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EPA coal ash waste proposal

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the first-ever federal rules to regulate coal ash waste or “coal combustion residuals”, which are the spin-off of burning off coal to create power. The large bulks of coal ash rendered by power plants may be cast out either in liquid form at large surface impoundments or in solid form at landfills. Coal ash may also be reprocessed for beneficial uses, including use in concrete, cement, and wallboard.

In its press release, the federal agency stated that coal ash waste holds back “contaminants like cadmium, mercury, and arsenic, which are linked up with cancer and various other grievous health effects” and thought that without suitable disposal safeguards, these toxins could mixed into groundwater and migrate to drinking water sources. A main impetus for the EPA’s current efforts toward coal ash rule was the December 2008 falling out of a surface impoundment, where 5.4 million cubic yards of ash flooded nearby waterways and land, displacing residents and leaving in an expected $1.2 billion in cleaning costs.

The EPA coal ash waste proposal takes an unusual approach therein proffers 2 unlike alternatives for coal ash rule under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the nation’s main solid and hazardous waste law. The 2 alternatives take issue significantly both in breadth and means of enforcement. Regulation under Subtitle C, which regulates hazardous wastes, would constitute a comprehensive authority to regulate coal ash from generation to disposition, with permitting necessities and direct federal enforcement. In reply to industry’s interest that regulation of coal ash as hazardous would denounce and hamper its good reuse, the EPA proposes to list coal ash in a recently created “special waste” category under Subtitle C.

The 2nd option is regulation under Subtitle D, which links up to nonhazardous residential and industrial solid wastes. Under this alternative, the EPA would lay down performance standards for waste management facilities but wouldn’t have “cradle-to-grave” authority to influence coal ash. In addition, the EPA rules wouldn’t require tolerating and wouldn’t be federally enforceable, alternatively leaving enforcement to citizen suits and state action.

Regulation under either Subtitle C or Subtitle D would demand protections such as linings and groundwater monitoring for recently landfills, groundwater monitoring for subsisting landfills, and retrofitting of liners for subsisting surface impoundments, conjointly with strong incentives for closing and changeover to dry storage. In addition, both choices would hold back the current exemption from EPA regulation for coal ash designated for beneficial reuse.

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EPA coal ash waste proposal

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