Feb. 18 --Forthcoming regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency are likely to designate coal ash as a nonhazardous waste despite a recent high-profile spill of the material in North Carolina, Duke Energy Corp. said.
“We do expect it will be designated as nonhazardous,” Keith Trent, chief operating officer of regulated utilities for Duke Energy, said during a conference call announcing earnings from the fourth quarter of 2013. “That's the general assumption that we're working with.”
Duke's prediction on how the EPA will regulate coal ash, a residue from coal-fired power plants, comes as the company continues to deal with a Feb. 2 spill of 50,000 tons to 82,000 tons of coal ash slurry from a storage lagoon at the Dan River Steam Station near Eden, N.C., into the Dan River.
Lynn Good, president of Duke Energy, said the company had used a “24/7 operation” since the spill to permanently address the leak.
“We will take the learnings from this experience and look for ways we can improve overall management of our ash ponds,” Good said. “We are very focused on ensuring the integrity of our basins throughout our system.”
The electric utility has apologized for the incident, admitted it is “accountable” and pledged to take necessary actions to remediate the river.
Coal ash is currently regulated as an exempt waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by the EPA. The agency is considering proposals to regulate the material under the hazardous waste provisions of Subtitle C of RCRA or under the nonhazardous waste provisions of Subtitle D.
Parties in federal litigation filed a consent decree in January with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that calls for the EPA to finalize regulations on the management of coal ash by Dec. 19 of this year (Appalachian Voices v. McCarthy, D.D.C., No. 1:12-cv-00523, consent decree filed 1/29/14).
Environmental groups have argued regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste is essential to protecting human health and the environment, while utilities and coal ash recyclers have argued coal ash is safe and say a hazardous waste designation would stigmatize beneficial reuses of the material.
The EPA formally certified that reusing encapsulated coal ash products in wallboard and concrete is safe Feb. 7. The agency said reusing the material creates environmental benefits such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, lowering the amount of coal ash in landfills, and alleviating the need to use virgin resources, while also producing a number of economic benefits .
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