EPA official testifies at House hearing on new coal combustion waste rule

Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, told a House subcommittee on March 24 that there are some things to like about a discussion draft of a bill that would add on to a final coal ash disposal rule that EPA issued last December.

Stanislaus discussed Coal Combustion Residuals (CCRs) and the subcommittee’s discussion draft, “Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015.” The hearing was by the Subcommitte on Energy and the Environment of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which held a March 18 initial hearing on the draft featuring various other officials with an interest in the rule. Stanislaus was the sole witness for the March 24 session.

“The EPA is currently reviewing the Subcommittee’s discussion draft, ‘Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act of 2015,'” said Stanislaus in prepared testimony. “The agency is open to providing technical assistance to the Subcommittee on its legislative efforts to manage the proper disposal of CCRs. We believe that legislation should provide for a nationally uniform minimum standard that is protective of public health and the environment. We appreciate the provisions of the discussion draft that incorporate some of the components of the EPA’s CCR rule. However, some additional essential elements of transparency, prevention and response that are included in the EPA’s rule are critical for establishing a framework to help ensure the proper management of CCR disposal. These components include a requirement that facility compliance data and information to be posted on the internet for public access, criteria to address when a CCR unit would need to close, comprehensive structural integrity requirements, and a requirement that any releases from a CCR unit be cleaned up. We believe that these are important components for a protective CCR disposal program.”

Stanislaus noted that EPA’s final rule established nationally applicable minimum criteria for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals in landfills and surface impoundments. “The final rule represents a milestone that will help protect our communities and the environment in which we live and work. The EPA is committed to working closely with our state partners, local communities, and utilities on implementation of the rule to help protect public health and the environment. A legislative effort to establish a framework to help ensure the proper management of CCR disposal should also consider elements of prevention, response, and publicly available information/transparency.”

EPA is committed to working closely with its state partners on rule implementation and, as a major component of this, is encouraging states to revise their Solid Waste Management Plans (SWMPs) and submit the revisions to the EPA for approval, Stanislaus wrote. The EPA has been working with stakeholders on rule implementation issues and conducted a webinar in February of this year with nearly 800 participants to discuss implementation of the rule.

The EPA expects that states will use the SWMP process to help align state programs with the EPA rule, and will revise their SWMPs to demonstrate how the state intends to regulate CCR landfills and surface impoundments. In other words, the plan can demonstrate how the state program has incorporated the rule’s minimum national criteria and can highlight those areas where the state regulations meet or are more stringent than the federal minimum criteria. States are expected to have at least 18 months to revise their SWMPs before key provisions of the rule take effect. The agency expects that the SWMP process can accommodate state program variability as states demonstrate their regulatory requirements are equivalent or more stringent than the requirements in the EPA rule.

The morning of March 25, the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy voted to advance a draft of the Improving Coal Combustion Residuals Regulation Act by a bipartisan vote of 16 to 5. The bill has moved to the full committee for consideration.

“This is a good bill. EPA developed technical requirements for coal ash that are protective of human health and the environment. This bill utilizes those requirements and makes them part of enforceable permits,” said Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus, R-Ill.

“This breakthrough idea works for states and for stakeholders, while preserving the protective requirements for coal ash articulated by the administration,” added full committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich.

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.