Coal Combustion Residue Management: Impact of Potential Federal Regulation
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) spill in December 2008 brought national attention to the management of coal combustion residues (CCR) from coal-burning power plants. Also referred to as "coal ash," states have traditionally regulated the management and disposal of this waste.
As a result of the TVA incident, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated a fast-track federal regulatory process for CCR. EPA is considering two possible options for the management of this waste. Both options fall under the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Under the first proposal, EPA would list CCR as a "special" waste subject to regulation as a hazardous waste under Subtitle C of RCRA when destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments. Under the second proposal, EPA would regulate coal ash as a non-hazardous (solid) waste under Subtitle D of RCRA. EPA has received extensive comments from states, environmental organizations, and the regulated community on these options, but to date has not issued a final rule.
DHEC staff recognizes there may be ways to improve the management of CCR, as well as to more closely monitor beneficial use activities. We do not believe that imposing federal requirements on states is the best approach. The proposed federal options would be overly burdensome on both regulators and regulated entities, would significantly discourage beneficial reuse, and most likely would not result in any appreciable positive increase in regulatory oversight and management. For example, if CCR is required to be managed as a hazardous waste, adequate landfill disposal capacity is currently lacking across the states, including South Carolina. South Carolina's power plants report that 40-80% of the coal ash creation is currently recycled into new products, most commonly concrete and wallboard. The designation of CCR as "hazardous" may severely hamper the beneficial reuse of CCR.
Our written comments to EPA on the proposed federal regulation stated our belief that existing regulatory programs appropriately address the management and disposal of CCR. However, if EPA decides to move forward with a final rule, it is our position that the preferred approach should be regulation under Subtitle D as a solid waste. Such a rule should allow flexibility in states like South Carolina that have comprehensive solid waste management and water programs for CCR already in place.
DHEC regulates CCR pursuant to its authority under the South Carolina Solid Waste Policy and Management Act (SWPMA) and the South Carolina Pollution Control Act (PCA). These statutes and associated regulations give DHEC the authority to regulate coal-burning power plants that manage CCR in landfills, surface impoundments, and through beneficial use.
Landfill regulations have been in place since the 1970's, and were amended in 2008 to enhance requirements for landfills. Power plants are required to periodically test their CCR waste to ensure that it is properly managed and disposed. If the toxicity of the CCR waste changes, DHEC may adjust requirements for the type of landfill in which it may be disposed.
DHEC has authority under the PCA to regulate surface impoundments that receive CCR waste. Regulations promulgated under the PCA require that the design of any new impoundment include an appropriate liner to protect groundwater. Groundwater monitoring can be required as well because the PCA not only regulates discharges to surface waters, but also discharges to groundwater. DHEC also has the authority to address any structural issues of concern. In addition, existing facilities can be required to make corrective actions as necessary to protect public health and the environment.
We currently make a case-by-case determination on beneficial reuse projects for CCR based upon waste characterization (toxicity), the proposed project, and other technical information. In South Carolina, electric utilities are recycling CCR. Gypsum produced at the utilities is used in dry wall production. Untreated fly ash and bottom ash are used in the manufacturing of concrete. We believe that these encapsulated uses are protective of the environment and public health.