Properly Managed Coal Combustion Residuals are Safe and Useful.
Coal Combustion Residuals (CCRs) are materials produced when coal is burned to produce electricity. When properly managed, CCRs offer environmental and economic benefits without harm to public health and safety. Over the years, CCRs have been incorporated into productive, beneficial applications, such as roof shingles, wallboard, asphalt and bricks. For example, fly ash, a type of CCR, plays a critical role in highway construction because it cost-effectively and safely increases concrete durability. The volume of CCRs being recycled and put to beneficial use has increased steadily through time and now constitutes about 45 percent of all CCRs produced, displacing the use of raw materials.
Challenges for Continuing Beneficial Uses.
Unfortunately, the environmental success story associated with CCRs could come to an unhappy conclusion. On June 21, 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed federal regulations governing the disposal of CCRs under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). EPA proposed a range of options for CCR management under RCRA. One option is drawn from authorities available under RCRA Subtitle C, a hazardous approach which creates a comprehensive program of federally enforceable requirements for waste management and disposal. The other option includes remedies under RCRA Subtitle D, a non-hazardous approach, which gives EPA authority to set performance standards for waste management facilities and which are enforceable by the states and by citizens, primarily through the RCRA citizen lawsuit provisions.
The issue of whether CCRs should be treated as hazardous under federal law has been thoroughly researched and evaluated by industry, academia and government for nearly three decades. Overwhelmingly, the conclusion is that CCRs should be treated as a non-hazardous substance. Additionally, decades of work by EPA implementing the “Bevill Amendment” to RCRA have consistently affirmed – in two reports to Congress and two related “Final Regulatory Determinations” – that regulating CCRs under RCRA Subtitle C is not necessary to protect public health and the environment.
In fact, EPA found that such regulation would be environmentally counter-productive, because the stigma and related liability concerns of regulating CCRs as hazardous waste would understandably have a significant, adverse impact on the important objective of increasing beneficial use. For example, if EPA classifies CCRs as hazardous materials, many industries, in order to obtain essential building materials, would use new natural resources and additional energy for processing them, rather than recycling CCRs.
Co-ops Want to Work with EPA on a Non-Hazardous Approach.
NRECA supports the non-hazardous regulation of CCRs to protect the environment and ensure the safety of disposal impoundment structures. NRECA is willing to work with EPA to enhance the agency’s existing authority under a non-hazardous program to ensure a consistent level of protection in all states. Such an approach would be consistent with EPA’s prior Regulatory Determinations in which the agency established that regulations of CCRs under RCRA’s hazardous waste rules is not warranted. Unfortunately, EPA has indicated the rulemaking process will extend into 2012. The net effect is continued regulatory uncertainty for the electric utility industry, including electric cooperatives, as it relates to CCRs.
A Hazardous Approach Will Drive Up Costs of Electricity.
Regulatory treatment of CCRs as hazardous waste will create significant compliance costs at coal-based generation facilities. In some cases, these costs could be sufficiently high enough to render some units uneconomic, with plant closure the only viable option. Some project the utility industry would face billions of dollars of increased costs and as much as 18 percent of current coal generating capacity in the country would be at risk of closure. In fact, regulation of coal ash as hazardous could present insurmountable hurdles to compliance, making it impossible to operate a coal-based power plant and comply with hazardous waste regulations. Consumers deserve policies that further the goals of reliable, affordable electricity.
Co-ops Support Legislation that Ensures a Non-Hazardous Designation.
Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) has introduced H.R. 1391, the “Recycling Coal Combustion Residuals Accessibility Act of 2011.” NRECA supports this legislation to prevent EPA from regulating CCRs under the hazardous waste provisions of RCRA Subtitle C. H.R. 1391 will provide electric cooperatives with regulatory certainty concerning the treatment of CCRs, protect beneficial uses of CCRs, and protect the environment at the least cost to consumers. This legislation is essential to co-ops’ efforts to continue providing affordable, reliable electric power for cooperative consumer-members.
NRECA urges Members of the House of Representatives to cosponsor H.R. 1391, the “Recycling Coal Combustion Residuals Accessibility Act of 2011.”
NRECA thanks Members of the House of Representatives who have already cosponsored H.R. 1391.