Restrictions Vary on Coal Ash Reuse, But Most States Active in Regulation

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Definitions and management of coal combustion residuals vary widely among states, but most take an active role in regulating the material, a group of solid waste regulators said in a recent survey.

Of the 46 states that responded to the survey, 48 percent have a statutory or regulatory definition of ash from coal-fired power plants. Seventy-six percent of states said they restrict the beneficial reuse of coal ash through a variety of methods.

The survey, Beneficial Use of Coal Combustion Residuals Survey Report, was conducted by the Association of State and Territorial Solid Waste Management Officials. It was posted on the ASTSWMO website in mid-October.

ASTSWMO said the survey confirmed the findings of a similar 2009 study and said “states take an active role in regulating the management of CCRs beneficial use” (40 ER 826, 4/10/09).

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule for the use and management of coal ash products in May 2010. The proposed rule offered two options for regulating coal ash: one would regulate it under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as a nonhazardous waste, and the second would consider coal ash a “special waste” under RCRA Subtitle C, subjecting it to hazardous waste regulations.

Environmentalists and coal ash recyclers have filed a lawsuit seeking to compel EPA to issue a final coal ash rule (Appalachian Voices v. EPA, D.D.C., No. 1:12-cv-523, declaration filed 10/11/12; 43 ER 2642, 10/19/12).

Beneficial Reuse Information.

Twenty-four of the responding states said they considered one or more large-scale fill operations of coal combustion residuals to be examples of beneficial reuse.

The most popular beneficial reuse activities cited by the states were structured or engineered fills, road construction, surface mine filling, and soil amendments.

Thirty-four of the states do not limit large-scale fill operations by the quantity of coal ash used, but many said they impose case-by-case restrictions depending on the scope of the project.

Most states do not consider the end-of-life management of coal combustion residuals when making beneficial reuse decisions, the survey found. Sixty-three percent of the responding states said they did not consider end-of-life management in the decisionmaking process and 83 percent do not monitor that end-of-life management provisions have been followed.

“End-of-life should be explored as consideration for beneficial use reviews,” the survey concluded.

Risk Tier Systems Used.

Many states use a variety of classification and tier systems to dictate what level of environmental management of coal combustion residuals is necessary.

Twenty-one of the 46 responding states reported using a classification system, 19 use a tier system, and 15 use both to evaluate the environmental management necessary for the materials.

Environmental management can include the use of impoundment liners, facility design requirements, operations requirements, and siting criteria for facilities, according to the survey.

Environmental Group Responds.

Earthjustice, an environmental law firm closely involved with the ongoing coal ash litigation, commended ASTSWMO for conducting the survey and said its findings highlighted the need for federal regulation of coal combustion residuals.

“Their report confirms that most states do not limit large-scale fill projects,” Lisa Evans, attorney for Earthjustice, told BNA Oct. 23. “The report documents a patchwork of state rules whereby some states regulate this dangerous activity, but the majority do not. The report strongly supports the need for minimum federal rules to ensure that basic safeguards apply to all ash fill sites in all states.”

ASTWMO and the American Coal Ash Association were unavailable for comment on the report.

By Anthony Adragna  

ASTSWMO's survey on coal ash management practices is available at