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EPA Approves First-in-the-Nation State Coal Ash Permit Program for Oklahoma

06/18/2018
Contact Information: 
EPA Press Office (press@epa.gov)

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Oklahoma’s application to operate a permit program for disposing of coal combustion residuals – commonly known as 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. The Agency’s decision, in partnership with the State of Oklahoma, furthers cooperative federalism while improving the management of coal ash.

“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.”

“I am pleased that Oklahoma is the first state in the nation to receive approval of its Coal Combustion Residuals permit program. We actually incorporated the federal rule into our state permitting rules program over a year ago,” said Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality Executive Director Scott Thompson. “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.”

“This decision provides much needed certainty and gives the state clear permitting and enforcement authority while promoting the continued beneficial use of coal byproducts. This is critical as co-ops work to meet tomorrow’s energy needs with affordable and reliable power. We hope this will be the first of many more state program approvals,” said National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Senior Vice President of Government Relations Kirk Johnson.

“Today’s action by EPA to approve Oklahoma’s coal combustion residuals (CCR) permit program application is an important first step in fulfilling the intent of Congress through the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, which enables the states to directly implement and enforce the CCR rule,” said Utility Solid Waste Activities Group Executive Director Jim Roewer. “The implementation of the coal combustion residuals rule through state-issued enforceable permits will bring certainty to the regulatory process, advance the public interest, and ensure environmental protection. We look forward to EPA approving other qualified state coal combustion residuals permit program applications in the near future.” 

“The EPA approval of each state’s ability to develop an EPA approved plan to deal with environmental issues makes much more sense than the ‘one plan fits all’ approach of the past. The State of Oklahoma and individual utilities have worked closely in the past to solve difficult environmental issues that benefited all citizens of the state and with this progressive step, that work can continue,” said Western Farmers Electric Cooperative CEO Gary Roulet.

“We appreciate the EPA’s approval of Oklahoma’s permitting program to manage coal ash.  We agree with EPA that state permitting programs, like Oklahoma’s, are the most effective approach for coal ash management, and will ensure that all regulatory requirements will continue to be met,” said Public Service Company of Oklahoma President and Chief Operating Officer Stuart Solomon.

Prior to today’s 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. With today’s approval, 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. 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, EPA has received an initial application from the State of Georgia to operate a state-run permit program for coal ash. The agency has also encouraged states that may be considering submitting an application to consult with EPA early in the process. These consultations enable EPA and the state to work through areas where the state program may be different from the federal CCR regulation.

Background

EPA issued a final rule in April 2015 regulating CCR as nonhazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and establishing minimum national standards governing the disposal of CCR from electric utilities in landfills and surface impoundments. At the time the CCR rule was issued, EPA did not have authority under RCRA to regulate CCR as nonhazardous waste through state permit programs. Instead, utilities were responsible for directly implementing the requirements of EPA’s 2015 CCR rule, which were enforceable only through citizen suits. In December 2016, Congress amended RCRA as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act. 

Now, states may develop and submit a coal ash permit program to EPA for approval. The WIIN Act requires EPA to approve a state’s application within 180 days. EPA determined Oklahoma’s application was complete on December 21, 2017. Applications must (1) provide evidence of a permit program or other system of prior approval and (2) be as protective as federal regulations currently in place. Once approved, the state permit program operates in lieu of the federal management standards for the disposal of coal ash.

To learn more about this approval, please visit https://www.epa.gov/coalash/us-state-oklahoma-coal-combustion-residuals-permit-program

Administrator Pruitt signs the approval of the State of Oklahoma's application to operate a permit program for disposing of coal combustion residuals.

Administrator Pruitt signs the approval of the State of Oklahoma's application to operate a permit program for disposing of coal combustion residuals.