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Surface impoundment retrofitting/closure and landfill design will be sweet spots for environmental engineering firms and waste haulers in the next few years for two reasons: coal ash and fraking.

A market resulting from implementation of new coal ash regs is imminent (the consent decree requires EPA to take final action on these regulations before the end of 2014).  Regardless of whether the much-anticipated EPA final action on coal combustion residuals (CCR’s) goes with a Subtitle C or a Subtitle D approach, the regs will create new opportunities for environmental engineering firms and waste haulers in the next few years as utility companies comply with fairly massive new requirements.

Coal ash is the second largest industrial waste stream in the country; around 140 million tons of coal waste is produced by electric utility companies annually according to EPA. CCRs are currently disposed of in 45 states, though the preponderance of sites are located in the eastern US with Kentucky, Texas and Indiana having the dubious distinctions of generating the most CCRs.  EPA estimates there are approximately 300 CCR landfills and 584 CCR surface impoundments at 495 coal-fired power plants.  Many units have exceeded their designed life spans. The majority of these sites are owned by private utilities.

If EPA chooses to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste under Subpart C, the market is expected to be $1,474 million a year including industry compliance and regulatory oversight and enforcement.  Because EPA would have enforcement authority, hypothetically 100% of regulated sites would comply. The timing of the market will vary from state to state as authorized states adopt the rule.  The retrofit requirements and compliance rate makes the market under Subtitle C three times larger than under Subtitle D.

If EPA chooses to regulate these materials as solid waste under Subpart D, the market is expected to be $587 million per year and the regulations would go into effect six months after promulgation.  Compliance responsibility would rest with individual states.

The economic regulatory impact (aka market size) sounds like a lot until you consider that the Kingston, TN coal ash spill has cost TVA more than $1 billion to remediate and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spent $200 million for oversight according to the Tennessean newspaper in December 2013.

From the perspective of  engineers and haulers, what kind of work will be involved under each option?  A quick comparison of the provisions in the two options tells the tale:


Key Differences Between Subtitle C and Subtitle D Options
Effective Date Timing will vary from state to state, as each state must adopt the rule individually, can take 1–2 years or more Six months after final rule is promulgated for most provisions: certain provisions have a longer effective date
Enforcement State and Federal enforcement Enforcement through citizen suits; states can act as citizens
Corrective Action Monitored by authorized states and EPA Self-implementing
Financial Assurance Yes Considering subsequent rule using CERCLA 108 (b) Authority
Permit Issuance Federal requirement for permit issuance by states No
Requirements for Storage, Including Containers, Tanks, and Containment Buildings Yes No
Surface Impoundments Built Before Rule is Finalized Remove solids and meet land disposal restrictions; retrofit with a liner within 5 years of effective date. Would effectively phase out use of existing surface impoundments Must remove solids and retrofit with a composite liner or cease receiving CCRs within 5 years of effective date and close the unit
Surface Impoundments Built After Rule is Finalized Must meet Land Disposal Restrictions and liner requirements. Would effectively phase out use of new surface impoundments Must install composite liners. No Land Disposal Restrictions
Landfills Built Before Rule is Finalized No liner requirements, but require groundwater monitoring No liner requirements, but require groundwater monitoring
Landfills Built After Rule is Finalized Liner requirements and groundwater monitoring Liner requirements and groundwater monitoring
Requirements for Closure and Post-Closure Care Yes; monitored by states and EPA Yes; self-implementing


Some utilities will choose an off-site disposal.  Waste Management Inc. currently handles 100 million tons of trash every year according to an August WasteDive.com interview.  With an additional 140 million tons of regulated waste as a result of these new regulations, Waste Management and other haulers could see a significant increase in sales.

If you’d like to do some homework before visiting a potential utility client, check out two public databases maintained by EPA.  The first contains utility responses to Information Requests that went out in March, April and December 2009 and covered 240 facilities and 676 surface impoundments and similar management units,http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/surveys/index.htm

The second database, of Coal Combustion Residuals Impoundment Assessment Reports, contains hazard rankings of the structural integrity of surface impoundments, and action plans by company.  http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/surveys2/index.htm

EarthJustice also publishes two datasets that are helpful:  http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/Coal-Plant-CCW-Disposal-Units-from-ICR.pdf lists plant, city, state, pond id, lined/unlined, leachate collected, and status.  In September 2014,  Earthjustice also published a spreadsheet provided by EPA in response to a FOIA request listing by site, and by units within sites, such details as monitoring status and contaminants exceeding mcl’s at each location which can be downloaded at http://earthjustice.org/library/coal%20ash.  Great background information if you are going to talk with your utility clients about their CCR programs.

The regulatory process behind these CCR regulations has been long and laborious.  The news coverage of surface impoundment failures at fraking facilities is escalating.  I cannot believe it will be long before surface impoundments at fraking stations come under state enforcement attention.  A wise fraking operator would build new surface impoundments that limit liability not only from leakage and failure, but also are ahead of the future regulatory action curve as well.

If you are pursuing the market from the enforcement angle, it will be work for state DEQ contract holders if a Subtitle D approach is chosen.  If Subtitle C is chosen, Nelly bar the door.  Obviously they don’t have a procurement strategy at this point.  The difference in site density between regions argues for a regional procurement strategy OR possibly OASIS. I do know that if I held an OASIS contract I’d already be meeting with RCRA folks and talking about how quickly my firm could provide support under this new, flexible mechanism.

Happy Hunting