EPA publishes final, lengthy rule on coal combustion residuals disposal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will in the April 17 Federal Register publish a 746-page final rule to regulate the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR) as solid waste under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

“The available information demonstrates that the risks posed to human health and the environment by certain CCR management units warrant regulatory controls,” said the rule. “EPA is finalizing national minimum criteria for existing and new CCR landfills and existing and new CCR surface impoundments and all lateral expansions consisting of location restrictions, design and operating criteria, groundwater monitoring and corrective action, closure requirements and post closure care, and recordkeeping, notification, and internet posting requirements.

“The rule requires any existing unlined CCR surface impoundment that is contaminating groundwater above a regulated constituent’s groundwater protection standard to stop receiving CCR and either retrofit or close, except in limited circumstances. It also requires the closure of any CCR landfill or CCR surface impoundment that cannot meet the applicable performance criteria for location restrictions or structural integrity. Finally, those CCR surface impoundments that do not receive CCR after the effective date of the rule, but still contain water and CCR will be subject to all applicable regulatory requirements, unless the owner or operator of the facility dewaters and installs a final cover system on these inactive units no later than three years from publication of the rule. EPA is deferring its final decision on the Bevill Regulatory Determination because of regulatory and technical uncertainties that cannot be resolved at this time.”

This final rule is effective on 180 days from the publication in the April 17 Federal Register.

This rule applies to all CCR generated by electric utilities and independent power producers that fall within the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code 221112. The industry sector(s) identified above may not be exhaustive; other types of entities not listed could also be affected.

There are some areas this rule doesn’t cover:

  • This rule does not address the placement of CCR in coal mines. The U. S. Department of Interior (DOI) and, as necessary, EPA will address the management of CCR in minefills in separate regulatory action(s), consistent with the approach recommended by the National Academy of Sciences, recognizing the expertise of DOI’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in this area.
  • This rule does not regulate practices that meet the definition of a beneficial use of CCR. Beneficial uses that occur after the effective date of the rule need to determine if they comply with the criteria contained in the definition of “beneficial use of CCRs.” This rule does not affect past beneficial uses (i.e., uses completed before the effective date of the rule.)
  • CCR from non-utility boilers burning coal are not addressed in this final rule. EPA will decide on an appropriate action for these wastes through a separate rulemaking effort.
  • Finally, this rule does not apply to municipal solid waste landfills (MSWLFs) that receive CCR for disposal or use as daily cover.

CCR are generated from the combustion of coal, including solid fuels classified as anthracite, bituminous, subbituminous, and lignite, for the purpose of generating steam for the purpose of powering a generator to produce electricity or electricity and other thermal energy by electric utilities and independent power producers. CCR includes fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization materials. CCR is one of the largest industrial waste streams generated in the U.S. In 2012, over 470 coal-fired electric utilities burned over 800 million tons of coal, generating about 110 million tons of CCR in 47 states and Puerto Rico.

In 2012, approximately 40% of the CCR generated was beneficially used, with the remaining 60% disposed in surface impoundments and landfills. Of that 60%, about 80% was disposed in on-site disposal units. CCR disposal currently occurs at over 310 active on-site landfills, averaging over 120 acres in size with an average depth of over 40 feet, and at over 735 active on-site surface impoundments, averaging over 50 acres in size with an average depth of 20 feet. 

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.