On Tuesday, July 17, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the first set of revisions to the 2015 regulations for the disposal of coal combustion residuals, also known as CCR or coal ash, from electric utilities and independent power producers. They provide utilities and states more flexibility in how CCR is managed, and saves between $28 million to $31 million a year in regulatory costs, the EPA said.

“These amendments provide states and utilities much-needed flexibility in the management of coal ash, while ensuring human health and the environment are protected,” said Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Our actions mark a significant departure from the one-size-fits-all policies of the past and save tens of millions of dollars in regulatory costs.”

The rule also makes it possible for states to tailor coal-ash disposal requirements based on site-specific risk considerations.

In 2015, minimum national standards were established for the location, design, and operation of existing and new landfills and surface impoundments containing coal ash at more than 400 coal-fired power plants nationwide. In March, EPA proposed more than a dozen changes to these regulations.

The EPA finalized two types of alternative performance standards: allowing a state director (in a state with an approved coal-ash permit program) or the EPA (where EPA is the permitting authority) to suspend groundwater monitoring requirements if there is evidence that there is no potential for migration of hazardous constituents to the uppermost aquifer during the active life of the unit and post closure care; and allowing issuance of technical certifications in lieu of a professional engineer.

In addition, EPA is revising the groundwater protection standard for constituents that do not have an established drinking water standard, also known as a maximum contaminant level (MCL). The EPA is also extending the deadline by which facilities must cease placement of waste in coal ash units closing for cause for two situations: where the facility has detected a statistically significant increase above a groundwater protection standard from an unlined surface impoundment; or where the unit is unable to comply with the location restriction regarding placement above the uppermost aquifer.

Provisions from the proposed rule that are not being finalized will be addressed in a subsequent phase of rulemaking.