Environmental Protection Agency Proposes Changes to Coal Ash Storage

Nov 11, 2019

by ASME.org

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed a new rule to scale back federal rules restricting waste from coal-fired power plants. The rules went into effect in 2015 under President Obama to lessen the amount of toxic waste and more tightly regulate the disposal of fine powder and sludge known as coal ash, and the disposal of contaminated water. As of November 4, the Trump administration will now allow unlined coal ash waste ponds to remain open for as long as eight additional years, and contaminated water filtration would become voluntary. 
 
The Trump administration reversed the regulations after companies announced that they could not afford to meet the Obama-era rules, stating that the new rule would save companies up to $100 million a year in compliance costs. Before this reversal, all coal ash ponds leaking contaminates that exceed federal standards were set to close by October 2020. However in August 2018, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the EPA must either close or reconstruct all coal ash ponds, even if there was no evidence that toxic materials were leaking out. This prompted the Trump administration to act, reversing the rules as to lessen the burden on power plants and act in accordance with the President’s commitment to shoring up the coal industry.
 
The EPA is still requiring power plants to stop using unlined ponds for coal ash storage, though the new rules will give them more time to develop an alternative method of storage. Further, companies may apply for a waiver of up to eight years if they are in the process of shutting down a coal plant, which would allow them to remain open until October 2028 at the latest.
 
The new rules have received sharp backlash from environmentalist who are worried about toxic material entering usable water sources, and who show a concern for the continuation of coal as a significant source of power production in the U.S., give its large carbon emission footprint.
 
EPA will be accepting public comment on this proposal for 45 days after publication in the Federal Register and plans to hold a public hearing to receive additional feedback on the proposal. Additional information on this proposal and how to comment can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/coalash.