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EPA final rule makes changes to CCR regulations, finalizes deadline for units to initiate closure

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on July 29 finalized several changes to the regulations for coal combustion residuals, known as CCR or coal ash.

The final rule released by EPA implements a court’s vacatur of certain closure requirements as well as adds provisions that enhance the public’s access to information about the management of coal ash at electric utilities, EPA said.

Under the final rule, the revised deadline for all unlined CCR surface impoundments and surface impoundments that fail an aquifer location restriction to initiate closure or retrofit is April 11, 2021. This date replaces the existing October 31, 2020 date.  The new date is based on data APPA members and utility interest groups provided EPA during the proposed public comment period, which outlined technically feasible planning and construction timelines.

The rule is also known as the Part A rule is just one of a suite of rules EPA is in the process of issuing in response to court orders. On a call with stakeholders to roll of the final rule Administrator Wheeler also noted the EPA is working to issue its final rule  Part B rule, to provide a new liner equivalency provision allowing facilities to demonstrate that certain clay-lined units and other alternative liner systems perform as well as the composite liner criteria in the rule later this year.

The final rule, “Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of Coal Combustion Action: Residuals from Electric Utilities; A Holistic Approach to Closure Part A: Deadline to Initiate Closure,” expressly extends the existing alternative closure provisions to include both CCR and non-CCR waste streams.

Under the final rule, requests to qualify for an alternative closure extension must be submitted to EPA or an authorized state by November 30, 2020.

In addition, the maximum amount of time available to continue operation under the site-specific alternative closure provision for unlined impoundments is October 15, 2023.

However, the date is October 15, 2024 for unlined impoundments that meet all location restrictions, the safety factor assessment, and have not detected a statistically significant increase above an applicable groundwater protection standard.

The timeframes for the alternative closure provision involving the cessation of coal-fired generation remain the same as in the existing rule. Unlined impoundments that are 40 acres or smaller would have to cease the receipt of waste and complete closure by October 17, 2023, while unlined impoundments larger than 40 acres would have to cease the receipt of waste and have completed closure by October 17, 2028.

 Meanwhile, EPA is finalizing two of the proposed amendments from the August 2019 rule -- the addition of an executive summary to the annual groundwater monitoring and corrective action reports and the amended requirements to the publicly accessible CCR Internet sites.

The final rule becomes effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.  A pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice is available here.

APPA files comments on proposed CCR permit program 

In related news, the American Public Power Association on July 20 filed comments on EPA’s proposed federal CCR permit program.

APPA is generally supportive of the proposed rule as it would establish a federal permitting backstop as opposed to the self-implementing 2015 CCR rule.

In a related matter, EPA is reopening the public comment period for the proposed Federal CCR Permit Program for an additional 7 days.

EPA decided to reopen the comment period to allow submittal of additional comments on the proposal due to an error involving the premature closing of the docket on www.regulations.gov,  the electronic portal through which comments can be submitted on agency rulemakings. 

The comment period for the federal permit program proposal was closed on Sunday, July 19 instead of Monday, July 20.

APPA said that members may want to re-submit their comments via the www.regulations.gov portal even if they previously emailed or mailed comments. Comment will be due on or before August 7, 2020. Click here for the Federal Register notice.