EPA takes CO2 captured from power plants out of the ‘hazardous’ category

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 3 published in the Federal Register a key rule that would help clear the way for geologic sequestration of CO2 captured from sources like coal-fired power plants.

Experts say that commercially deployable CO2 capture and storage technologies are still 10 years away, but regulatory efforts like this lay the groundwork for those technologies to be used.

EPA, in the final rule published Jan. 3, revised the regulations for hazardous waste management under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) to conditionally exclude CO2 streams that are hazardous from the definition of hazardous waste, provided these hazardous CO2 streams are captured from emission sources, are injected into Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class VI wells for purposes of geologic sequestration (GS), and meet certain other conditions.

“EPA is taking this action because the Agency believes that the management of these CO2 streams, when meeting certain conditions, does not present a substantial risk to human health or the environment, and therefore additional regulation pursuant to RCRA’s hazardous waste regulations is unnecessary,” the agency said. “EPA expects that this amendment will substantially reduce the uncertainty associated with identifying these CO2 streams under RCRA subtitle C, and will also facilitate the deployment of GS by providing additional regulatory certainty.”

In August 2011, EPA published a proposed rule on this matter. Specifically, EPA proposed to amend federal regulations by adding an exclusion from the definition of hazardous waste for CO2 streams that would otherwise be regulated as hazardous waste under RCRA subtitle C that met all of the following conditions:

  • transportation of the CO2 stream must be in compliance with applicable Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements;
  • injection of the CO2 stream must be in compliance with the applicable requirements for UIC Class VI wells;
  • no other hazardous wastes may be mixed with, or otherwise co-injected with, the CO2 stream; and
  • generators and UIC Class VI well owners or operators claiming the exclusion must sign a certification statement that the conditions of the exclusion were met.

Several other agency activities are related to carbon capture and storage (CCS), including an EPA final rule in December 2010 that created a new class of injection wells (Class VI) for GS of CO2 under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) UIC Program. During the development of that UIC Class VI final rule, EPA was made aware that the participants in the CCS industry were asking for clarification on how the RCRA hazardous waste requirements apply to CO2 streams that are geologically sequestered.

In addition, in February 2010, President Obama created the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage to develop a comprehensive and coordinated federal strategy to speed the commercial development and deployment of clean coal technologies. The task force consisted of 14 executive departments and federal agencies, and it was co-chaired by EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). In August 2010, the task force delivered a series of recommendations to the President on overcoming the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years. One of those recommendations was that EPA address RCRA applicability to CO2 that is captured from an emission source for purposes of sequestration.

GS is the process of injecting CO2 captured from an emission source (e.g., a power plant or industrial facility) into deep subsurface rock formations in order to isolate the CO2 permanently. CCS can be described as a three-step process, beginning with the capture and compression of the CO2 stream from fossil-fuel power plants or other industrial sources, after which this stream is transported (usually in pipelines as a supercritical fluid) to an on-site or off-site location, where it is then injected underground for purposes of sequestration.

DOE is providing funds for several CCS projects in an effort to advance commercial deployment of those systems, including at the planned FutureGen 2.0 coal project in Illinois and at the Lake Charles petroleum coke gasification project in Louisiana.

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.