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EPA Takes Corrective Action on Standards for Coal-Refuse Power Plants

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WASHINGTON (April 9, 2020) — Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking corrective action to provide stability in the Pennsylvania and West Virginia economies. Specifically, the agency has established an emissions standard for a new sub-category of six small coal-refuse power plants under the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). These coal-refuse power plants are an important source of reliable energy, a key economic driver in the rural communities where they are located, and a proven method for turning waste into a usable source of power while at the same time remediating a longstanding environmental threat. By taking this action, EPA is addressing a matter left unresolved by the last administration that threatened to put the coal-refuse industry and the surrounding communities out of business.

“While fixing this technical issue proved too complex or insignificant for the Obama-Biden Administration, President Trump has made clear that using environmental regulations to put our energy industry or rural communities out of business is not acceptable,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “By establishing this new sub-category, EPA has put in place achievable emissions standards that will save hundreds of jobs and preserve coal-refuse recycling operations that have become an important part of local environmental goals. Balancing environmental progress alongside economic prosperity is not only a win-win, but also how the Clean Air Act was designed to work.”

“This EPA rule will allow coal refuse facilities across Pennsylvania to remain operational, saving good paying jobs in the process,” said Senator Pat Toomey (PA). “This is a fight I led in the Senate for several years. I appreciate the willingness of Administrator Wheeler and his staff to work with my office on this important matter.”

“Pennsylvania’s energy economy relies on clean coal, and I appreciate the EPA’s action to overturn these Obama-era these regulations and support our local community, helping PA families and provide relief for our local coal miners,” said Congressman John Joyce (PA-13). “We know that America’s energy grid security is dependent on a wide range of sources, and the coronavirus crisis has reinforced the importance of domestic energy production. The EPA is taking an important step strengthen America’s energy independence.”  

“Given Pennsylvania’s history, refuse plants are reclaiming our lands and cleaning up the environment. This will save jobs in rural areas of the commonwealth while also providing energy. EPA made the right call to keep these facilities operating and working for Pennsylvania,” said Congressman Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (PA-15).

“Thank you to the EPA for establishing a new emissions standard for coal-refuse power plants, which will help us turn more waste into affordable energy for American families,” said Congressman Mike Kelly (PA-16). “Making it easier to remove coal-refuse from Pennsylvania communities will not only produce energy, however. It will also allow landowners to create more parks, nature areas, and address other community needs.  Once again, the Trump Administration took decisive action to end the Obama era war on coal and in doing so, is helping coal country, and America, in more ways than one.”

“The new EPA rule is an important and needed step in providing economic stability in West Virginia. These plants use coal waste for energy that helps clean up coal-refuse piles. Implementing this rule will  protect countless jobs and the local communities these plants are based in,” said Congressman David McKinley (WV-01).

“I am pleased to hear the EPA is updating the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS). After eight years of former President Obama’s War on Coal, I am pleased that President Donald Trump continues to protect West Virginia energy jobs. This decision will benefit our state’s small plants and preserve coal refuse recycling,” said Congressman Alex Mooney (WV-02).

“President Trump and Administrator Wheeler are once again delivering much-needed regulatory relief for West Virginia. Under their leadership, we are successfully fighting back against the previous administration’s War on Coal, and through their actions, our economy will continue to grow stronger,” said Congresswoman Carol Miller (WV-03). “We are all working together to cut overburdensome regulations to keep our miners working, so West Virginia can continue to power our region, and the nation, with reliable and affordable energy.”

“This action by the administration exemplifies putting into action things that actually make environmental sense,” said Austin Caperton, Cabinet Secretary, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. “By creating this subcategory the EPA has recognized that we can turn an environmental problem, old coal refuse piles, into an environmental win. While not increasing emissions at these small generating plants, we will create low cost energy and place unusable material in an environmentally sound and permitted area. Imagine that.” 


“Coal refuse” refers to legacy material from mining operations, some of which can date back almost a century. Antiquated mining practices from past decades resulted in piles of low quality coal, mixed with rock, clay and other material, being effectively abandoned near coal mines. Our action today will help landowners reclaim land in these legacy coal mining areas. This reclaimed land is often redeveloped into park land, nature areas, or put to other beneficial uses. 

The new emission standards apply to a subcategory that includes six existing electric generating units that burn eastern bituminous coal refuse (EBCR). All are small units operating in Pennsylvania or West Virginia. As a result of this final rule, EPA does not expect emissions to increase above current levels. 

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal- and oil- fired EGUs were promulgated on February 16, 2012.  MATS established acid gas emission standards for all coal-fired power plants. EPA has reevaluated the data available when the 2012 MATS rule was established, in addition to data generated since promulgation of that rule, and has determined that there are differences in the acid gas hazardous air pollutant emissions from EGUs firing EBCR and those firing other types of coal (including those firing other types of coal refuse, such as anthracite coal refuse). In a February 7, 2019 proposal, EPA solicited comment on establishing a subcategory of certain existing EGUs firing EBCR for emissions of acid gas HAP. After evaluating comments and data provided in response to the proposal, EPA has concluded that such a subcategory and corresponding acid gas HAP emission standards are warranted.

Additional information, including a pre-publication version of the Federal Register notice and a fact sheet, are available at