NRECA is raising serious concerns at the Environmental Protection Agency over a new proposal to regulate coal ash ponds at inactive power plants that would force many sites to close, levy unnecessary costs on electric cooperatives and threaten reliability.

Calling EPA's proposal, a “one-size-fits-all approach" with “unrealistic compliance deadlines," NRECA Regulatory Affairs Director Viktoria Seale warned that the measure “will impose substantial financial burdens on electric co-ops and their members."

“EPA's proposed expansive regulations will exacerbate challenges to the reliable delivery of electricity while upending the beneficial reuse of coal ash," Seale said. “The proposal's requirements are duplicative, contradictory and unnecessary."

NRECA laid out its concerns at length to EPA in comments filed July 17 and urged the agency to reconsider its proposal.

EPA plans to finalize a rule in April 2024 extending its authority over coal ash ponds and landfills for coal combustion residuals (CCR) at inactive power plants that closed prior to its 2015 CCR rule, which set mandates for sites at active power plants.

The proposed rule targets “legacy CCR impoundments," or inactive ponds at inactive power plants, and “CCR management units" (CCRMUs), which are ponds and landfills closed prior to the 2015 CCR Rule, inactive coal ash landfills and areas where any coal ash was placed directly on land.

NRECA told the agency that such requirements would require sites to shut down and further impact cooperatives already grappling with higher operating costs, supply chain delays and ongoing regulatory uncertainty.

“EPA must consider the complexities, challenges and potential impacts on electric reliability that the proposed requirements, without modification, would impose," Seale said. “Requiring closure of sites that do not pose a meaningful risk will simply impose unnecessary costs and burdens."

The proposal also threatens to eliminate the regulatory exemption for the beneficial use of coal ash at power plant sites, such as fill for construction projects. These sites would be considered CCRMUs, requiring power plant owners and operators to immediately install groundwater monitoring systems, begin detection and assessment monitoring, then remediate and close them, Seale said.

“NRECA believes that this proposal has multiple legal and practical flaws, would impose enormous costs by taking a one-size-fits all approach and should be reconsidered," she said.