EPA Leaning towards Hazardous Coal Ash Rules

Date: May 7, 2010

Source: News Room

The EPA, after announcing that it plans to regulate coal ash, appears to be leaning toward designating it a hazardous waste, subject to subtitle C regulations under the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA). In a May 4 press call, EPA noted that under a hazardous subtitle C approach, wet storage in surface impoundments would be phased out and closed, so that all coal ash would have to be stored in dry landfills after five years. Under a subtitle D approach, surface impoundments could be retrofitted to continue operations or else they would have to close within five years.

However, EPA also noted that it lacked federal enforcement authority for coal ash under the latter subtitle D (non-hazardous) approach. The agency also seems to be introducing a cost-benefit argument that favors a hazardous classification by estimating environmental benefits of between $87 billion and $102 billion over 50 years, compared to benefits under a D approach of between $35 billion and $42 billion. EPA estimates the costs to industry over the same time period to be $20.3 billion under subtitle C and $8.1 billion under subtitle D. Meanwhile, industry argues any hazardous designation would add enormous costs without commensurate environmental benefit and eliminate the beneficial reuse of coal ash in cement and other products.

On the press call, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged that the draft rule faced unprecedented scrutiny by White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) regulatory review officials who held many meetings with opponents to the agency's hazardous approach, but she said it was time to officially propose the rule and "get on with this regulatory process."

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