This page provides an overview of the
Coal Ash Regulation in North Carolina
When coal is converted to fuel during combustion, power plants are required to dispose properly of the resulting waste which is known as coal ash. Coal ash is typically captured in landfills and impoundments at coal-fired power plants. The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources regulates the impoundment and disposal of coal ash to protect public health and the environment from possible water, land and air pollution.
North Carolina has 14 coal-fired power plants regulated under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which governs wastewater discharges to surface waters.
The N.C. Division of Water Quality handles all permitting under the National Pollutant Discharge System, or NPDES, permit program. The state agency regulates technology- and water quality-based effluent limits, compliance with groundwater standards for activities associated with the ash ponds and stormwater associated with industrial activities. The NPDES permit includes language regarding ash pond structures, but the responsibility for inspecting ash pond integrity falls under the jurisdiction of the N.C. Division of Land Resources. More on this topic is discussed under “Land” below.
The N.C. Division of Water Quality also regulates the reuse of coal ash – or coal combustion residuals - for concrete, brick, cover for landfills, overlay for roads and driveways, material for traction on roads during snow or ice events and a host of other beneficial uses.
Need more information? Go to http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/wq/hot-topics/coalashregulation.
The N.C. General Assembly amended the North Carolina Dam Safety Law in 2009 to include jurisdiction over impoundments at the coal-fired power plants, including coal ash ponds. This means that existing coal ash impoundments that are at least 15 feet high and capable of impounding at least 10 acre-feet must be inspected by the N.C. Division of Land Resources’ dam safety inspectors and maintained in good repair.
Before starting new construction, modification, repair or removal of these impoundments, the individual or company seeking a permit is required to receive state approval of engineering plans and specifications under the North Carolina Dam Safety Law.
The N.C. Division of Land Resources has conducted initial inspections of all existing coal ash waste impoundments in North Carolina and determined that Duke Energy and Progress Energy together had 23 active and 11 inactive ash pond impoundments as of August 2010. The state inspectors also determined there are no problems threatening the immediate safety of the impoundments. Deficiencies requiring corrective actions were found at four active coal ash ponds and one inactive ash pond. For more information, please contact Steve McEvoy, state dam safety engineer, at (919) 733-4574.
Another DENR agency, the N.C. Division of Waste Management, regulates coal ash as a solid waste. Generators of coal ash are required by state law to obtain a permit from the N.C. Division of Waste Management before operating a landfill to dispose of dry coal ash. Generators of coal ash are also required to notify the division if they intend to reuse dry coal ash as a structural fill, a term used to describe a building pad, parking lot or a foundation for a structure.
For more information, contact Ellen Lorscheider, planning and programs branch head with the N.C. Division of Waste Management, at (919) 508-8499.
The N.C. Division of Air Quality regulates the handling and burning of coal for power production, but the agency is not typically involved in the regulation of coal ash. The only circumstances in which the state Division of Air Quality might be involved in the regulation of coal ash would be if a facility chose to do something with the ash that could result in air emissions, such as burning it.
If someone wanted to burn coal ash, they would need to apply for an air quality permit or modification. Then division staff members would evaluate the application and modeling to determine what controls would be needed to ensure that they did not exceed air quality standards.
For more information, contact Tom Mather, public information officer with the N.C. Division of Air Quality, at (919) 715-7408.