This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Oklahoma’s application to operate a permit program for disposing of coal combustion residuals, or coal ash, in landfills and surface impoundments. This approval makes Oklahoma the first state in the nation to run a federally approved coal ash permit program.

“This historic announcement places oversight of coal ash disposal into the hands of those who are best positioned to oversee coal ash management: the officials who have intimate knowledge of the facilities and the environment in their state,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Oklahoma is leading the way for other states to establish state coal ash permit programs, and EPA stands ready to work with each and every state to improve coal ash management.”

Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Scott Thompson said the department incorporated the federal rule into its state permitting rules program more than a year ago.

“We have the knowledge and expertise to consider unique and varied local concerns, which will ensure that the program continues to be successful and protective of human health and the environment,” Thompson said.

Prior to the decision, electric utilities in Oklahoma were required to directly implement the requirements of EPA’s 2015 coal ash rule without the technical assistance or oversight provided under a permit program. The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) can now process permit applications and enforce permit violations for existing coal ash units and any future units in Oklahoma based on state law requirements rather than EPA’s federal rule, except for those located in Indian Country.

“Today’s action provides much needed regulatory certainty to facilities in Oklahoma,” the EPA said in a statement. “After working closely with the state, EPA determined that the permit program submitted by ODEQ will be as protective as the federal regulatory program that it is replacing.”

In addition to approving Oklahoma’s application, the EPA has received an initial application from the state of Georgia to operate a state-run permit program for coal ash.