For years, coal-fired power plants have been operated with a bit of uncertainty as regulations related to coal combustion residuals (CCRs) management and effluent limitation guidelines (ELG) continue to change. What is clear is that CCR impoundment closures will most likely be more regulated in the future, and recent proposed legislation could drastically change the requirements for closures in place.

With looming changes to rules and regulations, it’s important for coal-fired power plants to consider taking action now on the pond closure process to help avoid possible penalties or lasting repercussions in the future.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is continuing to develop a Federal CCR Permitting program. While this would provide more regulatory certainty for utilities, it would also come with additional oversight and potential impacts to the impoundment closure process and schedules. In addition, Section 622 of the “Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s Future Act,” also known as the “CLEAN Future Act,” was introduced in March 2021. This was amended with the proposed “Ensuring Safe Disposal of Coal Ash Act.”

If this proposed legislation is approved by Congress and signed by the current administration, the EPA would be required to finalize revisions to the CCR Rule within two years. These changes would:

  • Require meaningful public participation in state or federal permit programs for CCR units. Permits for operations, closures and corrective actions, for example, would need to be updated every five years.
  • Deny permits that would allow coal combustion residuals to remain in contact with groundwater or remain in unlined units.
  • Require financial assurance for closure of CCR units.
  • Prohibit the continued operation of unlined impoundments (the Part B could be vacated).
  • Regulate all legacy impoundments under the CCR Rule; closed landfills could have the potential to be regulated.
  • Add boron, hexavalent chromium, manganese and sulfate to the Appendix IV constituent list for groundwater monitoring.

These new requirements would carry the potential for affecting the closure of CCR units, significantly impacting groundwater remediation efforts and approaches. By planning ahead, more time is created to receive budget approvals, obtain necessary project equipment, acquire proper permitting and reach project completion before it’s too late.

Although regulations and changes are not finalized, it is strongly recommended to take action now by working with an experienced firm to evaluate potential risks with current plant assets and create a plan for the future.

 

As rules and regulations around CCR landfills and surface impoundments become stricter, owners and operators of coal-fired plants face many challenges. Learn more about uncovering the right approach to CCR management.

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Jason Eichenberger, PE, is an associate civil engineer and CCR disposal specialist at Burns & McDonnell. He has experience with CCR/ELG compliance studies, ash conversion projects, CCR landfills, CCR impoundment closures, intake modification projects and other plant retrofits.