The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed two landmark rules this past week: Last Friday it released regulations that seek to govern mercury emissions from some 200,000 industrial boiler process heaters and solid waste incinerators, and on Tuesday it issued a long-awaited proposal to regulate coal ash—though it deferred a decision on whether to treat it as hazardous waste.
The agency on Tuesday released the first-ever national rules that regulate the disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. Under the proposal, the EPA would list these residuals as special wastes subject to regulation under subtitle C of RCRA, when destined for disposal in landfills or surface impoundments. Under the second proposal, the EPA would regulate coal ash under subtitle D of RCRA, the section for nonhazardous wastes. Both had their advantages and disadvantages, the EPA said, adding that it would choose between the options after the 90-day comment period.
The rules were proposed to ensure stronger oversight of the structural integrity of impoundments in order to prevent accidents like the massive coal ash spill at Kingston, Tenn.
The so-called boiler rule, which the EPA proposed at the end of a court-imposed deadline on April 29, could slash overall mercury emissions by more than 50%, the agency said. Industrial boilers and process heaters typically burn oil, gas, coal, and biomass—such as those used by factories, universities, and municipal utilities—to make steam, which in turn is used to produce power or heat. These units are the second-largest source of mercury emissions after coal-fired power plants, the EPA said. Last week’s proposed actions also cover commercial and industrial solid waste incinerators, which burn solid waste.
Under the rules, large boilers and all incinerators would be required to meet emissions limits for mercury, dioxin, particulate matter, hydrogen chloride, and carbon monoxide.
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