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EPA Proposes Plant Waste Rule Amendment

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

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Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed plans to relax rules related to how waste from coal-fired power plants is stored. The rules in question date back to 2015.

According to CNN, the rules pertain to the disposal of both coal ash and toxic wastewater from power plants. Customarily, coal ash is stored in pits and landfills, while potentially harmful substances, such as mercury, can be found in the toxic wastewater.

Obama-Era Rules

The issue of handling coal waste is a all-too-familiar one for regulators, a question that the Obama administration sought to address in establishing the stricter 2015 rules.

According to The Washington Post, in August 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the agency to require that companies overhaul ponds, even if there was no indication of leakage concerns. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler noted the rules were a heavy burden on electricity producers across the U.S.

“These proposed revisions support the Trump administration’s commitment to responsible, reasonable regulations by taking a common-sense approach that will provide more certainty to U.S. industry while also protecting public health and the environment,” said Wheeler.

For scale, in 2018, it was estimated that Virginia ratepayers would have to pay as much as $3.30 a month for 20 years, totaling between $2.4 billion and $5.6 billion, in order to clean up Dominion Energy’s 11 coal ash ponds and six coal ash landfills.

Coal-Fired Power Plant Waste

The Washington Post reports that the rule amendment would allow for unlined coal ash waste ponds to remain open up to an additional eight years. The voluntary use of new filtration technology would be one of the reported benefits.

Additionally, companies will also have to stop putting coal ash in unlined ponds by Aug. 31, 2020, with the stipulation that these sites be retrofitted for security purposes or that they be closed altogether. Requests for extensions are also more flexible under the proposed changes: Operators will be able to request extensions ranging from 90 days to three years, if that time is actually determined to be needed.

The eight-year stipulation stems from if a company can demonstrate that it’s shutting down a coal boiler, it will likely be permitted to keep its ponds open for that extended window. Slurry ponds that take up fewer than 40 acres may also win an extension to stay in place until October 2023, while their larger counterparts may stay open until October 2028.

Concerns raised over such proposals include the potential impact climate change can have on these areas, as well as potential destabilization and contamination of drinking water.

Aspects that are being retained from the 2015 rules, however, include requiring companies to continue monitoring groundwater, publicly reporting that data and addressing leaks.

According to the Post, the rule proposal is open to public comment for 60 days.


Tagged categories: Coal ash; Environmental Protection; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); EPA; Hazardous waste; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (11/12/2019, 7:57 AM)

Coal ash has relatively high concentrations of heavy metals (lead, arsenic, selenium, etc) - and it's super-fine, making it very easy for water to leach out these heavy metals. The ground water around every single coal plant in Texas has excessive levels of heavy metals, making it unsafe to drink.

Comment from T W, (11/12/2019, 8:04 AM)

Curious, what potential impact could climate change have on these areas?

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