The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week said that its decision to regulate coal ash waste from power plants, expected this month, will be delayed for a “short period” because of the “complexity of the analysis” underway at the agency.
The EPA had set its deadline to complete the regulatory decision before the close of this year. Currently, there are no federal requirements governing coal ash management because in 2000, the EPA determined it to be a nonhazardous waste under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The announcement came days before the first anniversary of the massive release of coal ash from Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) facility in Kingston, Tenn., a spill that created national headlines and drew the attention of the public and elected officials to utilities’ current management practices related to coal ash.
The breach in the TVA coal ash surface impoundment flooded more than 300 acres of land, damaging homes and property. Coal ash from the release flowed into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, filling large areas of the rivers and killing fish. TVA cost estimates for the clean-up range between $525 million and $825 million, which does not include long-term cleanup costs.
Shortly afterwards, EPA began overseeing the cleanup, as well as investigating the structural integrity of impoundments where ash waste is stored. The EPA conducted a survey of similar coal-ash storage facilities, finding 431 of them nationwide and 49 classified as "high hazard," where a failure could endanger human life.
Last week, TVA officials said at a press conference dedicated to the anniversary of the spill that the public utility’s plans to convert its remaining plants to dry ash storage would depend on when the EPA released its coal ash regulations.
Asked if the TVA had a position on the EPA’s forthcoming regulations, the utility’s CEO Tom Kilgore said: “Just that we’re going to abide by it. It’s not appropriate … given that we’ve had the major spill, we really just don’t feel like it’s appropriate for us to make much commentary on that.”
Anda Ray, a senior TVA executive, added that a national standard was in everyone’s best interest. “We have said in the past that we support a national standard because right now there’s not one there. And that would certainly be a benefit to everyone,” he said.
Sources: EPA, TVA