What you need to know about the EPA’s new coal ash rule

March 15, 2016

On December 22, 2008 the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) faced the reality of an extensive coal ash spill at their Kingston, TN power plant. This event resulted in the flooding of over 300 acres of local land as well as the release of significant amounts of coal ash into both the Emory and Clinch rivers.

This event and its resulting damage caused the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to take a closer look at coal ash management at a national level. The public demanded to know not only what guidelines were in place, but also how those standards were being monitored and upheld. The Kingston spill eventually led to the EPA’s 2010 proposed regulations for the disposal of coal ash generated from the combustion of coal at electric utilities and independent power plants

The complex, technical nature of this regulatory issue necessitated extensive review. In preparing to develop the new regulations, the EPA proposed two options for discussion.

  1. The EPA proposed that residuals be listed as special waste subject to regulation under Subtitle C of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the nation’s primary law for regulating solid waste. This option would be appropriate when the final product was scheduled to be disposed of in either a landfill or other surface location.
  1. The second option regulated disposal under Subtitle D of the RCRA which issued national minimum technical standards for state solid waste management plans.

It is important to note that both options required the establishment of dam safety standards designed to address structural integrity in an effort to prevent catastrophic spills like the one in Kingston, TN.

After completing extensive research on the subject, the EPA moved forward with the second option and established regulations under Subtitle D of the RCRA.

In response to EPA assessments of coal combustion residuals (CCR) disposal, power plants have taken actions to improve public health and environmental protection. Subtitle D of the RCRA establishes technical requirements for landfills and surface impoundments.

This rule focuses on:

  • Protecting groundwater from contamination
  • Protecting surface water from contamination
  • Protecting communities from surface impoundment failure
  • Protecting against fugitive dust
  • Responsibly recycling CCRs
  • Distinguishing safe and beneficial use from CCR disposal

The EPA is establishing extensive record keeping protocols, including ground water monitoring, corrective actions, CCR control plans and closure.  The rule also set out the requirement for each facility to establish and post specific information to a publicly accessible website. This provides the public with an opportunity to review and comment on the state’s plan for regulating CCR disposal statewide.

As an additional step, the EPA is encouraging all states to revise their Solid Waste Management Plans (SWMPs).  Once revised, these plans can be submitted to the EPA for approval to ensure that state and federal requirements align.

Successful management of solid waste issues requires a thorough knowledge and understanding of the often complex federal and state regulations. It can be a struggle to understand these regulations -and ensure your business remains in compliance.. At PPM we understand this reality and work with our clients to provide solutions to complex issues.  Our team is proud to provide services and expert knowledge relating to all aspects of solid waste and landfill compliance, including siting studies, permitting, construction management, monitoring, and closure.

Revising a SWMP can be a big undertaking. At PPM Consultants our goal is to assist you in this task.  Our team can help your business revise its existing SWMP to achieve compliance with the new EPA ruling, as well as with all state and local regulations.

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