On December 19, 2014, the long-awaited Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision on how it plans to regulate coal ash, a by-product of coal-fired utilities, was published. What’s the main takeaway? While EPA continues to classify coal combustion residuals (CCR) as non-hazardous waste, they have set forth a series of new requirements and deadlines which significantly impact all coal-fired plants.
Essentially, EPA established national minimum criteria for existing and new CCR landfills, surface impoundments, and lateral expansions of those units. The criteria address six major areas:
- Location restrictions
- Design criteria
- Operating criteria
- Groundwater monitoring and corrective action
- Closure and post-closure care
- Recordkeeping, notification, and internet posting requirements
Here’s a high-level overview of each.
- Location restriction standards now address the siting of CCR units in relation to the uppermost aquifer, wetlands, fault areas, seismic impact zones, and unstable areas. If the facility can’t comply, those surface impoundments or landfills must be closed. Moreover, new units and lateral expansions of existing units must meet these location restrictions before they can receive CCR waste.
- New design criteria require composite liner systems for new landfills, surface impoundments, and lateral expansions. In addition, leachate collection and removal systems must be installed for new landfills and their lateral expansions.
Structural integrity criteria have been developed for all surface impoundments and their lateral expansions. They include periodic hazard potential classification assessments, structural stability assessments, safety factor assessments, and emergency action plans (as applicable). If safety factor assessments are not completed by the appropriate deadlines, or if the facility doesn’t document that its met minimum safety factors, the surface impoundment must close.
- Among the new operating criteria are standards for stormwater run-on and run-off controls for landfills and their lateral expansions, as well as standards for developing an inflow flood control system plan for surface impoundments and their lateral expansions. Air criteria standards include a CCR fugitive dust control plan applicable to all existing and new units. Weekly and annual inspections are required for all CCR units, with additional monthly inspections required for surface impoundments.
- Owners and operators of existing landfills and surface impoundments must install a groundwater monitoring system, sampling and analysis program, and detection monitoring program within 30 months after the final rule is published in the Federal Register. For example, new units must have a monitoring system before they can take in CCR waste. Groundwater samples must be analyzed and the required constituents compared to background levels. If concentrations of one or more constituents are detected at levels above the groundwater protection standards, any “unlined” surface impoundment must close. Lined units must begin an assessment monitoring program.
- Closure and post-closure plans for existing surface impoundments and landfills must be prepared within 18 months after the final rule is published. New units must prepare these plans prior to receiving CCR waste.
- All utility companies subject to the CCR rule must post certain CCR unit information on a publicly accessible website. This is one of the most important aspects of the new rule and is designed to promote transparency between CCR unit operations and management, and the public.
This public information requirement presents the most immediate deadline for hundreds of impacted utilities. They now need to populate their websites with specified records and information in a format suitable for public review no later than six months after publication of the final rule, which is expected later this year.
Our engineers have tracked development of the CCR rule elements through multiple power industry and regulatory channels. We’ve also reviewed the referenced website requirements and developed a prototype web portal that meets the needs of the industry. Learn more about our CCR services here.
Don Fuller is a senior principal based in our Lexington, Kentucky office.