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EPA Announces Support for Coal Ash Reuse in Certain Products, Fueling Speculation That Agency May Declare Coal Ash “Non-Hazardous” in Final CCR Rule

03.17.2014

As reported in past issues of the Environmental Letter, EPA is currently debating whether to regulate coal combustion residuals (CCR) as “hazardous” or “non-hazardous” waste under RCRA. EPA originally announced a proposed CCR rule in June 21, 2010. In that proposal, EPA stated that CCR could be regulated as “hazardous” waste under Subtitle C of RCRA, or as “non-hazardous” waste, subject to RCRA Subtitle D. Regulation under Subtitle C would impose significant and costly “cradle-to-grave” requirements on CCR, and is strongly opposed by many industry groups. On the other hand, environmental interest groups have pressured EPA to regulate CCR as hazardous waste under Subtitle C. EPA is under a court order to finalize its CCR rule in the near future, and has announced its plans to issue a final CCR rule by the end of 2014.

While observers await EPA’s final decision on CCR, the agency released a document on Feb. 7, 2014 that can be viewed as a signal the agency is leaning toward ultimately declaring CCR “non-hazardous.” In the document, titled “Methodology for Evaluating Encapsulated Beneficial Uses of Coal Combustion Residuals,” EPA determined that CCR may be safely used in certain construction materials such as concrete and wallboard, and that the use of CCR poses no greater harm to the environment than the raw components otherwise used in such products. In a statement accompanying the document, EPA assistant administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, Mathy Stanislaus said, “protective use of coal ash advances sustainability by saving valuable resources, reducing costs, and lessening environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions.” EPA’s announcement was limited in scope, and applies only to “those products that meet relevant physical and performance standards established by voluntary consensus standard bodies,” and that contain no more than 40 percent fly ash and “incorporate fly ash and FGD [flue gas desulfurization] gypsum from common air pollution control devices used in the United States.”

Despite the narrow language of the document, the coal ash recycling and reuse industry has indicated that EPA’s endorsement of these reuse practices is a strong signal that the agency will ultimately find that CCR is non-hazardous. Opponents of regulating CCR as hazardous waste have frequently pointed to the safe reuse of CCR as evidence of economic and environmental benefits that would be lost if EPA regulates CCR as hazardous waste under RCRA Subtitle C. We will continue to monitor development of EPA’s final CCR rule in future issues of the Environmental Letter.

To view a complete PDF of the Environmental Letter March 2014 Issue, click HERE.

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