How will EPA Rule on Coal Ash on Dec. 19th?

Source: Riverbend Steam Station Ash Ponds on Mountain Island Lake. Photo by J. Wes Bobbitt. Flight by Southwings.
Source: Riverbend Steam Station Ash Ponds on Mountain Island Lake. Photo by J. Wes Bobbitt. Flight by Southwings.

All eyes and ears will be on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on December 19 when the agency is expected to announce final regulations for the handling and disposal of coal ash and coal plant water contained in surface impoundments owned and operated by the power industry.

The Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash spill in 2008, the February spill at the Duke Energy facility in North Carolina, and a recent ruling in a lawsuit has brought increased pressure on the EPA to finalize regulations for coal ash (also known as Coal Combustion Residuals or Coal Combustion Waste).

EPA Options being Considered

Subtitle C Option – Under this option, coal ash would be regulated under Subtitle C of the RCRA act, require conformance to hazardous waste regulations, and provide the EPA with federal oversight.

Subtitle D Option – Under this option, coal ash would be regulated under Subtitle D of the RCRA act as a non-hazardous waste and provide states with the regulatory oversight.

Series of Events Coal Combustion Residuals, or coal ash, are currently considered exempt wastes under an amendment to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). However, the environmental concerns surrounding coal ash have been spotlighted after several significant spills.

Tennessee Valley Authority Spill
Where: Kingston, Tennessee
When: December 2008
Impact: Largest coal ash spill in history; 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash cascaded into the Emory and Clinch rivers and smothered about 300 acres of land. Price tag to clean up is now close to $1.2 billion with expected completion in 2015. More info and video here.

Duke Energy Spill
Where: Eden, North Carolina
When: February 2014
Impact: Third largest spill on record; 39,000 tons of coal ash spilled into the Dan River, coating the river with lead and arsenic for 70 miles and threatening drinking water and aquatic life. More info here.

Appalachian Voices v. McCarthy Lawsuit
A consent decree was entered in federal court in April 2014 in a lawsuit challenging the EPA’s failure to issue coal ash regulations in a timely manner. As a result, the EPA is required to issue final regulations governing coal ash by December 19, 2014.

States’ Response: Most states are waiting to see what EPA’s final coal ash regulations state before taking any specific legislative or regulatory action. An exception to that trend is in North Carolina following the Duke Energy spill. In response, legislation has been introduced that would require closure of all current coal ash storage ponds within 15 years and establish a commission to identify alternative disposal and/or recycling uses.

However the political or regulatory winds blow the ash, Advanced Disposal resources and teams are available to assist you in your disposal of coal ash or other special waste. See below for a list of our landfills that accept ash. If you are a generator with coal ash impoundments or working on a project for a generator, click the link below to contact a Special Waste Expert regarding your project.

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