The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled in December that coal ash can now be disposed of in landfills, under its new classification as a non-hazardous material. With roughly 130 million tons of coal ash generated each year, the ruling could provide lucrative new business streams for landfill operators.
Utilities are able to reuse about 40 percent of the coal ash they generate, but most of the remainder heads to landfills. Traditionally, that coal ash has been disposed of at on-site units combining dry coal ash with slosh water, but utilities will be forced to close many of those disposal units under the new rule, says Jim Roewer, executive director of Utilities Solid Waste Activities Group.
“The rule is targeting very clearly the continued operations of surface impoundments,” says Roewer, adding that most surface impoundments could close and another rule on coal ash expected this fall could place additional burden on those that remain. “With those facilities closing, there is going to have to be additional disposal for CCR.”
For the solid waste management industry, this presents an opportunity, Roewer says.
Under the new rule, coal ash can be disposed of in a solid waste landfill with no additional permit required. The catch, however, is that no agency has been tasked with enforced the minimum disposal requirements under the new rule. This means that enforcement will come through lawsuits filed to challenge disposal methods and rule compliance.
The new disposal method to be employed at landfills will be completely dry, without the use of slosh water, Roewer says, citing concerns over groundwater impacts and beneficial use. Utilities may not have the capabilities to dispose of coal ash using the new methods, he says.
“If we are going to continue generating coal ash, utilities will need to change methods or source, and they might not have the space or ability to build new landfills,” Roewer says, adding operators of mixed solid waste landfills will see more interest in their sites and utilities look to send their coal ash off-site.
“It’s hard to estimate right now how many surface impoundments are going to have to close and therefore what percentage of those materials that are being managed on site will have to be send off site,” Roewer says. “But even if it’s a small percentage, that’s a significant volume. To a local area, that can be a huge benefit and a huge economic opportunity for a landfill operator.”
But there are concerns with coal ash disposal, and Roewer says landfill operators need to consider their disposal capacity before accepting coal ash. Consider the volume of the coal ash, its chemistry, operations procedures at the landfill, as well as dust and leachate control, too, Roewer says.
Roewer, along with Donald Grahlherr, a principal at Civil & Environmental Consultants, will speak at length about these and other operational concerns for landfills during a session titled “Coal Ash and the EPA” at WasteExpo 2015. The session will take place on Tuesday, June 2 from 3:00-4:15 p.m. and will be moderated by Bruce Schmucker, a client manager with Cornerstone Environmental.