live: Oklahoma high school football: Week 8 scores and updates2020 Oklahoma election voter guide: Everything you need to know before Election Day

NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

New coal ash disposal rule targeted by environmentalists

Public Service Co. of Oklahoma's Northeastern Power Station at Oologah. [PROVIDED/PUBLIC SERVICE CO. OF OKLAHOMA]
Public Service Co. of Oklahoma's Northeastern Power Station at Oologah. [PROVIDED/PUBLIC SERVICE CO. OF OKLAHOMA]

Environmentalists are pledging to challenge a just-announced finalized rule issued by the Trump administration that formalizes coal ash pit closure requirements but gives operators of “certain” facilities more time to consider potential alternatives before having to take that step.

The rule was announced July 29 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials, who said it gives pit owners/operators until April 2021 to consider whether the facilities can be retrofitted or otherwise replaced before they have to be closed, they said.

EPA officials called the final rule a win for both pit owners/operators and the general public.

They said the agency refined its rule after court rulings that required utilities or other owners of all unlined surface pits to either retrofit or close, regardless of whether any groundwater contamination in excess of safe levels had been observed.

The rule also reclassifies clay-lined pits as “unlined,” putting them into the required retrofit/closure category.

Coal combustion residuals include a variety of waste streams, specifically fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, and flue gas desulfurization materials generated from coal-fired electric utilities.

Officials stated the public will be protected under the revised rule, given that pit operators/owners will still be required to detect, assess and remediate groundwater impacts from unlined coal ash pits.

“The public will also be better informed as EPA makes facility groundwater monitoring data more accessible and understandable,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated as part of the announcement.

While it states that operators/owners of unlined surface impoundments must cease receiving waste and must initiate retrofitting or closure plans by April 11, 2021, the rule also provides owners/operators additional time “to develop alternative capacity to manage their waste streams (including additional generated waste — primarily non-CCR wastewater) before they must stop receiving waste and initiate closure of their surface impoundments.”

That piece in particular is what bothers Earthjustice, the environmental organization pledging to challenge the rule in court.

Earthjustice attorneys said that provision could allow operators/owners of some facilities to continue using their pits until 2028, adding that if it were not for the Trump administration’s intervention, the rule would already have been requiring utilities to cease dumping coal ash into disposal ponds and to have been working on plans to close them down.

They noted utilities would be allowed to dump an average of 1 million tons of additional ash into any pit qualifying for an extension over that period of time.

“Every day, hazardous coal ash is polluting drinking water, lakes, rivers and streams around the country,” said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans.

“This is yet another time that the administration put the interests of lobbyists before the health of Americans. We’ll see the Trump administration in court.”

In Oklahoma

Officials with Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality, which was granted authority by the EPA last year to oversee the disposal of coal ash here, said this week they don’t believe the EPA’s revised rule will impact plans pit owners/operators inside the Sooner State already have set into motion to close their facilities here.

American Electric Power's Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, they noted, must complete the closure of its coal ash disposal operations for its Northeastern Power Station at Oologah no later than Oct. 17, 2028, while Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, which operates two such units for its coal plant in Hugo, already quit placing waste in one and is close to certifying it has been closed. It plans to cease placing waste in the other no later than Oct. 31 and to close it permanently five years later.

Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. already closed the impoundment facility it operated for its coal plant at Muskogee.

Earthjustice officials, meanwhile, said the Trump administration is working on five separate rollbacks on coal ash rules, including the rule announced last week.

“Altogether, they are a broadscale attack on protections from hazardous coal ash, which contains deadly hazardous substances, including carcinogens like arsenic, cadmium and chromium, and neurotoxins such as lead, mercury and lithium” Earthjustice officials said.

Related Photos
<strong>Western Farmers Electric Cooperatives' coal generating station at Hugo. [PROVIDED/WESTERN FARMERS ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE]</strong>

Western Farmers Electric Cooperatives' coal generating station at Hugo. [PROVIDED/WESTERN FARMERS ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-15e159422965bfad3582e3fff7b91ae5.jpg" alt="Photo - Western Farmers Electric Cooperatives' coal generating station at Hugo. [PROVIDED/WESTERN FARMERS ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE] " title=" Western Farmers Electric Cooperatives' coal generating station at Hugo. [PROVIDED/WESTERN FARMERS ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE] "><figcaption> Western Farmers Electric Cooperatives' coal generating station at Hugo. [PROVIDED/WESTERN FARMERS ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b971235c9552172533f8543167122177.jpg" alt="Photo - Public Service Co. of Oklahoma's Northeastern Power Station at Oologah. [PROVIDED/PUBLIC SERVICE CO. OF OKLAHOMA] " title=" Public Service Co. of Oklahoma's Northeastern Power Station at Oologah. [PROVIDED/PUBLIC SERVICE CO. OF OKLAHOMA] "><figcaption> Public Service Co. of Oklahoma's Northeastern Power Station at Oologah. [PROVIDED/PUBLIC SERVICE CO. OF OKLAHOMA] </figcaption></figure>
Jack Money

Jack Money has worked for The Oklahoman for more than 20 years. During that time, he has worked for the paper’s city, state, metro and business news desks, including serving for a while as an assistant city editor. Money has won state and regional... Read more ›

Comments