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EPA Proposes Amendments to the Coal Ash Regulations, Reconsiders the Beneficial Use Provisions and Provides Greater Clarity on Managing Piles of Coal Ash

Among the proposed changes is the proposal to require an environmental demonstration based on location (like proximity to wetland, floodplain, etc) instead of weight.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed additional amendments to the regulations governing the disposal of coal combustion residuals, commonly known as coal ash.

Recent litigation, legislation, and petitions from the public to revise how rules are implemented led to the proposal, which is reportedly the first of three in the process. The proposal was released Tuesday.

“[T]he Agency is proposing sensible changes that will improve the coal ash regulations and continue to encourage appropriate beneficial use,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a press release. “These proposed changes will further responsible management of coal ash while protecting human health and the environment.”

According to the EPA, the proposal addresses two issues remanded back to EPA for action.

First, the EPA is proposing a modification to one of the criteria used to determine if coal ash is being beneficially used or would be considered disposal. Currently, when 12,400 tons or more of unencapsulated coal ash will be placed on the land in non-roadway applications, the user must perform an environmental demonstration. EPA is proposing to replace the numerical threshold for triggering an environmental demonstration with location-based criteria (e.g., placement in an unstable area, wetland, floodplain, fault area or seismic zone) derived from the existing requirements in the 2015 coal ash final rule.

The second proposed change is to the requirements for managing piles of coal ash. Currently, there are different requirements for piles depending on whether the pile is on-site at for example an electric utility or off-site for beneficial use. The proposal would establish a single approach, which would apply to all temporary placement of unencapsulated coal ash on the land, regardless of whether a pile is on-site or off-site, and regardless of whether the coal ash in the pile is destined for beneficial use or disposal.

The following three additional changes are also being proposed:

  • Revisions to the annual groundwater monitoring and corrective action report requirements to make the data easier to understand and evaluate, including a requirement to summarize the results in an executive summary;
  • Establishment of an alternative groundwater protection standard for boron using the same methodology used for other coal ash constituents, which would be finalized if boron is added to the list of constituents for assessment monitoring; and
  • Revisions to the coal ash website requirements to ensure that relevant facility information required by the regulations is immediately available to the public.

The EPA open to comments and questions related to the proposed provisions, which includes alternative approaches to these proposed provisions. The comment period will be open for 60 days, during which a public hearing will be held for interested persons to present information, comments or views concerning these proposed changes.

For more information and to access a pre-publication version of this proposal, visit https://www.epa.gov/coalash

Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com.

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