EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson

EPA Offers Two Alternatives in Coal Ash Regulation

One would treat it as non-hazardous, the other as a "special waste" -- a definition selected to encourage continued reuse. Environmental groups won't be happy, but this would be the first national rule regulating coal ash, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said today.

Two alternative schemes for regulating coal ash are being proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency, but EPA has chosen not to regulate coal ash under RCRA as a hazardous waste. Administrator Lisa Jackson and senior EPA officials outlined the two proposals today, with Jackson saying two alternatives were proposed because EPA believes it's important to get on with this regulatory process. People felt strongly on both sides of the issue, and there are valid viewpoints on both sites. The officials would not answer reporters' questions asking whether the Office of Management and Budget had forced EPA not to propose regulating the ash as hazardous waste.

One or more public hearings will be held during a 90-day comment period; Jackson and the other officials said they expect many comments. The American Coal Ash Association, whose members include numerous energy companies, says coal ash -- although it can contain arsenic, lead, and other hazardous materials -- is a recycling success story. Coal ash is used as fill material following strip mining, for making concrete and Portland cement, and as a road base material in highway construction. ACCA and other energy interests have lobbied vigorously to prevent EPA from designating coal ash a hazardous waste. Comments are being sought from the public about "unencapsulated" reuse such as in highway construction, the EPA officials said.

Despite an impressive recycling record, not all coal ash is reused. A Dec. 22, 2008, disaster in Tennessee focused public and congressional attention on coal ash impoundments. A retaining pond's wall at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant collapsed, releasing 5.4 million cubic yards of coal fly ash, causing major damage that has required hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs, Jackson said today.

"Our goal in this rulemaking is to ensure health and safety of all communities," she said. "The time has come for common-sense national protections. Today's proposal is the beginning of a national dialogue."

Once a rule becomes final, under one alternative, existing impoundments would have to install a composite liner or stop receiving new waste within five years and then close, she said. The other alternative has the same timeline and would require removing solids from the waste and retrofitting with a new liner, but it would have to be accomplished through implementation of public state programs, Jackson said.

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