A New Era of Coal Ash Regulation Starts Now

News & Events

June 16, 2015

Gradient logo

Gradient News Alert

A New Era of Coal Ash Regulation Starts Now

On April 17th, 2015, the Final Coal Combustion Residual (CCR) Disposal Rule was published in the Federal Register (40 CFR Parts 257 and 261). The Federal CCR Rule is the culmination of a multi-year effort to regulate the disposal of coal ash, a by-product of coal combustion during electricity generation. While the regulation development process is coming to an end, the impacts of the regulation are beginning to take shape and the deadlines established in the Final Rule are approaching fast.

Because the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA’s) 2014 CCR Risk Assessment found that the greatest risks to human health and the environment from CCR are associated with unlined surface impoundments, much of the Federal CCR Rule is focused on the regulation of these facilities. Based on the new Rule, all new facilities (landfills and surface impoundments) and existing surface impoundments must comply with new location and groundwater quality-related requirements. Existing surface impoundments that fail to meet these restrictions must either be retrofitted or closed. The Rule also regulates potential air impacts of CCR landfills and surface impoundments and proposes Air Criteria for fugitive dust emissions.

Key deadlines stemming from the new Rule are:

October 2015: Surface impoundments that have stopped receiving CCR by this date are exempt from the requirements of this rule (including post-closure care and groundwater monitoring requirements), provided that the facility is dewatered and closed by April 2018. Fugitive dust control plans must also be completed by this date.

October 2016: Hazard assessments (which document high, significant, and low impact potential in the event of a surface impoundment failure) and structural integrity assessments must be completed by this date. Surface impoundments that cannot meet the required safety factors must cease operation and initiate closure by April 2017.

October 2017: Facilities must be in compliance with groundwater monitoring requirements by this date; this includes installing monitoring wells, establishing statistical methods, and establishing background concentrations. Groundwater concentrations of certain constituents (Appendix III and IV Parameters) detected in excess of background concentrations and groundwater protection standards may trigger corrective actions and facility closure.

October 2018: Facilities must demonstrate compliance with the new location restrictions by this date. Existing surface impoundments for which sufficient demonstration cannot be made must either be retrofitted or cease operation and initiate closure by April 2018.

The regulatory landscape is changing rapidly, and many utilities will soon face important decisions regarding their existing coal ash surface impoundments. With over 14 years of experience working on coal ash issues, Gradient is well positioned to help utilities comply with the new Federal CCR Rule in a cost-effective manner. Specific areas of Gradient’s expertise relevant to coal ash include:

Groundwater Characterization

  • Monitoring program design, data assessment, evaluation of background concentrations, and calculation of statistically significant concentrations;
  • Forensic source evaluations for constituents detected in groundwater; and
  • Fate and transport evaluations of potential groundwater impacts at compliance point, property boundary, or surface water discharge location.

Closure Planning

  • Evaluation of surface impoundment closure scenarios.

Air Quality

  • Air modeling, including fugitive dust modeling; and
  • Air monitoring program design and data interpretation.

Risk Assessment and Risk Communication

  • Assessment of potential human health and ecological risks from CCR exposure; and
  • Presentation and discussion of potential risks with the public, regulators, and other stakeholders.

Furthermore, we have recently developed a decision-making framework that aids utilities in selecting closure plans that minimize human health and environmental impacts. The framework assesses relative impacts to groundwater, surface water, and air quality for potential closure scenarios, including closure-in-place and excavation and redisposal; additionally, it evaluates risks to remediation worker safety and the consumption of natural resources.

If you have any questions about the new Federal CCR Rule or Gradient’s capabilities, please visit our website or contact us.

For more information on Gradient’s coal ash services, please contact:

Andrew B. Bittner, M.Eng., P.E.
Principal Scientist


Ari S. Lewis, M.S.


Kurt Herman, M.Eng., P.G.


Christopher M. Long, Sc.D., DABT
Principal Scientist


Copyright 2015 Gradient. All rights reserved.