SCS periodically prepares Technical Bulletins to highlight items of interest to our clients and friends who have signed up to receive them. We also publish these on our website at https://www.scsengineers.com/publications/technical-bulletins/.
Our most recent Bulletin summarizes the
This Bulletin provides information on these revisions, as follows:
CCR – Disposal Regulation Revisions & Permitting Program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency moves forward on two matters that proposed to revise its 2015 solid waste regulations for the disposal of coal combustion residuals.
On February 19, 2020, EPA announced what it said is the last of planned actions to implement the Congressional mandates, respond to petitions, address the results of litigation, and apply lessons learned to ensure smoother implementation of the regulations. In a rulemaking entitled “A Holistic Approach to Closure Part B,” EPA proposed the following revisions:
One of the proposed options for allowing the use of CCR for closure activities would allow coal ash to be moved between units at the same facility and consolidated at impoundments that are scheduled for closure. The second option would allow utilities to beneficially use coal ash in disposal unit closure activities.
Under the proposed rule, utilities would need to submit an alternative liner demonstration within 13 months of the final rule, with the possibility of extensions. The EPA noted there would likely be few basins able to meet the alternative liner requirements.
The proposal would also allow utilities to continue disposing ash into some ponds even after the pond has been scheduled for closure. Ponds will still be able to take in ash if the ash remains under a certain volume — and this includes ponds located in unstable areas, such as in a seismic zone or within five feet of a waterway.
EPA will seek comment on this proposal during a 45-day public comment period that will commence when it is published in the Federal Register. EPA will also hold a virtual public hearing on the proposal on April 9, 2020.
On February 20, 2020, EPA’s previously announced proposed rule to establish a Federal CCR Permitting Program was published in the Federal Register. The creation of a federal permitting program for coal ash disposal regulations was required by Congress in the 2016 Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which shifted enforcement authority for EPA’s disposal standards from citizen lawsuits to state environmental regulators. The federal permit program is intended for use in states that do not seek EPA approval for their own programs and for use in Indian Country.
The proposed federal program includes electronic permitting and sets requirements for permit applications, content and modification, as well as procedural requirements.
Utilities face many challenges as they move forward developing programs to deal with disposal or recycling of coal combustion residuals (CCR). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed changes to the 2015-enacted federal coal ash rule and issued a proposed Federal permitting program rule for CCR.
SCS Engineers closely follows developments relating to coal ash disposal. The company works with landfill operators, utilities, and others who deal with CCR to meet the challenges of proper waste management as federal, state, and local regulations evolve.
In addition to evaluating the impact of proposed rule changes and permitting programs, many utilities are currently working to address groundwater impacts from CCR units monitored under the current Federal CCR rules (40 CFR 257 Subpart D—Standards for the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals in Landfills and Surface Impoundments). Based on timing in the CCR rule, utilities have recently completed an Assessment of Corrective Measures (ACM) for groundwater impacts and are working on selecting a remedy for the groundwater impacts identified.
The remedies for CCR units not already closed include some form of source control, along with strategies to limit impacts to groundwater. The most prevalent remedies today include closure-in-place, or cap-in-place, of coal ash storage sites, or closure-by-removal, in which CCR is dewatered and excavated, then transported to a lined landfill.
“The answer to this question is wide and varied,” said Eric Nelson, a vice president with SCS. Nelson is one of the company’s national experts for electric utilities, and an experienced engineer and hydrogeologist. “In part, it depends on the situation” Nelson noted that remedies for disposal of waste such as CCR from power plants could differ from the disposal of municipal solid waste (MSW) or everyday trash.
“Is the landfill or impoundment already closed or capped, is it active or inactive, what type of CCR or waste (is being disposed of)?” Nelson said. “Then there’s the physical setting, the geology, the receptors or lack of receptors. My opinion is that the industry is in a tough spot because the remedy selection process is strongly influenced by opinion and widely varied regulatory climates.”
“For instance, selecting a remedy, which in many cases will include closing a surface impoundment, that leaves CCR in place feels risky to some due to what is happening in places like the Carolinas and Virginia,” Nelson said. “Anything short of exhumation and re-disposal seems to be cast as insufficient by some when closure in place is a tested and proven response in other arenas [such as MSW]. A one-size-fits-all solution isn’t appropriate.”
Some utilities have moved forward with complete excavation, removing ash, and re-disposing it in a lined landfill. Some of these projects have likely been influenced by local efforts to dictate the remedy selection process through negotiation or legislation. The fact that some utilities have selected closure-by-removal does not mean this remedy is suitable in all situations.
Sherren Clark, vice president and Solid Waste Services Division leader for the Upper Midwest Region of SCS, said: “In terms of remedy selection, one key difference between MSW and CCR sites has been that for CCR sites, total CCR removal is an option that has been put on the table, and is being implemented at some sites, both small and large. For MSW, total waste removal has very rarely been the chosen approach and has typically been thought of as infeasible unless there were other financial drivers supporting that choice. The typical approaches for MSW sites have focused on source control options, such as an improved cap or enhanced landfill gas collection systems.”
Nelson said that engineers working on plans for CCR disposal could look at what’s been done at MSW sites.
“We might discuss the various approaches to corrective action that are described in some early guidance for MSW work,” Nelson said, pointing to EPA Technical Manual EPA530-R-93-017, which deals with solid waste disposal facility criteria and addresses active remediation, plume containment, and source control. “I believe there are significant guidance and experience we can draw from the MSW arena on the different remedies and how to evaluate them.”
Nelson said that “potential remedies must be evaluated according to the requirements in 40 CFR 257.96 and 257.97,” which are EPA rules outlined in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR). Part 257 details Criteria for Classification of Solid Waste Disposal Facilities and Practices, including Subpart D-Standards for the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals in Landfills and Surface Impoundments, including groundwater monitoring and corrective action. Section 257.96 deals with ACMs. Nelson notes an important distinction with this approach: “One important note is that cost cannot be considered as it is in the similar rules for MSW.”
Jennifer Robb, vice president and project director with SCS’s Solid Waste Services Division in Reston, Virginia, said programs for the disposal of MSW “are pretty much identical to the process a [CCR] site has to go through. The only difference is the constituents they sample the groundwater for. The CCR sites, they’re going to have an issue with metals. The big problem with that is, a lot of the metals are naturally occurring.”
Robb noted that’s where the alternate source demonstration (ASD) comes in, to determine the source of contaminants, and whether a CCR pond or other ash storage facility is responsible for causing levels of contaminants to excess groundwater protection standards.
Evolving Regulatory Landscape
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a streamlined, efficient federal permitting program for the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR) in surface impoundments and landfills, which includes electronic permitting. The new rules are designed to offer utilities more flexibility and provide regulatory clarity.
(1) In August 2019, EPA proposed amendments to CCR regulations that encourage appropriate beneficial re-use and clarity on managing coal ash piles. The proposal would also enhance transparency by making facility information more readily available to the public.
(2) A November 4, 2019, proposal establishes August 2020 as the date for utilities to stop receipt of waste in affected impoundments. It gives utilities the ability to demonstrate the need to develop new, environmentally protective waste disposal technology subject to EPA approval.
(3) On December 19, 2019, EPA proposed a federal permitting program for coal ash disposal units. The proposal includes requirements for federal CCR permit applications, content, and modification, as well as procedural requirements. EPA would implement the permit program at CCR units in states that have not submitted their own CCR permit program for approval. EPA already accepted and approved state permitting programs in Oklahoma and Georgia and is working with others to develop their programs. On December 16, 2019, the EPA Administrator signed a Federal Register notice approving Georgia’s state permit program for the management of CCR.
The November proposal addresses the deadline to stop accepting waste for unlined surface impoundments managing coal ash. It includes a new date of August 31, 2020, for facilities to stop placing waste into these units and either retrofit them or begin closure. The proposal would allow certain facilities additional time to develop an alternate capacity to manage their waste streams before initiating closure of surface impoundments. It would also re-classify clay-lined surface impoundments from “lined” to “unlined,” which means that clay-lined impoundments would have to be retrofitted or closed. Under the proposal, all unlined units would have to be retrofitted or close, not just those that detect groundwater contamination above regulatory levels.
The 60-day comment period on the November proposal closes January 31, 2020. The EPA will conduct a virtual public hearing about the proposed rule on January 7, 2020, at 9 a.m. Eastern Time. Register for the meeting to learn more. A 60-day comment period for the proposed federal permitting program will begin once the rule is published in the Federal Register.
This blog series highlighting the experience and expertise of SCS Engineers staff will continue with a look at examples of remedies for coal ash disposal and storage. If you have questions, contact the authors by selecting one of their names, or email us at .
When the Federal Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) rule went into effect in 2015, it was a new regulatory layer on top of a widely varying landscape of state regulations affecting CCR management in impoundments and landfills. Some states already had significant regulations on the books for CCR impoundments and/or landfills, while others did not.
Where state regulations existed, they varied widely from state to state. While a few states have moved toward closing the gap between state and Federal CCR requirements, many utilities continue to face confusing and conflicting requirements coming from different regulatory programs as they move ahead with managing their CCR facilities.
In her paper entitled State vs Federal CCR Rule Regulations: Comparisons and Impacts, Nicole Kron shares state-versus-federal regulatory challenges utilities have encountered during landfill design and management, impoundment closure, and groundwater monitoring and reporting since the implementation of the Federal CCR rule. For example, some sites have completely distinct groundwater monitoring programs under state-versus-federal rules, with different well locations, well depths, and monitoring parameters for the same facility. She highlights unique approaches to bridging regulatory gaps and resolving regulatory conflicts between state and Federal CCR requirements. Ms. Kron also provides insights gained on the long-term potential for regulatory resolution of these issues based on discussions with state regulators in multiple states.
About the Author: Nicole Kron has nearly a decade of experience in the environmental consulting field. Her experiences focus on groundwater quality analysis of sites contaminated with coal gasification byproducts, coal combustion byproducts, chlorinated solvents, petroleum products, metals, and PCBs. Her experience includes managing team task coordination, groundwater modeling, and statistical analysis of CCP/CCR sites. She is experienced in planning and performing soil and groundwater contamination investigations, air monitoring, well design and installation, and soil and groundwater sampling.
At EUEC 2019 learn how SCS can minimize leachate and contact water management at coal combustion residual (CCR) landfills using good design, physical controls, and operational practices.
Through this SCS presentation of case studies, you will learn how to assess leachate and contact water management issues and implement techniques to minimize leachate and contact water management at your landfill.
Leachate management and contact water management at CCR landfills can be expensive, cause operational headaches, and divert valuable resources from other critical plant needs. Our presentation will provide you with useful tools to ensure your landfill is designed and operated to effectively reduce leachate and contact water and alleviate operator stress. We will present case studies that highlight how design features, physical controls, and operational practices have effectively decreased leachate and contact water management at CCR landfills.
2019 EUEC in San Diego, February 25-17, 2019. Conference details here.
As authorized by the WIIN Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued interim final guidance to help states develop their own permitting programs to manage coal combustion residuals – also known as coal ash.
The guidance instructs states on how they can apply to EPA to implement the federal CCR rule and outlines what thresholds states must meet to demonstrate their programs are as protective as federal requirements. The guidance also offers examples of regulatory flexibilities that could meet EPA approval and indicates that states can propose other flexibilities in addition to those specifically identified.
EPA will accept public comments on the guidance through September 14, 2017. To submit your comments, go to Regulations.gov, search for docket number EPA-HQ-OLEM-2017-0458 and follow the online instructions for submitting comments. EPA anticipates that this guidance is likely to be updated as informed by comments received on this interim final guidance and will respond to these comments as appropriate.
For questions and help managing your coal ash in compliance with CCR regulations contact:
Or, contact your local SCS Engineers office .
The complexity of regulations that govern the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR) is growing. We expect the pace of change will also increase based on recent headlines. To help you successfully address these ever-changing regulations and stay focused on serving your customers, SCS Engineers uses our Advice From the Field blog and Technical Bulletins.
Using the SCS Advice blog we recently posted a short overview of the WIIN Act and highlights of how the Act is being received. This is just the start. In the coming weeks and months, SCS Engineers’ staff will bring you timely, relevant updates and interpretations of the WIIN Act and other changing regulations. Most importantly, we’ll recommend what to do next, steps you should consider taking and when to take them so that you’re ready for whatever changes come.
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SCS periodically prepares Technical Bulletins to highlight items of interest to our clients and friends. These are published on our website. For example, this SCS Technical Bulletin addresses Inactive Surface Impoundments and EPA Direct Final Rules for Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities.