Thought Leadership

Regulatory Requirements and Deadlines – Why Electric Utilities Should Start Planning for the U.S. EPA Coal Combustion Residual Rule Change Now

May 13, 2024

Aerial photo of coal facility

Andrew Schwoerer, P.G. – Staff Professional

This is part 2 in a two-part series

Body:  In Part 1 of this blog series, I shared important changes proposed to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) regulations. In that blog, we specifically focused on “legacy CCR surface impoundments” and newly identified “CCR management units”.  As a refresher for part two, let’s recap those definitions:

  • Legacy CCR surface impoundments – These are impoundments at inactive electric utilities that held CCR and liquids on or after October 19, 2015.
  • CCR management units – Any area managing non-containerized CCR, including inactive landfills or units that closed prior to October 19, 2015.

Under the old CCR Rule, 40 CFR Part 257 Subpart D in the federal register, legacy CCR surface impoundments were exempt from regulatory oversight and CCR management units were not considered. With the updated CCR Rule recently published on May 8, 2024, however, generating utilities will be required to comply with a subset of regulatory requirements outlined in 40 CFR Part 257 Subpart D for their unregulated legacy CCR surface impoundments, and CCR management units at both active and inactive facilities.

Meeting these new regulatory requirements may pose challenges for some generating utilities.  But a dedicated CCR team can you help you meet these requirements. In this blog, I’ll delve into the regulatory requirements outlined in the final rule for the newly defined CCR units, discuss the timeframes for meeting these requirements, and outline the steps electric utilities and independent power producers can take to prepare for the rule’s implementation on the effective date of November 4, 2024.

Regulatory Requirements Explained

Certain regulatory requirements from 40 CFR Part 257 Subpart D will be applicable to legacy CCR surface impoundments and CCR management units. These requirements encompass design criteria, operating criteria, and groundwater monitoring criteria, to name a few. However, it is crucial to note that these requirements are tailored to the characteristics of each unit type and the risks they pose to human health and the environment. So it’s essential to correctly identify the unregulated units at your facility because this identification will determine whether the requirements you must adhere to increase or decrease.

In addition to new regulatory requirements in the final CCR Rule, the USEPA originally proposed expediated deadlines to meet the requirements due to the increased risk that the unregulated units posed on the environment.

Thankfully, after receiving numerous comments stating the proposed expedited deadlines were infeasible, the USEPA reevaluated and extended the deadlines for legacy CCR surface impoundments and CCR management units to allow at least as much time as the USEPA originally provided in the 2015 CCR Rule.

Deadlines to comply with the regulatory requirements for legacy CCR surface impoundments range from zero to 42 months after the effective date of the final rule (set on November 4, 2024). These requirements include:

  • applicability documentation
  • internet posting
  • site security
  • design and operating criteria
  • groundwater monitoring and corrective action, and
  • closure and post-closure care.

For CCR management units, the deadlines to comply with regulatory requirements such as internet posting, the facility evaluation report, groundwater monitoring and corrective action, and closure and post-closure care, range from zero to 54 months after the effective date of the final rule.

One crucial requirement for CCR management units not included in the original 40 CFR Part 257 Subpart D is the submission of a Facility Evaluation Report. This report entails a two-part process that must be conducted at each active and/or inactive facility to identify potential CCR management unit locations.

Through the gathering and evaluation of the facility’s historical records, coupled with a physical site inspection, two reports must be certified by a Professional Engineer and published on the facility’s CCR compliance website within 15 and 27 months of the effective date of the rule. For generating utilities with multiple active and/or inactive facilities, this could present an accelerated deadline which may require an experienced and dedicated CCR team to ensure you stay in compliance with the rule.

Next Steps and How GEI Can Help

The Office of Management and Budget has reviewed and approved the CCR Rule, and the final rule was signed and published on May 8, 2024, by the EPA Administrator. The final rule set an effective rule date of November 4, 2024, which is approximately 6 months after the publication date. The compliance deadlines summarized above are based on the effective date of the final rule. However, the schedule for regulatory compliance authorized by the USEPA signals that electric utilities and independent power producers should not delay in planning for or even initiating the requirements in the final rule, such as Part 1 of the Facility Evaluation Report.

If you are an electric utility or independent power producer and need assistance complying with the regulatory requirements outlined in this blog, specifically the Facility Evaluation Report, please contact me or John Trast for assistance, or look for GEI at the World of Coal Ash 2024 Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan from May 13 – 16, 2024.