The wait is over. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the final version of its “Holistic Approach to Closure Part A” rule on July 29, 2020. With this announcement, the EPA provided long-awaited clarity to the regulation surrounding coal combustion residual (CCR) management for coal-fired power plants. The rule officially defines deadlines and requirements with full expectation that compliance will be swift and complete. Whether plants need to create their documentation and plans from scratch, or need to adapt current submissions to accommodate new scope changes, the time to act is now.

Under the final rule, the deadline to begin closure or retrofitting for all unlined surface impoundments (regardless of groundwater status) and those impoundments that failed the aquifer separation criteria is as soon as technically feasible, but not later than April 11, 2021. If plants need more time, the deadline to submit a plan and extension request to the EPA is Nov. 30, 2020.

In addition to establishing strict deadlines, Part A outlined several scope changes and many new requirements for both avenues of plant compliance. Significant changes from the comprehensive rule are highlighted below.

Alternative Disposal Capacity

If seeking alternative disposal capacity, plants now must adjust their plans to consider and accommodate the following:

  • The EPA is encouraging more detail on the options considered, including timelines for each of the other potential alternatives. Plants can redact confidential business information if needed, but the EPA wants to know why the specific solution was selected.
  • Plants must evaluate temporary treatment solutions for alternative disposal capacity.
  • Plants need to provide dates for when each waste stream — for both CCR and non-CCR — will have alternative disposal capacity in place, and must begin using that capacity as soon as it becomes available.
  • With an extension request for an unlined impoundment, plants must seek alternative capacity and begin closure as soon as possible, but no later than Oct. 15, 2023. If a plant’s impoundment qualifies as an eligible impoundment — it meets all location restrictions, safety factor assessments, and is not subject to corrective action — it still must seek alternative capacity as soon as possible. However, it may be able to get an additional 12 months, extending the date to no later than Oct. 15, 2024.
  • Plants no longer need to include discussion on areas where the schedule could slip.
  • Plants no longer need to include a compliance narrative. Instead, plants need to attach critical compliance documentation, including groundwater monitoring data with recent sampling events; corrective measures assessments; remedy selection progress reports; reports on the final remedy selection; and the most recent structural stability and safety factor assessments.

Retiring Units or Switching Fuels

Plants looking to retire their units or switch fuels must now adapt their documentation to adhere to the following:

  • Plants must develop a risk mitigation plan, including preemptive corrective measures assessments, even if the impoundment is not leaking at this time. The EPA wants to know the plan for prompt mitigation if leaks are found during the period of the extension.
  • Plants must now include the exact date of when the unit will stop receiving wastes and submit the closure plan with the demonstration. If the EPA does not believe there is adequate time to support closure of the pond after this date and before the deadlines imposed — Oct. 17, 2023 or 2028, depending on impoundment size — the EPA will deny the request for additional time.

Due to the establishment of these new guidelines without a significant increase in time to comply, the EPA is encouraging plants to seek a pre-meeting before submittal. Per the final rule, “incomplete submissions will not toll the facility’s deadline and will be rejected without further process.” Therefore, getting early buy-in from the EPA before submittal may be crucial to identify any potential gaps or errors in a plant’s documentation and plan. The EPA also stresses submitting before the Nov. 30, 2020, deadline. The rule’s preamble states that any opportunity to correct the demonstration is limited to the period before the deadline for submission.

In short, it’s crunch time. The final requirements for the “Holistic Approach to Closure Part B” rule and effluent limitation guidelines (ELG) are still on the horizon this year, but Part A applies to the majority of plants, and its deadline will arrive first. Plants need to make great strides now to get organized or adjust existing documentation and plans. We are actively working with clients at widely varying stages of the process and know that it’s possible to meet these tight timelines as long as plants start moving now.

 

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by
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 scrubber retrofits.