Electric cooperatives with unlined ash ponds at their coal-based plants have a little breathing room after the Environmental Protection Agency agreed to a six-month extension of the deadline to line the ponds or stop using them.

After April 2021, coal combustion residuals, commonly called coal ash or CCR, may only be placed in lined landfills or impoundments that meet regulatory criteria, according to the agency's recent revision of a 2015 regulation. The original rule had a deadline of this October. Liners are being required to protect groundwater.

“NRECA appreciates EPA's recognition of how long it actually takes to design, engineer, and then construct an alternative to existing ponds," said Dorothy Kellogg, NRECA regulatory director for environmental policy, water and waste issues. “This additional time is especially important for these ponds that, until late 2018, were thought to be compliant with the 2015 CCR rule because they were not leaking into groundwater."

The EPA is also expanding the rule's requirements for public-facing websites to include all coal-based power plants—operating, repowering or shuttered—that are subject to the CCR rule. The websites are required to document the storage or cleanup of coal ash, which can take years.

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

The new CCR requirements take effect 30 days from publication in the Federal Register, which is expected in September.