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Epa Proposes Sweeping Rule For Nonconstruction-Grade Coal Ash

Environmental Protection Agency officials are set to open a 90-day public comment period for proposed rules that address disposal and management of coal-fired

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Environmental Protection Agency officials are set to open a 90-day public comment period for proposed rules that address disposal and management of coal-fired power plants' ash and residue, while exempting higher-grade, lower-carbon fly ash suited to concrete mix designs, cement mill feed, and wallboard production.

EPA supports the legitimate beneficial use of coal combustion residuals, affirms Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response Assistant Administrator Mathy Stanislaus. Environmentally sound, beneficial uses of ash conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, lessen the need for waste disposal units, and provide significant domestic economic benefits. This proposal will clearly differentiate these uses from coal ash disposal and assure that safe beneficial uses are not restricted and, in fact, are encouraged.

Residuals the agency's proposed rules target are power plant coal-combustion by-products, disposed of in liquid form at large surface impoundments and in solid form at landfills. They contain contaminants, like mercury, cadmium and arsenic, associated with cancer and other serious health issues. EPA's risk assessment and damage cases show that, lacking proper protections, these pollutants can leach into groundwater and migrate to drinking water sources, posing significant health public concerns.

The agency is calling for protective controls, such as liners and groundwater monitoring, at coal ash impoundments and landfills. Existing surface impoundments also will require liners, with strong incentives to shutter and transition to safer landfills that store coal ash in dry form. The proposed regulations will ensure stronger oversight of impoundments' structural integrity to prevent accidents similar to the December 2008 failure of a TVA facility in Kingston, Tenn. On that occasion, a spill from a failed impoundment unleashed millions of cubic yards of residue to surrounding land and rivers.