EPA Coal Ash Proposal Boils Down to Federal Turf Grab

            New engineering standards for coal ash landfills would be essentially the same under two scenarios presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  So why does one of the scenarios risk damaging coal ash recycling by labeling ash as hazardous?  Because the federal EPA wants to take regulatory enforcement authority away from individual states.

            On June 21, 2010, EPA released a “proposed rule” that outlines two broad approaches to strengthening coal ash disposal regulation.  Both approaches are under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  Subtitle D of RCRA allows EPA to set standards that get enforced by the states.  Subtitle C of RCRA is enforced by federal EPA.

            The June 21 EPA proposal contains both Subtitle D and C approaches, but the guidelines for how landfills would be constructed and monitored is essentially the same under both approaches.  (See EPA’s own comparison of the approaches on pages 19 and 20 of this summary presented by EPA to state solid waste management regulators: )

            Subtitle C is the section of RCRA that pertains to hazardous wastes.  EPA’s proposal does not claim that coal ash qualifies as a hazardous waste based on its toxicity characteristics.  By suggesting a Subtitle C approach, EPA is simply trying to gain broad enforcement authority while risking permanent damage to coal ash recycling from the “hazardous” stigma that would be created.

            Even under Subtitle D, which is primarily enforced by the states, the federal EPA can step in to directly regulate any site that poses an imminent danger to public health or the environment.  So EPA’s proposal for broad Subtitle C enforcement authority is more about empire building for federal regulators than for actually improving protections for the environment.

Posted by: on: Jul 12, 2010 @ 08:37