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No Time Frame Set for Completing Final Coal Ash Regulations, EPA Says

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Environmental Protection Agency still cannot provide a “definitive time” for promulgating final regulations on the management of coal ash from power plants, an agency senior official told BNA.

Mathy Stanislaus, EPA assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response, said Jan. 7 the agency needs to issue an additional notice of data availability prior to issuing final regulations because of new information that “could potentially influence our risk analysis and cost estimates.”

Stanislaus said EPA is working to issue the notice “as soon as we can.”

EPA also will attempt to align the coal ash regulations with upcoming effluent guidelines for coal-fired power plants to the “greatest extent possible,” Stanislaus said. Environmental groups agreed in December to extend a court-ordered deadline to April 19, 2013, for the effluent guidelines proposed rule (43 ER 3210, 12/14/12).

Stanislaus said the final regulations will aim to prevent groundwater contamination from mismanagement of coal ash products and catastrophic structural failures like the Kingston, Tenn., dam break in December 2008 that spilled 5.4 million cubic yards of coal-ash sludge into nearby waterways.

“We clearly believe that we need to move forward and address those risks,” Stanislaus said.

Coal ash is a residue from coal-fired power plants.

Stanislaus also told BNA he plans to remain as assistant administrator for the second Obama term.

'Continue to Support' Beneficial Reuse

EPA continues to support “safe” options for beneficial reuse of coal ash products because of their environmental and economic benefits, according to Stanislaus.

“We want to continue to support the safe beneficial reuse of coal ash,” he said. “We believe the safe and environmentally sound recycling [of coal ash] is protective of all public health and provides economic opportunities and jobs. The proposed rule maintains the regulatory exemption for beneficial reuse.”

Although he declined to comment on proposed congressional legislation on the management of coal ash, Stanislaus said the agency continues to provide Congress with technical comments and assistance. He said the agency will offer technical comments to the Senate shortly on legislation proposed by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) during the last session.

The Coal Ash Recycling and Oversight Act (S. 3512), introduced by Hoeven in August 2012 would establish a framework for coal ash regulation and bar EPA from regulating the material as a hazardous waste. Hoeven will attempt again to advance the legislation in this Congress.

A December Congressional Research Service report found the legislation, and a similar bill in the House, would not ensure the implementation of federal standards necessary to protect human health and the environment. Industry groups and Hoeven's office disputed the findings (43 ER 3201, 12/14/12).

Two RCRA Options Proposed in July 2010

EPA proposed two options for regulating coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in May 2010. One would regulate it under Subtitle C of RCRA as a special waste, subjecting it to hazardous waste regulations, while the other would regulate it as a nonhazardous waste under Subtitle D, subjecting it to solid waste regulations.

That proposed rule received more than 450,000 public comments, according to EPA.

Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in April 2012, later joined by coal ash recyclers, asking a federal court to set a firm deadline for a final rule. Environmentalists asked for a final rule to be promulgated within six months of the court decision, while recyclers asked for a decision within three months on whether EPA would regulate coal ash under hazardous waste regulations (Appalachian Voices v. EPA,D.D.C., No. 1:12-cv-00523, motion filed 12/13/12).

In a December court filing, EPA said “no final decisions have yet been made” on the regulation. An earlier court declaration in October indicated it could take the agency upward of a year to promulgate final regulations on coal ash management (43 ER 3272, 12/21/12).

By Anthony Adragna  


More information on the coal ash rulemaking is available at http://www.epa.gov/wastes/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/ccr-rule/index.htm.

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