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EPA Issues More Coal Ash Safety Plans

Thursday, May 26, 2011

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While the Environmental Protection Agency remains tight-lipped on its proposed rule for coal ash, the agency has released action plans by 20 electric utility facilities with 70 coal ash impoundments, outlining safety measures planned or underway for the impoundments.

The action plans are in response to EPA’s May 2010 final assessment reports on the structural integrity of the impoundments. EPA released its first batch of plans, for 15 utilities, on Feb. 11.

 Coal ash sludge spill  in Kingston, TN


An earth mover works to control the coal ash sludge from the 2008 spill in Kingston, TN.

The reports follow EPA’s assessments of structural integrity at the nation’s coal ash waste impoundments in the wake of the catastrophic 2008 spill of more than 5 million cubic yards of coal ash at a Tennessee Valley Authority impoundment. After the spill, EPA began overseeing the cleanup and initiated nationwide assessments, including on-site inspections.

Assessments and Ratings

Last year, EPA completed assessments for 60 impoundments that were considered at high risk of causing harm if they were to fail.

“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.”

The new plans involve 70 impoundments at 20 facilities. EPA also released assessment reports on the structural integrity of an additional 38 coal ash impoundments at 17 facilities across the country.

Of these units, nine received a “poor” rating, because they lacked some required engineering documentation, not because they are unsafe, EPA said in a release. “Based on analysis from the engineers who conducted the assessments, the ratings for these units are likely to improve once the proper documentation is submitted,” the agency added.

None of the units were rated “unsatisfactory.”

Review and Enforcement

The assessment reports were completed by firms under contract to EPA that are experts in the field of dam integrity, according to EPA. Each facility and its state have reviewed a draft of its report for accuracy. The comments on the draft reports are posted on EPA’s website.

EPA says it is working with the facilities “to ensure that the recommendations are implemented in a timely manner. Should facilities fail to take sufficient measures, EPA will take additional action, if circumstances warrant.”

EPA now has 240 facilities with 676 surface impoundments in its database. All have been assessed, are scheduled to be assessed, or do not have units that qualify for assessment because they are closed, do not contain coal combustion residues (CCRs), or are below ground level.

Coal Ash Rules

EPA is still not saying when it might release long-awaited final rules regarding disposal of CCRs by electric utilities. The proposed rule was released a year ago, and the comment period closed Nov. 19 after a series of public hearings.

The measure addresses regulation of fly ash, bottom ash, boiler (coal) slag, and flue gas desulfurization sludge from coal-burning power plants.

The proposed rule outlines two possible approaches to CCR under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). One would regulate CCRs destined for disposal as special waste and create a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for waste management and disposal. The other would develop standards to manage CCRs as non-hazardous waste and establish performance standards for waste facilities receiving them.

In releasing the impoundment action plans, EPA said only that it was “evaluating more than 450,000 public comments on the proposed rule” and that a target date for a final rule “will be determined, pending a full evaluation of all the information and comments EPA received on the proposal.”


Tagged categories: Abrasive blasting; Coal ash; EPA; Health and safety; Regulations

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