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EPA's Winding Road

How we got here and what to expect.

Fortnightly Magazine - November 2011

In July 2010, WCI partners released the design for the WCI program. The first phase of the cap-and-trade program is scheduled to begin on Jan. 1, 2012, covering emissions from electricity, including imported electricity, industrial combustion at large sources, and industrial process emissions for which adequate measurement methods exist. The second phase would begin in 2015, when the program expands to include transportation fuels and residential, commercial and industrial fuels not otherwise covered. However, no U.S. state other than California currently has plans to implement the cap-and-trade program in 2012.

EPA Command and Control

The EPA has promulgated GHG regulations under the Clean Air Act , most recently for medium- and heavy-duty vehicle engines. However, on Sept. 15, 2011, the agency said it would miss its September deadline for proposing new source performance standards (NSPS) limiting GHGs for new and expanded power plants. EPA hasn’t issued a new timeline for developing the rules, which were supposed to be finalized in May 2012.

In the meantime, EPA is moving forward with other regulations that will affect power generators.

Utility MACT Rule: On March 16, 2011, EPA issued its Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule, which aims to reduce toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The rule, which covers mercury and other toxic metals, acid gases, and organic air toxins, resulted from a consent decree with the D.C. Court of Appeals requiring EPA to determine whether standards for hazardous air pollution from power plants are “appropriate and necessary.” EPA did so in 2000. The agency ended its comment period on the proposed rules in August, and is expected to issue final rules in mid-November, setting emission caps for power plants that require them to meet or exceed the performance of the top 12 percent of units in the industry. (In May 2011, EPA issued an order delaying the implementation of a similar set of rules affecting industrial and commercial boilers, after identifying discrepancies in the data it used in establishing emissions targets.)

Ash Disposal Rule: The Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) Rule, commonly referred to as the “Ash Disposal Rule,” regulates the handling, use and disposal of ash residuals at coal-fired facilities. It’s the result of the failure of ash impoundment facilities at TVA’s Kingston plant and resulting release of CCR in 2009. The rule would establish regulatory requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) for disposal of CCRs using one of two options proposed by the EPA—either Subtitle C or Subtitle D. Subtitle C would regulate CCRs as a “special waste,” regulating them from the point of generation to the final disposal site, with disposal facilities subject to requirements including liner installation, groundwater monitoring, dam stability and safety, corrective action, and financial assurance. Under this option the requirements would apply to existing impoundments and all new impoundments and landfills.

Subtitle D would regulate CCRs as solid waste, as they are currently regulated, and the handling and disposal requirements would be similar as with subtitle C, but the regulating authority of the EPA would be limited and enforcement