During mid-May, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a proposed rule that would require the safe management of coal combustion residuals (CCRs) and coal ash stored in areas that are currently unregulated at the federal level. This includes inactive power plants with surface impoundments that are no longer being used and historical coal ash disposal areas at power plants with regulated coal ash units. Because this proposal applies to legacy contamination or inactive units that no longer support current power plant operations, it is not expected to affect current power plant operations.

The agency believes “legacy CCR surface impoundments,” are more likely to be unlined and unmonitored, making them more prone to leaks and structural problems than units at facilities that are currently in service. These units are currently not regulated at the federal level — a gap that a federal court directed the EPA to address in 2018. To address these concerns, the EPA is proposing safeguards for legacy coal ash surface impoundments that largely mirror those for inactive impoundments at active facilities, including requiring the proper closure of the impoundments and remediating coal ash contamination in groundwater.

In addition, through implementation of the 2015 CCR rule, EPA found that power plants with regulated impoundments had also disposed of coal ash in areas outside of regulated units.  These areas could include coal ash in surface impoundments and landfills that closed prior to the effective date of the 2015 CCR Rule, inactive CCR landfills, and other areas where coal ash is placed directly on the land. The agency is proposing to apply certain protections in EPA’s coal ash regulations to these areas.

EPA is currently collecting public comments on the proposals for 60 days.