Legal & Regulatory

Legal Deadline Set for EPA's Coal Ash Rule

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must issue a proposed revision of its Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) Subtitle D rules regulating coal combustion residuals no later than Dec. 19, 2014, under a consent decree reached between the agency and environmental groups that was filed in federal court today. 

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Sept. 30, 2013, granted summary judgement to at least 11 environmental groups and on Oct. 29 required the EPA to submit a schedule for final agency action on the RCRA coal ash rule by Jan. 29, 2014. The environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, had sued the EPA in April 2012 to address what they said are the “serious and widespread risks that unsafe disposal of coal combustion waste or ‘coal ash’ poses to human health and environment.” The EPA’s failure to act on “well-documented risks associated with irresponsible disposal of coal ash” violates RCRA, the groups argued.

The EPA in June 2010 published alternative proposed coal ash rules under RCRA in large part due to the December 2008 failure of a coal ash impoundment at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) Kingston coal-fired power plant. That disaster released 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash that inundated several homes and contaminated the Emory River in Tennessee.

One of the EPA’s alternatives would regulate coal ash as a “special” (but not necessarily hazardous) waste using a classification authorized under Subtitle C of RCRA. The other alternative would use Subtitle D of RCRA and classify the material as a solid, but not hazardous or special, waste. In August 2013, in a Notice of Data Availability, the EPA invited comments about new information obtained in conjunction with the agency’s draft June 2010 coal ash rule. Observers suggest the final coal ash disposal rule could be issued after the related effluent limitations guidelines rule is finalized, which is expected in the first half of 2014.

But the EPA told POWERnews earlier this month that while it was working to comply with the federal court’s order,  it had received more than 450,000 comments on the proposed rule, “which raised a number of complex issues.” In response to its solicitation, the EPA also received “additional technical data,” and it said it would finalize the rule pending a full evaluation of all the information and comments received.

The agency on Jan. 14 missed a legally set deadline to issue finalized standards for cooling water intake structures for all existing power generating facilities under Section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act. On Wednesday, a spokesperson from the Department of Justice told POWERnews that the government was “in discussions towards setting a new date.”

The case is Appalachian Voices, et al. v. EPA (Docket No. 1:12-cv-00523 RBW)

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

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