OSM extends comment period on Pennsylvania coal ash rule

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining is reopening and extending the public comment period and will be holding two public hearings on a proposed amendment to Pennsylvania’s coal regulatory program related to the controversial idea of burying coal ash from power plants in old mine sites.

OSM first published the proposed amendment on July 11. Now, acting on requests by the Citizens Coal Council and the Environmental Integrity Project, the agency is adding extra time to the public comment process, OSM said in a Sept. 25 Federal Register notice. The new comment deadline is Oct. 19, with two public hearings to be held Oct. 17 in Pittsburgh and Pottsville, Pa.

Pennsylvania is introducing beneficial use of coal ash into the Pennsylvania statutory scheme via its Solid Waste Management Act, the Clean Streams Law, the Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) and the Administrative Code. Pennsylvania wants to revise its approved program under the additional flexibility afforded by revised federal regulations and SMCRA, to ensure Pennsylvania’s proposed provision is consistent with and in accordance with SMCRA and the corresponding regulations.

The key provisions of the rule address the operating requirements for beneficial use of coal ash within active and abandoned mine land sites. The proposed amendment has the following components:

  • Chemical and physical certification standards for coal ash to ensure compliance with beneficial use requirements;
  • Coal ash monitoring to ensure coal ash meets qualification criteria;
  • Water quality monitoring to create a robust dataset to facilitate the evaluation and documentation of water quality at sites where coal ash is beneficially used;
  • A minimum number of monitoring points to characterize the groundwater;
  • Recording of the landowner consent for placement of coal ash for beneficial use;
  • Reporting of volumes and locations where coal ash is beneficially used;
  • Operational and monitoring standards for all types of beneficial use;
  • A centralized process to qualify coal ash for beneficial use at mine sites;
  • An annual fee to offset some of the state costs for coal ash and water quality sampling and testing at mine sites where coal ash is beneficially used; and
  • Abatement plan requirements in the event that site assessments indicate groundwater or surface water degradation.

Said the Citizens Coal Council website on this issue: “Coal mines across the country are increasingly used as dump sites for coal power plant wastes (PPW). The disposal of millions of tons of PPW raises unique problems and issues that are very different from those created by mining. State regulations and policies on mine disposal of these wastes consistently fail to enact the most basic environmental safeguards needed to adequately protect human health and the environment. Disposal practices that would be forbidden under solid waste laws for the same wastes in landfills are allowed in mines.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.