Coal Ash Rule to Cost Billions to Comply: Consultant

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By Brian Dabbs

June 23 — The Environmental Protection Agency's new coal combustion residual rule is likely to cost $20 billion to $90 billion in annual compliance costs for industry, an environmental consultant told the Air and Waste Management Association conference June 23 in New Orleans.

That financial challenge, coupled with other logistical hurdles in the rule, is part of a broader Obama administration strategy to eliminate coal from U.S. energy output, said Kurt Gerdes, remediation market director at the consultant group TRC.

“It's a huge hit for the utility industry,” he said. “And of course, it's difficult to continue to burn coal if you don't have a place to put your ash.”

The coal ash regulation (RIN:2050-AE81), which was promulgated in April 2015, establishes requirements for groundwater monitoring, fugitive dust controls, location restrictions and inspections for coal ash landfills and impoundments.

The rule has been in the midst of legal challenges for nearly a year, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit June 14 remanded with vacatur a number of provisions, while also remanding without vacatur others ( Util. Solid Waste Activities Grp. v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 15-1219, 6/14/16 ).

Self-Implementation Rule

The future of compliance evaluation is unclear due to the self-implementing nature of the rule, Gerdes said. The hands-off approach from EPA marks a shift in regulatory implementation, he said.

“EPA has for years been sued by Sierra Club and other environmental [non-governmental organizations], and I think EPA decided to just step out of it and say, ‘Why don't you just sue the [utility companies] directly,' ” Gerdes said. “That's a whole new way of implementing regulations. It hasn't really been tested yet because the rule is still new, but it will be interesting to see where that goes.”

The regulation, however, will force companies to post documentation online to show evidence of compliance.

“You can bet that these websites are going to be very popular with a lot of the NGOs out there looking at that data,” Gerdes said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in New Orleans at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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