The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Nov. 4 announced two proposed regulations, one of which applies to the management of coal combustion residuals (CCR) from electric utilities and one that revises a portion of the regulations affecting wastewater management from steam electric power plants.
EPA said that because the proposed rules may affect many of the same facilities, it coordinated their timing “to promote transparency and regulatory certainty for the U.S. power sector and electric reliability for consumers.”
Coal ash units
In 2015, EPA promulgated a rule establishing a set of solid waste requirements for the management of coal combustion residuals, commonly known as coal ash, fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization materials generated from coal-fired electricity utilities, in landfills and impoundments, along with inspection, monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
In 2018, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned certain provisions of EPA’s 2015 final rule and remanded some provisions back to the agency.
The proposed rule to set new deadlines for coal ash units to initiate closure is one of several proposed rules expected to be issued over the next several months in response to the August 2018 U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit decision in USWAG v. EPA.
This proposed rule would set several new closure deadlines:
- The proposal seeks to set Aug. 31, 2020, as the new date for facilities to stop placing coal ash into these units, and either retrofit them or begin closure. Facilities could apply for a 90-day extension (closure date with extension would be November 30, 2020);
- The proposal seeks to set a new site-specific alternate to initiation of closure due to lack of capacity. Facilities can submit a request to EPA or a Participating State Director (i.e., in a state with Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act authority to administer the CCR rule) for an additional extension – up to October 15, 2023 – to initiate closure if the facility can demonstrate that it needs additional time to develop alternative disposal capacity; EPA would provide an opportunity for public comment prior to deciding on the request.
- The proposal seeks to set a new site-specific alternate to initiation of closure due to permanent cessation of a coal fired boiler(s) by a date certain. No later than October 17, 2023 for surface impoundments 40 acres or smaller, and no later than October 17, 2028 for surface impoundments larger than 40 acres.
EPA will hold a public meeting January 6, 2020 and a pre-publication of the draft rule is available here.
Association, members working with industry to manage coal ash in safest way possible
In a statement on the proposed coal ash deadline rule, the American Public Power Association said the Association and its members are working with the rest of the electric utility industry “to manage coal ash in the safest way possible while protecting the environment and minimizing impacts to communities and power customers. As a part of this process, new disposal units will need to be built to replace impoundments that do not meet previous coal ash standards set by the D.C. Circuit Court’s 2018 decision. This will undoubtedly take some time, and EPA acknowledges this reality through its proposed rule.”
The Association said it is reviewing the new rule and will confer with member utilities before offering comprehensive feedback to EPA.
“We are pleased that EPA is working to provide clarity to the industry on this issue, and we will certainly be engaged in the ongoing stakeholder process,” it said.
New effluent limitation guidelines
The second rule establishes new effluent limitation guidelines (ELG) for flue gas desulfurization (FGD) wastewater and bottom ash transport wastewater.
The proposed rule would establish effluent limitations based on Best Available Technology Economically Achievable (BAT) and pretreatment standards for existing sources.
For FGD wastewater, there would be two sets of proposed BAT limitations. The first set of limitations is a numeric effluent limitation on total suspended solids in the discharge of flue gas desulfurization wastewater. The second set of BAT limitations comprises numeric effluent limitations on mercury, arsenic, selenium, and nitrate/nitrite as nitrogen in the discharge of flue gas desulfurization wastewater.
For bottom ash transport water, there would be two sets of proposed BAT limitations. The first set of BAT limitations is a numeric effluent limitation on total suspended solids in the discharge of these wastewaters. The second set of BAT limitations is a not-too-exceed 10 percent volumetric purge limitation.
The proposed rule includes separate requirements for the following subcategories: high flow facilities, low utilization boilers, and boilers retiring by 2028.
The proposed rule would establish a voluntary incentives program that provides the certainty of more time (until December 31, 2028) for facilities to implement new standards and limitations, if they adopt additional process changes and controls that achieve more stringent limitations on mercury, arsenic, selenium, nitrate/nitrite, bromide, and total dissolved solids in flue gas desulfurization wastewater.
For indirect discharges, for example, discharges to publicly owned treatment works, the proposed rule establishes pretreatment standards for existing sources that are the same as the BAT limitations, except for total suspended solids, where there is no pass through at publicly owned treatment works.
EPA will hold a public meeting on December 19, 2019 and a pre-publication version of the ELG reconsideration proposal is available here.
There will be a 60-day comment period for both proposals after publication in the Federal Register.