EPA's new coal ash rule requires the nation's affected coal-fired power plants — around 500 of them — to change the way they manage their CCRs.
Q: What does EPA’s new rule on coal ash disposal mean to the nation’s coal-fired power plants?
A: It means a lot more groundwater monitoring, for one thing.
Before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's adoption of the Rule for Coal Combustion Residuals (CCRs) in December 2014, there were limited EPA regulations governing the disposal of coal ash or other byproducts of the coal-burning process. Coal-burning power plants routinely disposed of these wastes, or CCRs, in landfills or wet ponds.
In recent years, however, these wastes have sometimes been found to contain selenium, mercury and other heavy metals that could potentially leach into groundwater and migrate to drinking water sources, leading to public health concerns.
EPA's new coal ash rule is designed to change all that. It requires the nation's affected coal-fired power plants — around 500 of them — to change the way they manage their CCRs. One significant change involves monitoring the groundwater where these wastes are found. That includes installing groundwater monitoring networks, sampling groundwater regularly and reporting the findings. If impacts are found, plant owners are required to conduct an assessment of the impacts.
With the nation's coal-fired plants already under an environmental microscope, these rules are creating fresh concerns among owners who are unsure about what the monitoring and assessments might find and how the public might express concern.
The best defense, however, remains a good offense. Affected utilities will be well-served by working closely with state regulators and actively mapping out their individual road to compliance. Taking a proactive approach is key to managing the regulatory and possible remedial cost risks ahead.
Christopher J. Snider, PE, PG, is a program and project manager in the solid waste management field. His experience includes facility permitting and design and subsurface investigations. Contact him at 816-822-3534.