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In response to petitions from industry, EPA is reconsidering certain provisions of the final rule, promulgated in 2014, that aimed to ensure the safe management of coal ash disposal sites. Both industry and environmental groups have also challenged the rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The court held oral argument for the consolidated case, Utility Solid Waste Activities, et al v. EPA, Docket No. 15-01219, on November 20, 2017. The EPA and industry argued that the court should postpone adjudication until EPA completes the reconsideration process for affected provisions, remanding certain subsections of the final rule to EPA for revisions, and a number of challenges to EPA’s rulemaking process and authority.
On March 1, 2018, EPA released what it says will be one of two proposals to amend coal ash disposal regulation. The proposed amendments will “incorporate flexibilities” in regulation to utilities and states, and are being condemned by environmental groups as far less protective of water resources than the Obama-era rule.
Why it Matters
Coal ash, or coal combustion residuals (CCR), is produced whenever coal is burned at coal-fired power plants and is one of the largest forms of industrial waste. While over one-third of coal ash is beneficially reused, often to manufacture cement or wallboard, the rest is disposed of in landfills or surface impoundments. Because coal ash contains many contaminants, including mercury and arsenic, unsafe and unregulated management of coal ash disposal units poses serious environmental and health risks. These risks were realized during a major coal ash spill in Tennessee in 2008 and again in North Carolina in 2014.
Thank you to Harvard student Laura Bloomer, JD/MPP 2019 for her assistance with this rule.