EPA agreed to propose the rules as part of a court settlement with the Sierra Club and the Defenders of Wildlife, but the agency has received several extensions of its proposal deadline. Most recently, EPA lawyers on April 11 told a federal judge that the rulemaking package, submitted to the White House in January, was still undergoing "interagency review."
On the coal-ash issue, EPA officials had promised the first-ever federal regulations on handling and disposal following the December 2008 collapse of a coal-ash impoundment in Tennessee.
Coal-fired power plants generate more than 130 million tons of various ash wastes every year. The numbers have been increasing as more plants install scrubbers and other equipment to control air pollution, a move that shifts the toxic leftovers from burning coal into ash and other wastes.
In its news release, EPA "announced its intention to align" the coal-ash rule and its new water discharge rule.
"The two rules would apply to many of the same facilities and would work together to reduce pollution associated with coal ash and related wastes," the EPA said. "EPA is seeking comment from the industry and other stakeholders to ensure that both final rules are aligned to reduce pollution efficiently and minimize regulatory burdens."
When it issued a proposal for coal-ash rules in June 2010, EPA did not settle on a specific plan. Instead, the agency sought public comments on one approach that would regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste, with nationwide regulations, oversight and enforcement, and an alternative that would leave actual regulation mostly up to the states.
EPA is apparently doing the same thing in its new water discharge proposal, offering, "variety of options for whether and how these different waste streams should be treated."
"The four preferred options differ in the number of waste streams covered (such as fly ash handling systems, treatment of air pollution control waste and bottom ash), the size of the units controlled and the stringency of the treatment controls to be imposed," the agency said in its news release.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.