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EPA proposes denial of state’s coal ash program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a proposed denial of Alabama’s permit program to manage coal combustion residuals – commonly known as CCR or coal ash – in landfills and surface impoundments, the agency announced Thursday.

According to a news release, this is the EPA’s first proposed denial of a state coal ash permit program.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management said the action was not unexpected and its program meets all state and federal requirements.

The EPA said the Alabama permit program is significantly less protective of people and waterways than the federal regulations require. Under the federal regulations, surface impoundments cannot be closed if, once closure is complete, the coal ash continues to be saturated by groundwater. Facilities must prevent groundwater from infiltrating and flowing out of the closed unit to prevent additional groundwater contamination.

In contrast, Alabama does not require that groundwater infiltration be adequately addressed during the closure of these coal ash units, the EPA said.

ADEM largely adopted the language in the federal regulations into its state regulations, the EPA release said. However, when the EPA reviewed Alabama’s coal ash permits, it found they were not as protective as the federal regulations.

The EPA said it is proposing to deny Alabama’s permit program application because it does not meet the standard for approval under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Under the law, each coal ash unit (i.e., landfills or surface impoundments) in the state must achieve compliance with either the federal regulations or state criteria that EPA has determined are at least as protective as the federal criteria.

“The permits issued by ADEM for the closure of coal ash impoundments and the remediation of groundwater around the impoundments meet all current state and federal requirements and are protective of human health and the environment,” said Lynn Battle, chief of ADEM’s Office of External Affairs. “This action by EPA is not unexpected since EPA is currently defending multiple lawsuits related to the same issues cited as the basis for the proposed denial of ADEM’s program that cleans up coal ash impoundments in Alabama.”

The EPA said it identified deficiencies in ADEM’s permits with closure requirements for unlined surface impoundments, groundwater monitoring networks, and corrective action requirements. EPA said it discussed these issues with ADEM; however, the state agency has not revised its permits or supplemented its application to explain how such permits are as protective as the federal requirements.

Should the EPA’s proposed denial of Alabama’s coal ash permit program be finalized, the facilities will be required to comply with the federal regulations, the EPA said.

The EPA is soliciting comments on this proposal for 60 days, during which a public hearing will be held for information and comments. For information, click here.

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