SWMP approved of before state CCR regulations have been adopted, they can submit the plan based on the expectation of the regulations being put in place. These SWMPs can receive approval conditioned on adoption of those state CCR regulations.  A state can also initially submit a plan dealing only with compliance schedules. This would be considered a partial approval and can be granted provided the state agrees to submit an entire plan in a timely fashion.

EPA recognizes that some states have already adopted requirements that go beyond the minimum federal requirements. The CCR rule will not affect these state requirements; moreover, the final rule does not preclude a state from adopting more stringent requirements where they deem that appropriate.

Kansas is the first state to receive conditional approval of their SWMP, which incorporates the federal CCR disposal regulations by reference. Read more about Kansas' SWMP approval.

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Compliance Data and Information Websites 

States and citizens perform a crucial role in the implementation and enforcement of this rule. EPA designed certain requirements, including Internet posting requirements, as part of the final rule to help ensure transparency and to assist those charged with playing this role.

Draft Open Dump Inventory

RCRA requires EPA to publish an open dump inventory to assist the states in complying with the directive that states that solid waste management plans shall provide for closure and upgrading of open dumps. After the final CCR rule was published, EPA developed an initial draft inventory that is open for public comment.  

Publicly-Accessible Internet Sites

The final rule requires facilities to develop and maintain a publicly available Internet site containing information on the facilities' actions to comply with the elements of the rule so that it would be readily available to the public. EPA organized the compliance websites and posted them online by state.

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Rule History

On December 22, 2008, a large coal ash spill occurred at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant in Kingston, TN flooding more than 300 acres of land and releasing coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers. This catastrophic spill prompted EPA to assess coal ash surface impoundments and gather information from facilities managing coal ash nationwide. On June 21, 2010 (75 FR 35128), EPA proposed regulations under RCRA to address the risks from the disposal of CCRs generated from the combustion of coal at electric utilities and independent power producers.

This proposal contained two regulatory options due to the significant and technical policy issues involved in regulating these wastes.

  • Under the first, EPA proposed to list these residuals as special wastes subject to regulation under Subtitle C of RCRA, when they are destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments.
  • Under the second option, EPA proposed to regulate disposal of such materials under Subtitle D of RCRA by issuing national minimum criteria.

Under both alternatives EPA proposed to establish dam safety requirements to address the structural integrity of surface impoundments to prevent catastrophic releases.  

After extensive study and examination of all comments received during the rulemaking process, EPA established regulations under Subtitle D of RCRA.

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