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EPA Releases Utilities’ Plans on Coal Ash

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

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While work on federal rules for coal ash grinds on, the Environmental Protection Agency is releasing plans developed by 15 electric utility facilities to make their coal ash impoundments safer.

The action plans, released Friday (Feb. 11), are in response to EPA’s May 2010 final assessment reports on the structural integrity of the impoundments.

Coal ash seized the national spotlight in 2008, when an impoundment holding disposed ash waste generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority broke open, creating a massive spill in Kingston, TN. The spill covered millions of cubic yards of land and river and is considered one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind.

Tennessee Valley Authority

Shortly afterward, EPA began overseeing the cleanup and investigating the structural integrity of other impoundments.

EPA has been conducting the on-site assessments at impoundments and ponds at electric utilities since May 2009. EPA provides a copy of the report and recommendations to each facility and requests that it develop an action plan.

15 Facilities, 37 Impoundments

The plans released Friday address recommendations from assessments of 37 impoundments at 15 facilities. Many facilities have already begun implementing the recommendations, EPA said.

“EPA is committed to making communities across the country safer places to live,” said Mathy Stanislaus, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. “The information we are releasing today shows that we continue to make progress in our efforts to prevent future coal ash spills.”

New Assessment Reports

In addition to the action plans, EPA is releasing assessment reports on the structural integrity of 69 additional coal ash impoundments at 20 facilities nationwide. Of these units, 35 were given a “poor” rating—because they lacked some necessary engineering documentation, not because the units are unsafe, EPA emphasized. The ratings should improve once the documentation is submitted, EPA said.

None of the units received an “unsatisfactory” rating.

The assessments are contracted out to engineering firms that are experts in the field of dam integrity. The facilities and states review a draft of the reports for accuracy, and the comments are posted on EPA’s website.

Last year, EPA completed comprehensive assessments for 60 impoundments considered at high risk of causing harm if they were to fail. The agency is now evaluating the remaining impoundments.

Future reviews will target dams that typically have lower or no hazard potential rating assigned to them.

Should facilities fail to act, EPA says it will “take additional action, if the circumstances warrant.” 

CCR Rules

EPA is still working on developing the first-ever national rules on disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants.  Like the structural assessments, the rule seeks to prevent accidental releases like the Kingston disaster, an EPA spokesman said.

The Proposed Rule for Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals [CCRs] from Electric Utilities, published June 21 in the Federal Register, addresses regulation of fly ash, bottom ash, boiler (coal) slag, and flue gas desulfurization sludge from coal-burning power plants

At issue for the protective and marine coatings industry is beneficial use of coal slag as an abrasive.

The proposed rule outlines two possible approaches available under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

One approach would regulate CCRs destined for disposal as special waste under Subtitle C and create a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for waste management and disposal. The other would continue to manage CCRs as non-hazardous waste under Subtitle D, but establish specific performance standards for waste management facilities receiving CCRs.

Hearings, Comments

EPA held eight public hearings nationwide last fall on the controversial proposal. Each drew 150 to 200 speakers and hundreds of attendees, EPA said.

The concrete and related associations have vigorously opposed regulation of coal ash, which is used as a filler in paint, concrete and other products. CCRs have been exempt from regulation if they can be beneficially reused.

Greenpeace activist

EPA is now evaluating more than 450,000 public comments on the proposed rule and has not yet decided how Coal Combustion Residuals that are destined for disposal will be regulated, an agency spokesman said Tuesday (Feb. 15).


Tagged categories: Abrasives; Coal Combustion Residuals; Coal slag; EPA; Regulations

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