Coal Combustion Residuals - An Update

By: George H. Colvin, CPG, CHMM

Coal Combustion Residuals, often referred to as CCRs or coal ash, are currently considered exempt wastes under an amendment to RCRA. CCRs are residues from the combustion of coal in power plants and are captured by pollution control technologies, like scrubbers. Potential environmental concerns from coal ash pertain to pollution from impoundment and landfills leaching into ground water and structural failures of impoundments, like that which occurred at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plant in Kingston, Tennessee in December 2008. Following the incident, EPA’s Administrator Jackson committed to issue regulations that would address the management of CCRs, including impoundment stability. Information collection requests were sent in 2009 to electric utilities that have surface impoundments or similar management units that contain CCRs. Based on results of the requests, EPA conducted on-site assessments of the structural integrity of these units and prepared reports and recommendations for actions at the facilities. The assessment reports and associated data were made available to the public in October 2010.

Nearly one year ago, on June 21, 2010, EPA proposed regulations for CCRs under RCRA to address the risks from the disposal of the wastes generated by electric utilities and independent power producers. EPA proposed two options for the management of CCRs. Under the first proposal, EPA would list these residuals as special wastes subject to regulation under subtitle C of RCRA, when destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments. Under the second proposal, EPA would regulate coal ash under subtitle D of RCRA, the section for non-hazardous wastes. The proposal would not alter the regulatory status of coal ash that is beneficially used. However, EPA has identified concerns with some beneficial uses of CCRs in unencapsulated form, such as the use of CCRs in road embankments and agricultural applications.

Coal AshThe public comment period on the proposed rule closed on November 19, 2010. The proposal has drawn more than 450,000 comments, including the strong opposition from industry who charge that the option for regulation under strict subtitle C requirements of RCRA (usually reserved for hazardous waste) would impose a stigma on CCRs and lead to a reduction in the beneficial reuse of the material in cement, gypsum, and other products. Environmental groups argue that regulation as a solid waste under subtitle D of RCRA would not adequately limit releases, does not allow for federal enforcement of disposal requirements, or require states to modify their regulations.

On April 6, 2011, House lawmakers introduced separate bills blocking EPA from regulating CCR byproducts as hazardous waste under subtitle C. These include H.R. 1391, sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) and H.R. 1405, sponsored by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH). During April 14, 2011 testimony before the Subcommittee on the Environment and Economy on H.R. 1391, Mathy Stanislaus, Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Assistant Administrator, acknowledged that the proposed regulatory options present challenges, but that EPA shares the subcommittee’s goal of striking the right balance between protecting human health and the environment and providing opportunities for environmentally sound economic beneficial use of CCRs. According to InsideEPA.COM, Stanislaus also stated that EPA is now planning to issue a notice of data availability in the next month or so to provide the public an opportunity to comment on new information that EPA has either received through public comment or further assessment. In its most recent regulatory agenda, EPA downgraded the proposed rule to “long-term action” status. Given another notice of data availability and public comment period, the economic significance of the rule, and the 2012 election, don’t look for a final rule until 2013.

George Colvin is a principal and co-founder of Cox-Colvin & Associates, Inc. Mr. Colvin’s expertise centers around the cost-effective planning, design, implementation, and management of RCRA projects under both federal and state programs. He has nearly 25 years of hands on experience in RCRA Corrective Action representing numerous industrial clients throughout the Midwest. Mr. Colvin lectures frequently on the subject of Corrective Action to organizations such as the Ohio Bar Association and the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals.

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