Utility Solid Waste Activities v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 15-1219 (D.C. Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Coal residuals, “one of the largest industrial waste streams,” contain myriad carcinogens and neurotoxins. Power plants generally store it on site in aging piles or pools, risking protracted leakage and catastrophic structural failure. Regulations implementing the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), 42 U.S.C. 6901, were long delayed. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), facing public outrage over catastrophic failures at toxic coal residual sites, and directed by a federal court to comply with its obligations under RCRA, promulgated its first Final Rule regulating coal residuals in 2015, 80 Fed. Reg. 21,302. Opponents challenged that Rule under the Administrative Procedure Act and RCRA, which requires EPA to promulgate criteria distinguishing permissible “sanitary landfills” from prohibited “open dumps.” Each claim relates to how coal residuals disposal sites qualify as sanitary landfills. EPA announced its intent to reconsider the Rule. The D.C. Circuit denied the EPA’s abeyance motion; remanded as to pile-size and beneficial-use issues; vacated 40 C.F.R. 257.101, which allows for the continued operation of unlined impoundments and a provision that treats “clay-lined” units as if they were lined; found the Rule’s “legacy ponds” exemption unreasoned and arbitrary; rejected claims by industry members that EPA may regulate only active impoundments; found that EPA provided sufficient notice of its intention to apply aquifer location criteria to existing impoundments; and held that EPA did not arbitrarily issue location requirements based on seismic impact zones nor arbitrarily impose temporary closure procedures.