The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday issued a stay postponing the effective date of the standards for major source boiler and commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators to allow the agency to continue seeking “additional public comment before an updated rule is proposed.” On Tuesday, it released action plans developed by 20 electric utilities to safeguard the structural integrity of their coal ash impoundments. 

The EPA said on Monday that it would need more time to review more than 4,800 comments received since April 2010 on the final standards for boilers and certain solid waste incinerators that were issued in February 2011. The agency said a court order forced it to issue the rules in February, but it was reconsidering the standards because “the public did not have sufficient opportunity to comment on these changes, and, as a result, further public review and feedback is required to meet the legal obligations under the Clean Air Act.”

The final rules issued on February 21, 2011, seek to reduce emissions of toxic air pollutants from new and existing industrial, commercial, and institutional boilers and process heaters at major source facilities. A major source facility emits or has the potential to emit 10 or more tons per year (tpy) of any single air toxic or 25 tpy or more of any combination of air toxics. As it stands, the rules limit emissions of mercury, other metals, and organic air toxics, which include polycyclic organic matter (POM) and dioxins. 

The stay issued on May 16 allows the agency to seek additional public comment before requiring thousands of facilities across multiple, diverse industries to make investments that may not be reversible if the standards are revised following reconsideration and a full evaluation of all relevant data. “The stay will remain in place until the proceedings for judicial review of these rules are completed or EPA completes its reconsideration of the standards, whichever is earlier,” the EPA said. 

The agency also invited the public to submit additional data by e-mail to by July 15, 2011, an approach it said would help ensure that the final standards are “protective, cost-effective, practical to implement and consistent with the requirements of the Clean Air Act.”

“Input through the public comment process already resulted in dramatic cuts in the cost of implementation, while maintaining maximum public health benefits, under the rule announced in February,” it said. “This process of careful consideration of public comments, and close attention to both costs and benefits, is consistent with the president’s directives with respect to regulation, as set out in executive order 13563, issued on January 18.”

On Tuesday, the EPA released action plans from utilities with a combined 70 coal ash impoundments. The action plans, which describe measures the facilities are taking to make their impoundments safer, are a response to the EPA’s final assessment reports on the structural integrity of these impoundments that the agency made public last May. 

The EPA’s investigation of the structural integrity of coal ash disposal sites was prompted in 2008, when an impoundment holding disposed coal ash waste generated by the Tennessee Valley Authority failed, creating a massive spill in Kingston, Tennessee. That spill released more than 5 million cubic yards of coal ash to the surrounding area and is regarded as one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history. 

The agency has since May 2009 been conducting on-site structural integrity assessments of coal ash impoundments and ponds at electric utilities. The EPA provides copies of the structural integrity assessment reports to each facility and requests the facilities implement the reports’ recommendations and provide their plans for taking action. 

The action plans released this week address recommendations from assessments of 70 impoundments at 20 facilities. Many of these facilities have already begun implementing the EPA’s recommendations. Last year, the EPA completed comprehensive assessments for 60 impoundments that were considered to have a high risk of causing harm if the impoundment were to fail. 

Sources: POWERnews, EPA