US: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the first national regulations to provide for the safe disposal of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. The ruling establishes safeguards to protect communities from coal ash impoundment failures and establishes safeguards to prevent groundwater contamination and air emissions from coal ash disposal.
"The EPA is taking action to protect our communities from the risk of mismanaged coal ash disposal units and putting in place safeguards to help prevent the next catastrophic coal ash impoundment failure, which can cost millions for local businesses, communities and States," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
The new federal regulations include:
- The closure of surface impoundments and landfills that fail to meet engineering and structural standards and will no longer receive coal ash;
- Reducing the risk of catastrophic failure by requiring regular inspections of the structural safety of surface impoundments;
- Restrictions on the location of new surface impoundments and landfills so that they cannot be built in sensitive areas such as wetlands and earthquake zones;
- Protecting groundwater by requiring monitoring, immediate clean up of contamination and closure of unlined surface impoundments that are polluting groundwater;
- Protecting communities using fugitive dust controls to reduce windblown coal ash dust;
- Requiring liner barriers for new units and proper closure of surface impoundments and landfills that will no longer receive coal combustion residues.
In response to feedback on the proposal, the ruling clarifies the technical requirements for coal ash landfills and surface impoundments under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the country's primary law for regulating solid waste. Implementation of the technical requirements will be reported through disclosure to States, and communities. Examples of this include power plants providing information to the public and States and new transparency requirements, including recordkeeping and reporting requirements, as well as the requirement for each facility to post specific information to a publicly-accessible website. This final rule also supports the responsible recycling of coal ash by distinguishing safe, beneficial use from disposal.