Final Rule: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities

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The EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, signed the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities final rule on December 19, 2014, and it was published in the Federal Register (FR) on April 17, 2015. 

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Rule Summary

EPA finalized national regulations to provide a comprehensive set of requirements for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCRs), commonly known as coal ash, from coal-fired power plants. The final rule is the culmination of extensive study on the effects of coal ash on the environment and public health. The rule establishes technical requirements for CCR landfills and surface impoundments under subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the nation's primary law for regulating solid waste. The final rule makes a number of changes from the proposal including providing greater clarity on technical requirements in response to questions received during the comment period.

These regulations address the risks from coal ash disposal -- leaking of contaminants into ground water, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments. Additionally, the rule sets out recordkeeping and reporting requirements as well as the requirement for each facility to establish and post specific information to a publicly-accessible website. This final rule also supports the responsible recycling of CCRs by distinguishing safe, beneficial use from disposal.

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Rule History

On December 22, 2008, a large coal ash spill occurred at the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant in Kingston, TN flooding more than 300 acres of land and releasing coal ash into the Emory and Clinch rivers. This catastrophic spill prompted EPA to assess coal ash surface impoundments and gather information from facilities managing coal ash nationwide. On June 21, 2010 (75 FR 35128), EPA proposed regulations under RCRA to address the risks from the disposal of CCRs generated from the combustion of coal at electric utilities and independent power producers.

This proposal contained two regulatory options due to the significant and technical policy issues involved in regulating these wastes.

  • Under the first, EPA proposed to list these residuals as special wastes subject to regulation under Subtitle C of RCRA, when they are destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments.
  • Under the second option, EPA proposed to regulate disposal of such materials under Subtitle D of RCRA by issuing national minimum criteria.

Under both alternatives EPA proposed to establish dam safety requirements to address the structural integrity of surface impoundments to prevent catastrophic releases.  

After extensive study and examination of all comments received during the rulemaking process, EPA established regulations under Subtitle D of RCRA.

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