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Frequent Questions about the Coal Ash Disposal Rule

On this page

  1. What is coal ash?
  2. How much coal ash is generated and disposed of each year?
  3. How and where is coal ash currently generated and disposed?
  4. Why is EPA regulating coal ash?
  5. What is EPA’s Coal Ash Surface Impoundment Integrity Assessment Program?
  6. What is EPA’s final rule on coal ash?
  7. How does the final rule protect groundwater from contamination?
  8. How does the final rule protect surface water from contamination?
  9. How does the final rule protect communities against surface impoundment failure?
  10. How does the final rule protect against fugitive dust?
  11. What is beneficial use?
  12. Why do companies recycle and reuse coal ash?
  13. How is coal ash currently being beneficially used?
  14. How are beneficial uses of coal ash currently regulated?
  15. Does the final rule regulate beneficial use?
  16. Does the final rule define beneficial use of coal combustion residual?
  17. What is structural fill?
  18. Does the final rule regulate structural fill?
  19. How does the final rule address the minefilling of coal ash?
  20. What does EPA believe will be the benefits of the rule?
  21. How is EPA incorporating state programs in implementing this final rule?
  22. What is EPA’s role in implementation of the final rule?
  23. What is the value of EPA’s approval of a SWMP?
  24. How will EPA’s approval of a SWMP address alignment of state programs and this final rule?
  25. What is the role of citizens in implementation? In the development and/or revision of SWMPs?
  26. How will States and the public be notified of utilities’ actions to address this final rule?
  27. When would a CCR disposal unit be required to close?
  28. What are the obligations for new and existing surface impoundments and landfills?
  29. What are the timeframes for implementation under this rule?
  30. What are the requirements for location restrictions?
  31. What are the requirements for liner design criteria?
  32. What are the requirements for groundwater monitoring and corrective action?
  33. What are the requirements for closure and post closure?
  34. What are the requirements for structural integrity?
  35. What are the requirements for operating criteria?
  36. What are the requirements for recordkeeping, notification, and internet posting?
  37. Does this rule apply to inactive units?
  38. How does this rule interact with the Steam Electric Effluent Guidelines rule due out next September?

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  1. What is coal ash?

    Coal combustion residuals (CCRs), commonly known as coal ash, are byproducts of the combustion of coal at power plants by electric utilities and independent power producers. There are several different types of materials produced including:

    • Fly Ash, a very fine, powdery material composed mostly of silica made from the burning of finely ground coal in a boiler.
    • Bottom Ash, a coarse, angular ash particle that is too large to be carried up into the smoke stacks so it forms in the bottom of the coal furnace.
    • Boiler Slag, molten bottom ash from slag tap and cyclone type furnaces that turns into pellets that have a smooth glassy appearance after it is cooled with water.
    • Flue Gas Desulfurization Material (FGD), a material leftover from the process of reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from a coal-fired boiler that can be a wet sludge consisting of calcium sulfite or calcium sulfate or a dry powered material that is a mixture of sulfites and sulfates.

    Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic associated with cancer and various other serious health effects. Coal ash is disposed of in wet form in large surface impoundments and in dry form in landfills. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) estimates of potential risk and evaluation of damage cases demonstrate that, without proper protections, these contaminants can leach into groundwater and can potentially migrate to drinking water sources, posing significant public health concerns.

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  2. How much coal ash is generated and disposed of each year?

    CCRs are one of the largest industrial waste streams generated in the United States. In 2012, more than 470 coal-fired electric utilities burned over 800 million tons of coal, generating approximately 110 million tons of CCRs in 47 states and Puerto Rico.

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  3. How and where is coal ash currently generated and disposed?

    CCRs may be generated wet or dry, and some CCRs are dewatered while others are mixed with water to facilitate transport (e.g., sluiced).

    CCRs can be disposed in off-site landfills, or disposed in on-site landfills or surface impoundments. In 2012, approximately 40 percent of the CCRs generated were beneficially used, with the remaining 60 percent disposed in surface impoundments and landfills. Of that 60 percent, approximately 80 percent was disposed in on-site disposal units. CCR disposal currently occurs at more than 310 active on-site landfills, averaging more than 120 acres in size with an average depth of over 40 feet, and at more than 735 active on-site surface impoundments, averaging more than 50 acres in size with an average depth of 20 feet.

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  4. Why is EPA regulating coal ash?

    EPA determined that improperly constructed or managed coal ash disposal units have been linked to cases of harm to surface or ground water or to the air. This new rule addresses the risks from coal ash disposal identified in these cases -- leaking of contaminants into groundwater, blowing of contaminants into the air as dust, and the catastrophic failure of coal ash surface impoundments such as what occurred at TVA's Kingston, Tennessee facility -- by adding new requirements for coal ash surface impoundments and landfills.

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  5. What is EPA’s Coal Ash Surface Impoundment Integrity Assessment Program?

    The Coal Ash Surface Impoundment Integrity Assessment Program was a comprehensive evaluation undertaken by EPA to evaluate the condition and safety of coal ash ponds nationwide. By March 2009, EPA had begun field work to assess all above-grade coal ash surface impoundments – more than 500 units located at over 200 power plants – and by 2012 had concluded one of the largest targeted field assessments ever conducted by EPA. In response to the assessments, power plants took actions to help ensure structural stability, thus greatly enhancing environmental and public health protection. In addition, to promote transparency, the information generated through these engineering assessments has been posted on EPA’s web site and made available to the public.

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  6. What is EPA’s final rule on coal ash?

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized national regulations to provide for the safe disposal of coal combustion residuals from coal-fired power plants. Coal ash is generated from the burning of coal at power plants and is disposed of in large ponds called surface impoundments and in landfills.

    This groundbreaking rule is the culmination of extensive study on the effects of coal ash on the environment and public health. The rule establishes technical requirements for landfills and surface impoundments under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the nation's primary law for regulating solid waste. EPA carefully evaluated more than 450,000 comments on the proposed rule, testimony from eight public hearings, and information gathered from three notices soliciting comment on new data and analyses. The final rule makes a number of changes from the proposal including providing greater clarity on technical requirements in response to questions received during the comment period.

    EPA is also establishing recordkeeping and reporting requirements under this final rule, including the online posting of annual groundwater monitoring and corrective action reports, CCR fugitive dust control plans and closure completion notifications. EPA is committed to work closely with the states. EPA also encourages States to revise their Solid Waste Management Plans (SWMPs) and to submit these revisions to EPA for approval. Revised SWMPs are the best mechanisms available to show alignment between state and federal requirements, provide the public the opportunity to review and comment on states' plans for regulating CCR disposal units in their State, and to demonstrate consistency with the federal requirements.

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  7. How does the final rule protect groundwater from contamination?

    Improperly constructed or managed coal ash disposal units have been linked in cases to harm to groundwater, and this final rule addresses the risks identified in these cases -- leaking of contaminants into groundwater -- by adding new requirements for coal ash surface impoundments and landfills including:

    • Groundwater monitoring around surface impoundments and landfills;
    • Liner requirements for new surface impoundments and landfills to protect groundwater;
    • Groundwater cleanup from coal ash contamination;
    • The closure of unlined surface impoundments that are polluting groundwater;
    • The closure of surface impoundments that fail to meet engineering and structural standards or are located too close to a drinking water source;
    • Restrictions on the location of new surface impoundments and landfills so that they cannot be built in sensitive areas such as wetlands and earthquake zones; and
    • Proper closure of all surface impoundments and landfills that will no longer receive CCRs.

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  8. How does the final rule protect surface water from contamination?

    The final rule also protects surface water from pollution from catastrophic failures of impoundments by establishing structural integrity criteria for new and existing surface impoundments.

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  9. How does the final rule protect communities against surface impoundment failure?

    The final rule establishes structural integrity criteria for new and existing surface impoundments (and all lateral expansions of them) as part of the design criteria, and establishes requirements for owner or operators to conduct periodically a number of structural integrity-related assessments. These include:

    • Conducting periodic hazard potential classification assessments to assess the damage that would occur if there was a failure of the CCR surface impoundment;
    • Conducting periodic structural stability assessments by a qualified professional engineer to document whether the design, construction, operation and maintenance is consistent with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices; and
    • Conducting periodic safety factor assessments to document whether the CCR disposal unit achieves minimum factors of safety.

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  10. How does the final rule protect against fugitive dust?

    During the comment process of the proposed rule many citizens expressed concerns about fugitive dust. The final rule requires CCR landfill or surface impoundment operators to develop a fugitive dust plan with adequate dust control measures for each site. Examples of control measures include: locating CCR inside an enclosure or partial enclosure; operating a water spray or fogging system; reducing fall distances at material drop points; using wind barriers, compaction, or vegetative covers; establishing and enforcing reduced vehicle speed limits; paving and sweeping roads; covering trucks transporting CCR; reducing or halting operations during high wind events; or applying a daily cover. The operators must also keep a log of citizen complaints about fugitive dust. Every year the operator must prepare a report detailing the controls used, any citizen complaints received, and a summary of any corrective actions taken.

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  11. What is beneficial use?

    Beneficial use is the recycling or reuse of coal ash in lieu of disposal. For example, coal ash is an important ingredient in the manufacture of concrete and wallboard, and EPA supports the responsible use of coal ash in this manner. This final rule supports the responsible recycling of coal ash by distinguishing beneficial use from disposal.

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  12. Why do companies recycle and reuse coal ash?

    Beneficial use of coal ash can produce positive environmental, economic and performance benefits such as reduced use of virgin resources, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduced cost of coal ash disposal, and improved strength and durability of materials.

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  13. How is coal ash currently being beneficially used?

    As of 2012, according to the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA) data, approximately 50 percent of the CCRs beneficially used on an annual basis falls into two categories: 1) fly ash used as a direct substitute for Portland cement during the production of concrete (referred to as “fly ash concrete”); and 2) FGD gypsum used as a replacement for mined gypsum in wallboard (referred to as “FGD gypsum wallboard”) during use by the consumer. Specifically, a 2012 ACAA survey indicates the largest encapsulated beneficial uses of CCRs, by more than a factor of two, are fly ash used in “concrete/concrete products/grout” (12.6 million tons) and FGD gypsum used in “gypsum panel products” (7.6 million tons).

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  14. How are beneficial uses of coal ash currently regulated?

    Currently, state environmental agencies are primarily responsible for regulating beneficial use. Coal ash being beneficially used is currently excluded from federal regulation under EPA’s May 2000 regulatory determination that the Bevill amendment applies to such uses. Under RCRA, federal action could be taken if there were a finding of imminent or substantial endangerment in a specific circumstance.

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  15. Does the final rule regulate beneficial use?

    The final rule provides a definition of beneficial use to distinguish between beneficial use and disposal. This rule does not affect beneficial use applications completed before the effective date of the rule; only applications to be started after the effective date of the rule need to determine if they comply with the criteria contained in the final rule distinguishing between beneficial use and disposal.

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  16. Does the final rule define beneficial use of coal combustion residual?

    The final beneficial use criteria are as follows: (1) The CCR must provide a functional benefit; (2) The CCR must substitute for the use of a virgin material, conserving natural resources that would otherwise need to be obtained through practices such as extraction; (3) The use of CCRs must meet relevant product specifications, regulatory standards, or design standards when available, and when such standards are not available, CCRs are not used in excess quantities; and (4) When unencapsulated use of CCRs involves placement on the land of 12,400 tons or more in non-roadway applications, the user must demonstrate and keep records, and provide such documentation upon request, that environmental releases to ground water, surface water, soil and air are comparable to or lower than those from analogous products made without CCRs, or that environmental releases to ground water, surface water, soil and air will be at or below relevant regulatory and health-based benchmarks for human and ecological receptors during use.

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  17. What is structural fill?

    Structural fill is typically an earthen material used to create a strong, stable base. Structural fills are constructed by compacting earthen material to develop a structural fill that can be used to support roadways or other structures when completed. Traditionally, fill materials have been composed of soil and natural aggregates. However, coal combustion residuals can be used as a substitute for natural materials in the construction of a structural fill.

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  18. Does the final rule regulate structural fill?

    The final rule provides a distinction between disposal and beneficial use. In the final rule, a definition of the term "beneficial use of coal combustion residual" is provided. The definition contains four criterion that unencapsulated uses of CCRs (like structural fills) must comply with. The fourth criterion applies to any unencapsulated use of CCRs that involves placement on the land of 12,400 tons or more in non-roadway applications. If a non-roadway structural fill application, larger than 12,400 tons, complies with all four criterion, then the structural fill application is considered beneficial use. Any non-roadway structural fill application larger than 12,400 tons, that fails to comply with all of the relevant criteria in the definition of "beneficial use of CCR" will be considered disposal of CCRs subject to all of the requirements in the disposal regulation.

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  19. How does the final rule address the minefilling of coal ash?

    This final rule does not apply to CCRs placed in active or abandoned underground or surface coal mines, consistent with the approach in the proposed rule. The U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) and EPA will address the management of CCR in minefills in separate regulatory actions. EPA will work with the DOI to develop effective federal regulations to help ensure that the placement of coal combustion residuals in minefill operations is adequately controlled.

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  20. What does EPA believe will be the benefits of the rule?

    Key benefits of the rule include the prevention of future catastrophic failures of coal ash impoundments, the protection of groundwater from contamination, the reduction of dust in communities near coal ash impoundments and increases in the beneficial reuse of coal ash. While EPA was not able to monetize all of the benefits of the rule because of a lack of data in certain areas, the Agency has attempted to monetize benefits associated with the prevention of structural failures at surface impoundments, prevention of groundwater contamination from, and the increase in the beneficial use of CCRs, which reduces consumption of virgin materials and the associated costs and environmental impacts of their use. The average annual monetized benefits are estimated to be $232 million per year using a seven percent discount rate. Using a three percent discount rate the average annual benefits are estimated to be $289 million per year. These monetized benefits do not include a number of important benefits which EPA was not able to quantify. This includes benefits to communities near coal ash impoundments, for example by reducing nuisance dust and non-cancer risks from fish consumption.

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  21. How is EPA incorporating state programs in implementing this final rule?

    EPA is strongly encouraging States to adopt at least the federal minimum criteria into their regulations. EPA recognizes that some States have already adopted requirements that go beyond the minimum federal requirements. This rule will not affect these State requirements; moreover, the final rule does not preclude a State from adopting more stringent requirements where they deem that appropriate.

    Early in the development of the waste management infrastructure, a process was created to encourage States to effectively plan for and manage their solid wastes through the development of Solid Waste Management Plans. Currently, most states have SWMPs that have been submitted to and approved by EPA. EPA recommends that States take advantage of this process, already in the regulations, by revising their SWMPs to address the issuance of the revised federal requirements and to submit revisions of these plans to EPA.

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  22. What is EPA’s role in implementation of the final rule?

    EPA will provide a series of information sessions to inform all stakeholders of the requirements of the rule. EPA will work closely with States on implementation issues. EPA will review and, as appropriate, approve State Solid Waste Management Plans.

    In addition, EPA plans to target outreach and information activities to citizens and other groups. It is important that they understand the information that will be available to them on publicly accessible Internet sites for confirming compliance by the regulated community with the requirements of these regulations.

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  23. What is the value of EPA’s approval of a SWMP?

    EPA’s approval of a SWMP has value for both States and facilities. EPA’s approval of a revised SWMP signals EPA’s opinion that the State SWMP meets the minimum federal criteria.

    Once EPA has approved a SWMP that incorporates or goes beyond the minimum federal requirements, EPA expects that facilities in that State will operate in compliance with that plan and the applicable State regulations. In those circumstances, EPA’s view is that facilities adhering to the requirements of a State program that is identical to or more stringent than an approved SWMP will meet or exceed the minimum federal criteria. EPA anticipates that a facility that operates in accord with an approved SWMP will be able to positively use that fact in a citizen suit brought to enforce the federal criteria. A court will likely accord substantial weight to the fact that a facility is operating in accord with an EPA-approved SWMP.

    However, EPA approval of a SWMP revision does not mean that the State program operates “in lieu of” the federal program, as EPA has no authority under the statute to make such a determination.

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  24. How will EPA’s approval of a SWMP address alignment of state programs and this final rule?

    The SWMP is the mechanism where a State will be able to set out, as part of their overall solid waste program, how the State intends to regulate CCR landfills and surface impoundments. In other words, the plan can demonstrate how the State program has incorporated the minimum national criteria and can highlight those areas where the State regulations are more stringent or otherwise go beyond the federal minimum criteria. For example, the plan can describe the actions the State will take to oversee CCR disposal units, particularly those units undergoing closure or corrective action, and how the State intends to review or use the notices and other information pertaining to the units that the facility owners will be providing to the State.

    EPA’s approval of a SWMP revision which demonstrates the minimum federal criteria will be met in a State, signals EPA’s opinion that the State SWMP meets the minimum federal criteria.

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  25. What is the role of citizens in implementation? In the development and/or revision of SWMPs?

    Citizens perform a crucial role in the implementation and enforcement of this rule and EPA has designed recordkeeping and Internet posting requirements as part of the final rule to help ensure transparency and to assist citizens in playing that role.

    The regulations promulgated today are “self-implementing,” that is a facility must comply with them without any action by a regulatory agency. In addition, since these regulations are being promulgated under subtitle D of RCRA, EPA has no formal role in implementation nor can it enforce the requirements. Thus, enforcement of these requirements will be by citizen suits (or by States acting as citizens). States may also incorporate the federal requirements into state law—whether through revisions to existing legislation or regulation, or through incorporating them into any permits issued to CCR facilities – and where they do so, such laws or requirements are enforced by the state.”

    The final rule requires comprehensive and regular disclosure to states and communities to enable them to monitor and oversee these requirements. EPA will provide assistance and information to citizens and states to help them become familiar with the requirements and available information.

    Citizens also perform a critical role in the development of SWMPs. Revisions of SWMPs must have a public participation process. This process will provide the public and communities near CCR landfills and surface impoundments with an opportunity to participate in the decision making about how CCRs are managed in their State.

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  26. How will States and the public be notified of utilities’ actions to address this final rule?

    Under the final rule, facilities are subject to recordkeeping requirements, requirements to notify the State, and a requirement to develop and maintain a publicly available Internet site containing information on facilities’ actions to comply with the elements of the final rule.

    This set of requirements helps ensure transparency and provides citizens and the States the mechanism to oversee a facility’s compliance with the regulation. Some examples are annual groundwater monitoring results, corrective action reports, fugitive dust control plans and closure completion notifications.

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  27. When would a CCR disposal unit be required to close?

    Closure of a CCR unit is triggered in one of three ways:

    1. When a CCR unit receives the known final waste shipment or when the owner or operator removes the known final volume of CCRs from the unit for the purposes of beneficial use. In this case, closure must begin within 30 days of such receipt or volume removal.
    2. For “idled” units – the rule establishes a presumption that the owner or operator must initiate closure of the CCR unit no later than two years after the most recent receipt of CCRs or any non-CCR waste stream or no later than two years after the most recent date that CCRs was removed for the unit for the purpose of beneficial use, whichever is later. The rule provides procedures for an owner or operator to rebut this presumption and obtain additional time, provided the owner or operator can make the required demonstration.
    3. When a unit fails to meet certain technical criteria:
      1. If the CCR unit cannot meet the location criteria or the engineering demonstrations that the unit can still operate safely even though it does not meet the location restrictions.
      2. If an unlined CCR surface impoundment is found to contaminate groundwater in excess of a groundwater protection standard.
      3. If a CCR surface impoundment cannot demonstrate that it meets the minimum factors of safety regarding structural integrity of the CCR unit.
         

    In these cases, the owner or operator must cease putting CCRs into the unit and initiate closure within 6 months.

    If a unit does not meet provision a. or b. above, it may qualify for alternative closure requirements if it can demonstrate there is no alternative CCR disposal capacity or if the boiler will be permanently retiring in the near future.

    If a unit does not meet provision c. listed above, there is no alternative. The unit must initiate closure.

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  28. What are the obligations for new and existing surface impoundments and landfills?

    Generally speaking, new and existing disposal units must comply with location restrictions, liner design criteria, structural integrity requirements, operating criteria, groundwater monitoring and corrective action, closure and post closure care requirements, and recordkeeping, notification, and Internet posting requirements.

    Landfills

    • Existing landfills must comply with groundwater monitoring and corrective action requirements, operating criteria (e.g., weekly and annual inspections, fugitive dust controls, and run-on, run-off controls), closure requirements, post closure care, and recordkeeping, notifications, and publicly accessible Internet site requirements. The only location restriction with which an existing landfill must comply is that related to unstable areas.
    • New landfills and lateral expansions of existing landfills in addition to the above, must also meet location restrictions regarding: proximity to the uppermost aquifer, wetlands, fault areas, seismic impact zones, and unstable areas; and design criteria regarding composite liner and leachate collection and removal system.
       

    Surface Impoundments

    The requirements for new and existing surface impoundments (and any lateral expansions) are virtually the same due to the risks from surface impoundments. Thus, both new and existing surface impoundments must:

    • Comply with the five location restrictions;
    • Comply with groundwater monitoring and corrective action requirements;
    • Meet structural integrity requirements;
    • Meet fugitive dust controls, hydrologic and hydraulic capacity requirements;
    • Comply with closure requirements and post closure care; and
    • Comply with recordkeeping, notifications, and a publicly accessible Internet set requirements.
       

    If it is a new surface impoundment it must be designed with a composite liner or a compacted soil liner with a specified hydraulic conductivity

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  29. What are the timeframes for implementation under this rule?

    This rule becomes effective six (6) months after publication in the Federal Register. However, the final rule establishes timeframes for certain technical criteria based on the amount of time determined to be necessary to implement the requirements (e.g., installing the groundwater monitoring wells and the groundwater monitoring program). The tables below outline the timeframes for each of the technical requirements for existing surface impoundments and landfills.

    Table 1 - Implementation Timeframes for the Minimum Criteria for Existing CCR Surface Impoundments

    Requirement

    (Section in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations)

    Implementation Timeframe (Number of Months after Publication of Rule)

    Description of Requirement to be Completed

    Location Restrictions (§257.60 - §257.64)

    42 months

    - Complete demonstration for placement above the uppermost aquifer

    - Complete demonstrations for wetlands, fault areas, seismic impact zones, and unstable areas

    Design Criteria

    (§257.71)

    18 months

    - Document whether CCR unit is either a lined or unlined CCR surface impoundment

    Structural Integrity

    (§257.73)

    8 months

    18 months

    24 months

    - Install permanent marker

    - Compile a history of construction

    - Complete initial hazard potential classification assessment, initial structural stability assessment, and initial safety factor assessment

    - Prepare emergency action plan

    Air Criteria

    (§257.80)

    6 months

    - Prepare fugitive dust control plan

    Hydrologic and Hydraulic Capacity

    (§257.82)

    18 months

    - Prepare initial inflow design flood control system plan

    Inspections

    (§257.83)

    6 months

    6 months

    9 months

    - Initiate weekly inspections of the CCR unit

    - Initiate monthly monitoring of CCR unit instrumentation

    - Complete the initial annual inspection of the CCR unit

    Groundwater Monitoring and Corrective Action

    (§257.90 - §257.98)

    30 months

    - Install the groundwater monitoring system; develop the groundwater sampling and analysis program; initiate the detection monitoring program; and begin evaluating the groundwater monitoring data for statistically significant increases over background levels

    Closure and Post-Closure Care

    (§257.103 - §257.104)

    18 months

    - Prepare written closure and post-closure care plans

    Recordkeeping, Notification, and Internet Requirements

    (§257.105 - §257.107)

    6 months

    - Conduct required recordkeeping

    - Provide required notifications

    - Establish CCR website

    Table 2 - Implementation Timeframes for the Minimum Criteria for Existing CCR Landfills

    Requirement

    (Section in Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations)

    Implementation Timeframe (Number of Months after Publication of Rule)

    Description of Requirement to be Completed

    Location Restrictions (§257.64)

    42 months

    - Complete demonstration for unstable areas

    Air Criteria

    (§257.80)

    6 months

    - Prepare fugitive dust control plan

    Run-On and Run-Off Controls

    (§257.81)

    18 months

    - Prepare initial run-on and run-off control system plan

    Inspections

    (§257.83)

    6 months

    9 months

    - Initiate weekly inspections of the CCR unit

    - Complete the initial annual inspection of the CCR unit

    Groundwater Monitoring and Corrective Action

    (§257.90 - §257.98)

    30 months

    - Install the groundwater monitoring system; develop the groundwater sampling and analysis program; initiate the detection monitoring program; and begin evaluating the groundwater monitoring data for statistically significant increases over background levels

    Closure and Post-Closure Care

    (§257.103 - §257.104)

    18 months

    - Prepare written closure and post-closure care plans

    Recordkeeping, Notification, and Internet Requirements

    (§257.105 - §257.107)

    6 months

    - Conduct required recordkeeping

    - Provide required notifications

    - Establish CCR website

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  30. What are the requirements for location restrictions?

    The final rule establishes five location restrictions. The location criteria include restrictions relating to placement of CCRs above the uppermost aquifer, in wetlands, within fault areas, in seismic impact zones, and in unstable areas. All of these location restrictions require the owner or operator of a CCR unit to demonstrate that they meet the specific criteria. These apply to all new CCR landfills, all new and existing CCR surface impoundments, and all lateral expansions of CCR units; however, existing CCR landfills are only subject to the location restriction for unstable areas. This final rule requires owner or operators of existing CCR units that cannot make the required demonstrations to close, while owners or operators of new CCR units and all lateral expansions who fail to make the required demonstrations are prohibited from placing CCR in the unit.

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  31. What are the requirements for liner design criteria?

    The final rule also establishes liner design criteria to help prevent contaminants in CCRs from leaching from the CCR unit and contaminating groundwater. All new CCR landfills, new CCR surface impoundments, and lateral expansions of CCR units must be lined with composite liner, which is a liner system consisting of two components – a geomembrane and a two-foot layer of compacted soil – installed in direct and uniform contact with one another. The final rule allows an owner or operator to construct a new CCR unit with an alternative composite liner, provided the alternative composite liner performs no less effectively than the composite liner.

    In addition, new landfills are required to operate with a leachate collection and removal system which is designed to remove excess leachate that may accumulate on top of the composite (or alternative composite) liner. Existing CCR landfills are not required to close or retrofit with a composite (or alternative composite) liner and a leachate collection and removal system. These existing CCR units can continue to receive CCRs after this rule is in effect; however, the CCR units must meet all applicable groundwater monitoring and corrective action criteria to address any groundwater releases promptly.

    Existing CCR surface impoundments can also continue to operate as designed. However, if the existing CCR surface impoundment was not constructed with a composite (or alternative composite) liner or with at least two feet of compacted soil with a specified hydraulic conductivity, the rule may require the unit to retrofit or close. If such a CCR surface impoundment detects concentrations of one or more constituents listed in 40 CFR Part 257 - Appendix IV at statistically significant levels above the groundwater protection standard established by the rule, the CCR unit must retrofit or close.

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  32. What are the requirements for groundwater monitoring and corrective action?

    The groundwater and corrective action criteria in the final rule require an owner or operator of a CCR unit to install a system of monitoring wells and specify procedures for sampling these wells, in addition to methods for analyzing the groundwater data collected, to detect the presence of hazardous constituents (e.g., toxic metals) and other monitoring parameters (e.g., pH, total dissolved solids) released from the units. The final rule establishes a groundwater monitoring program consisting of detection monitoring, assessment monitoring and corrective action. This phased approach to groundwater monitoring and corrective action provides for a graduated response over time to address groundwater contamination as the evidence of such contamination increases. Once a groundwater monitoring system and groundwater monitoring program has been established for a CCR unit under the rule, the owner or operator must conduct groundwater monitoring and, if necessary, corrective action throughout the active life and post-closure care period of the CCR unit.

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  33. What are the requirements for closure and post closure?

    The closure and post-closure care criteria in the final rule require all CCR units to close in accordance with specified standards and to monitor and maintain the units for a period of time after closure, including the groundwater monitoring and corrective action programs. These criteria are essential to ensuring the long-term safety of closing CCR units. Closure of a CCR unit must be completed either by leaving the CCRs in place and installing a final cover system or through removal of the CCRs and decontamination of the CCR unit.

    The final rule establishes timeframes to initiate and complete closure activities, and authorize owners or operators to obtain time extensions due to circumstances beyond the facility’s control. The rule also establishes alternative closure procedures in situations where an owner or operator is closing a CCR unit, but has no alternative CCR disposal capacity or is permanently closing the coal-fired boiler unit in the foreseeable future. Finally, owners and operators are required to prepare closure and post-closure care plans describing these activities.

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  34. What are the requirements for structural integrity?

    To help prevent the damages associated with structural failures of CCR surface impoundments, the final rule establishes structural integrity criteria for new and existing surface impoundments (and all lateral expansions of them) as part of the design criteria. While the applicability of the structural integrity requirements to individual CCR surface impoundments vary depending on factors such as dike heights and the potential for loss of life, environmental damage, and economic loss if there is a dike failure, the final rule establishes requirements for owner or operators to conduct periodically a number of structural integrity-related assessments. These include:

    • Conducting periodic hazard potential classification assessments to assess the damage that would occur if there was a failure of the CCR surface impoundment;
    • Conducting periodic structural stability assessments by a qualified professional engineer to document whether the design, construction, operation and maintenance is consistent with recognized and generally accepted good engineering practices; and
    • Conducting periodic safety factor assessments to document whether the CCR unit achieves minimum factors of safety.
       

    If a CCR unit conducts a safety factor assessment that fails to demonstrate the unit achieves the specified factors of safety, the owner or operator must close the unit. In addition, certain CCR surface impoundments are required to develop an emergency action plan which defines the events and circumstances involving the CCR unit that represent a safety emergency and identifies the actions that will be taken in the event of a safety emergency.

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  35. What are the requirements for operating criteria?

    The operating criteria established in the final rule include air criteria for all CCR units, run-on and run-off controls for CCR landfills, hydrologic and hydraulic capacity requirements for CCR surface impoundments, and periodic inspection requirements for all CCR units. These criteria address the day-to-day operations of CCR units and are established to prevent health and environmental impacts from CCR units.

    The air criteria address the pollution caused by windblown dust from CCR units, and require owners and operators to take all reasonable precautions to minimize CCRs from becoming airborne at the facility. The run-on controls for CCR landfills minimize the amount of surface water entering the unit that will help prevent erosion, surface discharges of CCRs in solution or suspension, and the generation of landfill leachate, while run-off controls protect against releases to surface waters. CCR surface impoundments are subject to hydrologic and hydraulic capacity requirements to help ensure the unit can safely handle flood flows, which will help prevent overtopping of the unit or erosion of the materials used to construct the surface impoundment. The final rule also requires periodic inspections of CCR units to identify any appearance of structural weakness or other conditions that are not consistent with recognized and generally accepted good engineering standards.

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  36. What are the requirements for recordkeeping, notification, and internet posting?

    The final rule requires owner or operators of CCR units to record certain information in the facility’s operating record. In addition, owners and operators are required to provide notification to States and/or appropriate Tribal authorities when the owner or operator places information in the operating record, as well as to maintain a publicly accessible Internet site for this information.

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  37. Does this rule apply to inactive units?

    This rule applies only to inactive surface impoundments, which are those surface impoundments at active power plants that have ceased receiving CCRs before the effective date of the rule. The rule does not apply to inactive landfills.

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  38. How does this rule interact with the Steam Electric Effluent Guidelines rule due out next September?

    While the CCR rule is designed to protect groundwater from contamination, land and surface waters from structural failures of impoundments, and air through fugitive dust controls, in June 2013 EPA proposed the ELG under the Clean Water Act. The proposed ELG would strengthen the existing controls on discharges to surface waters and publically owned treatment works from steam electric power plants including from coal ash ponds. Because these two rules affect similar units and may be met with similar compliance strategies, common-sense implementation timeframes were established in the CCR final rule so that utilities would not be required to make major decisions about CCR units without first understanding the implications that such decisions would have for meeting the surface water protection requirements of the final ELG rule. For example, if the final ELG rule requires a conversion to dry handling of fly ash, then it may not make economic sense for an electric utility to retrofit a surface impoundment that contains wet handled CCRs since it would be required to cease that practice under the ELG rule. Thus, utilities will be able to make appropriate business decisions to meet both sets of requirements. EPA is taking into account these new CCR requirements for coal ash as it develops the final ELG rule.

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