EPA announces final rule on legacy coal ash impoundments at inactive facilities

May 15, 2024

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing a rule to hold polluters accountable for controlling and cleaning up the contamination created by the disposal of coal combustion residuals (CCR or coal ash), which can cause serious public health risks.

The agency is finalizing regulations that require the safe management of coal ash at inactive surface impoundments at inactive power plants and historical coal ash disposal areas.

Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium, chromium, and arsenic which are associated with cancer and various other serious health effects. The EPA’s final rule expands protections for the communities and ecosystems near active and inactive coal burning power plants, ensuring that groundwater contamination, surface water contamination, fugitive dust, floods and impoundment overflows, and threats to wildlife are all addressed.

Inactive coal ash surface impoundments at inactive facilities are more likely to be unlined and unmonitored. The EPA established safeguards for legacy coal ash surface impoundments that largely mirror those for inactive impoundments at active facilities, including requiring the proper closure of the impoundments and remediating coal ash contamination in groundwater.

The EPA also finalized on May 8 the groundwater requirements for coal ash disposal held in inactive (legacy) impoundments. The EPA is requiring owners or operators of legacy CCR surface impoundments to comply with the following existing requirements in the CCR regulations: installation of a permanent marker, history of construction, hazard potential classification, structural stability and factors of safety assessments, emergency action plan (EAP), air criteria, inspections, groundwater monitoring and corrective action, closure and post-closure care, recordkeeping, and notification and CCR website requirements.

The EPA further is establishing new compliance deadlines for these newly applicable regulatory requirements to ensure the owners or operators of these units have time to come into compliance. Click here to read more.