Uncertainty About How EPA Coal Ash Rule is to be Implemented

Date: June 24, 2016

Source: News Room

Uncertainty still surrounds EPA's coal ash disposal rule despite that it was finalized in December 2014 and, according to many stakeholders, explicitly regulates ash as solid waste. The problem stems from the rule being self-implementing, meaning that neither the EPA nor the states are empowered to directly enforce it. Rather, citizen groups can file lawsuits against facilities they believe are not in compliance. The rule sets requirements for ash disposal as a solid waste under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA), which was the option preferred by states, power companies and the ash reuse industry. Environmentalists argued for a subtitle C hazardous waste rule and said it would have led to stricter disposal mandates, though industry says both subtitles would be equally protective. Implementation of the rule already varies by state and region, depending on the policy preferences of state governments and advocates' litigation strategies.

Most ash facilities are still in the early stages of deciding how to comply with the rule, but operators are already setting plans to close some older sites rather than upgrading them to meet EPA's technical mandates. For instance, privately owned utilities in Virginia and Georgia, as well as the publicly operated Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), are all working toward site closures.

Environmentalists have pressed facilities to excavate stored ash and transport it to a new disposal site when closing an impoundment where wet ash was stored (a far more expensive option), rather than dewatering the stored ash and leaving it at the site (a process known as "closure in place").

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