The Obama administration announced the first federal regulations for disposal of fly-ash from power plants in an attempt to shield the environment from the toxic substance, however it will not define fly-ash a “hazardous material.”
The new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets structural integrity standards for all existing and new disposal sites to reduce the chances that they will leak or break. It also requires that new fly-ash ponds be lined and not located in sensitive areas like wetlands and earthquake zones.
Existing ash ponds will be subject to new inspection and monitoring standards in an attempt to prevent leaks into groundwater and catastrophic spills, and restrictions to reduce air pollution from ash sites.
“Today’s rule is a smart, very large step forward,” EPA head Gina McCarthy told reporters. “It will help prevent pollution of our air and water, protect our families’ health and provide industry with commonsense, consistent and clear national standards for coal ash disposal.”
Utilities that operate plants will have to post a wide range of information online about their fly-ash facilities
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) said that EPA’s decision not to regulate fly-ash as a hazardous material will save American taxpayers $105 billion over the next 20 years. That, research by the association’s foundation found, would be the additional cost to build roads, bridges and airport runways if fly-ash, widely recycled as a pavement mix additive, was not available as a building material.
ARTBA has been actively engaged in the regulatory and legislative debate in Washington over fly-ash since 2007 and applauded the decision as a “win-win” for both the taxpayer and the environment.
The association notes the U.S. transportation construction sector is one of the most prolific recyclers in the world. In addition to recycling over 8 million tons of fly-ash annually as a pavement additive, road base or structural embankment fill, 70 million tons of asphalt pavement are also reclaimed and recycled as new pavement product.