On May 18, 2023, EPA published the proposed Hazardous and Solid Waste Management System: Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals from Electric Utilities; Legacy CCR Surface Impoundments (proposed rule) in the Federal Register to amend subpart D of part 257 of Title 40 [Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2020-0107; FRL–7814-02-OLEM]. TRC initially summarized key aspects of EPA’s proposed rule in Summary of Proposed Coal Combustion Residuals Legacy CCR Surface Impoundments Rule, June 15, 2023. Drawing from our expertise and extensive experience supporting utilities as they navigate the intricacies of the CCR rule, TRC has submitted public comments related to EPA’s proposed compliance timeline and schedule.
Background and Public Comment Status
EPA’s proposed rule would regulate Legacy CCR Surface Impoundments and Coal Combustion Residual Management Units (CCRMU) under the existing Subpart D of part 257 of Title 40, known as the CCR Rule, which became effective on October 19, 2015. The proposed rule adds the following two categories of currently unregulated CCR units:
- Legacy CCR Surface Impoundments. Inactive surface impoundments at inactive or closed electric utilities that no longer receives CCR, but contained both CCR and liquids on or after October 19, 2015; and
- CCRMUs. Other areas at electric utilities where CCR is managed or has inadvertently been spilled directly on land, such as previously closed or inactive landfills, and previously closed surface impoundments – unless the CCR use meets the proposed rules’ criteria for beneficial use off site.
EPA received public comments on the proposed rule from May 18 through July 17, 2023, hosted an in-person hearing on June 28, 2023, and an online public hearing on July 12, 2023. EPA also held an online meeting with the Utility Solid Waste Activities Group (USWAG) affiliates on June 20, 2023, to answer questions and gain feedback on the proposed rule.
One of EPA’s objectives for the proposed rule is to address the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision of August 21, 2018, which found EPA remiss in not specifically addressing legacy CCR impoundments. A second EPA objective is to incorporate other past CCR management practices at CCR accumulation areas where CCR was placed or spilled directly onto the ground, referred to as CCRMUs. Both the legacy CCR impoundments and the other CCR accumulation areas (CCRMUs) are currently exempt from regulation under the existing 2015 CCR rule.
The proposed rule has broad sweeping compliance obligations for sites with both inactive impoundments and landfills, and/or CCRMUs by extending inspection, groundwater monitoring, cleanup, closure, record keeping, and public internet reporting obligations for legacy impoundments at inactive sites and inactive landfills at regulated sites. Through regulation of CCRMUs, the proposed rule would also drastically change beneficial use of CCR materials at facilities. Two key exclusions under the proposed rule are:
- An active or inactive utility that only has inactive or closed landfills on site would not be covered by the proposed rule unless there are inactive or active surface impoundments present, then the inactive landfill is covered under the proposed rule and would be regulated as a CCRMU; and
- The current proposal would not apply to a utility that only has a landfill that closed prior to October 19, 2015, at an inactive site.
Key Considerations and Identified Challenges
On July 17, 2023, TRC submitted public comments to EPA’s Docket (Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OLEM-2020-0107) for the proposed rule with the goal of providing feedback that will improve the successful implementation of the proposed rule while honoring EPA’s efforts to address CCR-related groundwater impacts that pose an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment.
TRC note that the requirements of the proposed rule will have significant impact to electric utility facilities regulated by the proposed rule, and the costs of these impacts will ultimately be borne by the electric rate payers, further burdening economically disadvantaged populations. Many comments are related to identified challenges imposed by the proposed rule including the expedited compliance and implementation timeframes, which will be difficult, if not impossible, to achieve within EPA’s aggressive timelines based on available resources. TRC also reviewed comments posted by EPA on the docket from other stakeholders and found that that many highlighted similar common themes and challenges. Our comments identified key consideration and challenges including:
- CCRMUs too broadly defined;
- Asset retirement considerations;
- Limited consultant and contractor resources available;
- Aggressive and unattainable groundwater monitoring compliance schedule;
- Closure timeframes need to recognize the difficulty to achieve groundwater protection standards (GWPS);
- Alignment with existing EPA Guidance; and
- Allowance for risk-based management strategies following available EPA and state policy and guidance.
A more detailed description of these key considerations is provided in our comments to the EPA docket.
Based on these concerns, we offered an alternative compliance schedule to EPA that would proceed at an accelerated pace while aligning with the objectives of other existing EPA regulatory programs such as CERCLA and RCRA. Our proposed alternative compliance schedule considers the availability of consultant and contractor resources to implement the proposed rule and make informed decisions using site-specific data.
How TRC Can Help
TRC will continue to monitor the development of this proposed Rule change and other upcoming CCR related rulemaking, and track what it means for the industry and our clients.
TRC delivers engineering, construction and environmental strategies for all phases of coal ash management and compliance. Our scientists and engineers are experts in all aspects of the CCR rule including evaluating/applying Federal and State regulations, identifying technical remedies and business implications for compliance options and designing engineering solutions to address site-specific issues. For more information on the regulatory outlook for coal ash, or to discuss our coal ash management solutions please contact our experts below.