EPA finalizes rule modifying coal ash storage standards

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler finalized his first major rule on July 18, which modifies the EPA’s 2015 federal standards for disposing of coal ash produced by some power plants. The rule provides utilities and states with more flexibility in how coal ash ponds are disposed and reduces requirements for groundwater monitoring.

Rather than imposing a federal standard, the new rule allows states to develop their own coal ash disposal programs, subject to approval by the EPA. It also allows state directors to suspend groundwater monitoring requirements if there is no evidence of migration of hazardous constituents to the uppermost aquifer during the active life of the unit. The deadline to close unlined coal ash ponds, which pose the greatest risk to water resources, received a one-year extension from 2019 to 2020.

Additionally, while previous standards required a professional engineer to inspect and sign off on construction of coal ash storage sites, new regulations allow for a state director to sign off instead.

In anticipation of the rule, several states have already begun preparing their own coal ash disposal programs for review by the EPA. Oklahoma was the first state to receive federal approval, and 10 other states are currently applying.