The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Jan. 11 detailed its responses to applications from coal combustion residuals (CCR) facilities that sought deadline extensions for a deadline set by EPA to stop receiving waste and start to take steps to close.
The EPA said the actions advance the agency’s commitment to protecting groundwater from coal ash contamination and include:
- Proposing decisions on requests for extensions to the current deadline for initiating closure of unlined CCR surface impoundments;
- Putting several facilities on notice regarding their obligations to comply with CCR regulations; and
- Laying out plans for future regulatory actions to ensure coal ash impoundments meet strong environmental and safety standards.
EPA’s regulations required most of the approximately 500 unlined coal ash surface impoundments nationwide to stop receiving waste and begin closure by April 2021. The regulations outlined a process for facilities to apply for two types of extensions to the closure deadline.
EPA received and reviewed 57 applications from CCR facilities requesting deadline extensions and determined 52 were complete, four were incomplete, and one is ineligible for an extension.
Of the 52 complete applications received, EPA conducted technical analyses and proposed determinations on four applications Jan. 11, with more determinations planned in the coming months.
EPA proposed denying three requests for deadline extensions after identifying several potential deficiencies with groundwater monitoring, cleanup, and closure activities, including a lack of monitoring wells, improper monitoring techniques, faulty identification of other sources of groundwater contamination, and insufficient evaluations of clean-up technologies, which could prevent adequate groundwater cleanup.
EPA proposed a conditional approval for one request, which would require the facility to fix groundwater monitoring issues.
Members should be aware that EPA's technical and legal reasoning on the four complete determinations with proposed decisions could potentially apply to all of the remaining complete Part A and Part B submissions that the agency will respond to later this year.
In addition, the proposed determinations restate EPA’s position that surface impoundments or landfills cannot be closed with coal ash in contact with groundwater.
EPA said it was also taking action to notify facilities of their compliance obligations for several facilities where the agency has information concerning the possible presence of issues that could impact health and the environment.
Concerns outlined in separate letters include improper groundwater monitoring, insufficient cleanup information, and the regulation of inactive surface impoundments. EPA is also ensuring facilities comply with the current CCR regulations by working with state partners to investigate compliance concerns at coal ash facilities across the country.
Moving forward, EPA said it will improve the current rules by finalizing a federal permitting program for the disposal of coal ash and establishing regulations for legacy coal ash surface impoundments. EPA will also continue its review of state-level CCR program applications to ensure they are as protective as federal regulations, it said. The American Public Power Association (APPA) submitted comments in support of a federal permitting program and the provided input to the agency on developing a rule for legacy units.
Public power utilities strive to comply with CCR rules and take corrective action when necessary.
Decisions on coal ash waste management and disposal need to be made on a site-specific basis, considering all applicable rules and regulations to maintain public health and safety and mitigate reliability and cost impacts.
Many public power utilities are also developing alternate disposal capacity while continuing to provide safe, reliable, affordable, and sustainable power to their customs while complying with federal and state environmental requirements. Replacement of these units requires considerable planning, coordination, and reasonable timelines.
Public power utilities continue to transition to low-emitting and clean generation resources.
“APPA believes establishing a well-planned and reasonable timeframe for these impoundments to close, or seek alternative disposal capacity, is critical to ensuring public power utilities continue to provide safe, affordable, and reliable power,” said Carolyn Slaughter, Director, Environmental Policy, at APPA.
EPA is seeking public comment for 30 days on the proposed determinations through Regulations.gov.
For a list of the individual determinations and how to comment, visit: https://www.epa.gov/coalash/coal-combustion-residuals-ccr-part-implementation.