With Proposed Hazardous Waste Exemption, USEPA Shows Support for CCS

This post was written by David Wagner.

As we previewed a few months ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) recently proposed a rule to exclude CO2 streams from Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations if they meet certain conditions, including injection for the purpose of geologic sequestration into specific wells regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The proposed rule, which was published on August 8, comes on top of an earlier Safe Drinking Water Act regulation finalized in December 2010 that sets requirements for geologic sequestration, including the development of a new class of injection well called Class VI, established under USEPA’s Underground Injection Control (UIC) program. The UIC Class VI requirements are designed to ensure that wells used for geologic sequestration of CO2 streams are appropriately sited, constructed, tested, monitored, and closed in a manner that ensures USDW protection.

In developing the proposed rule, USEPA determined that CO2 streams captured at power plants and industrial facilities destined for a UIC Class VI well for the purposes of geologic sequestration would be a RCRA solid waste, as it is a “discarded material” as defined in RCRA § 1004(27). In its discussion of the rule, USEPA indicated that, while there is little information available to conclude that CO2 streams would qualify as a RCRA subtitle C hazardous waste, there is the potential for some CO2 streams to meet the definition of a hazardous waste. USEPA concluded that the management of CO2 streams under the proposed conditions does not present a substantial risk to human health or the environment, and will encourage the geologic sequestration of CO2, in a safe and environmentally protective manner.

The proposed exclusion, if finalized, may apply to generators, transporters, and owners or operators of treatment, storage, and disposal facilities engaged in the management of CO2 streams that would otherwise be regulated as hazardous wastes under the RCRA subtitle C hazardous waste regulations as part of geologic sequestration activities. This includes entities in the following industries: operators of CO2 injection wells used for geologic sequestration; and certain industries identified by their North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code: oil and gas extraction facilities (NAICS 211111); utilities (NAICS 22); transportation (NAICS 48-49); and manufacturing (NAICS 31-33).

USEPA's Proposed Rule That Could Exempt CCS from Hazardous Waste Regulations Awaits White House Approval

This post was written by David Wagner.

A draft proposed rule that could exempt the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) from federal hazardous waste regulations is now moving through the regulatory process. On March 22, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) sent a draft proposed rule to the White House Office of Management & Budget (OMB) that could conditionally exempt CO2 sequestered underground from Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requirements. It appears the rule would address the RCRA liability of owners and operators of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) wells should CO2 leak and contaminate underground sources of drinking water. Following regulatory review by OMB, USEPA anticipates that the proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register in May 2011.

You’ll recall that on December 10, 2010, USEPA finalized a rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act’s Underground Injection Control Program (SDWA UIC Program) to create a new class of injection wells (Class VI) for geological sequestration of CO2. The new rule does not currently address the long-standing concern that owners and operators of Class VI wells could be liable under RCRA for environmental contamination should CO2 that meets the definition of a hazardous waste leak from the wells and contaminate underground sources of drinking water. The draft proposed rule before OMB explores a number of options, including a conditional exemption from the RCRA requirements for hazardous CO2 streams in order to facilitate implementation of geologic sequestration while protecting human health and the environment.

A CO2 Stream with Impurities Could Trigger RCRA Requirements

Under USEPA’s regulations, a solid waste is a hazardous waste if, among other things, it exhibits the characteristics of toxicity. While a CO2 stream is not itself a listed hazardous waste, captured CO2 could contain some impurities at levels that would require its classification as a “characteristic” hazardous waste. CO2 captured from sectors amenable to CCS, such as electric generating facilities, could contain toxic chemical constituents including arsenic, mercury, and selenium. A captured CO2 stream that meets the definition of a hazardous waste would have to comply with all applicable RCRA requirements.

As a result, the characterization of a CO2 stream as “hazardous waste” would make the RCRA waste management scheme applicable to the generation, transportation, treatment, sequestration, and/or disposal of the CO2 stream. Presumably, this could mean that underground injection and sequestration of a hazardous CO2 stream would need to meet the requirements for Class I hazardous waste wells under the SDWA UIC Program instead of the Class VI geologic sequestration wells.

But Not if the CO2 Stream is Exempt from RCRA

The draft proposed rule is not publically available, but an exemption from RCRA might allow the injection of a “characteristically” hazardous CO2 stream for the purpose of geologic sequestration to be permitted under the Class VI injection well requirements instead of Class I requirements. Interestingly, an exemption from RCRA could close a potential (and overlooked) gap that would enable owners and operators of CO2 sequestration wells to seek Class I well permits in order circumvent the stringent post-closure monitoring, care, and financial responsibility requirements imposed by the Class VI rules. On the other hand, owners and operators of CO2 sequestration wells would be able to avoid the complexities and inefficiencies of the RCRA regulatory regime. Most importantly, the exemption would provide much desired regulatory certainty to the CCS industry. Stay tuned.

Proposed Federal Legislation Would Incentivize Carbon Capture and Storage

This post was written by David Wagner.

On March 31, 2011, a bill (S. 699) was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would authorize the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to enter into cooperative agreements to provide financial and technical assistance to as many as 10 large-scale (1 million tons of injected carbon dioxide or more) carbon capture and storage (CCS) demonstration projects at industrial sources. Along with three co-sponsors, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced the bi-partisan bill and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. This is the first step in the legislative process and it’s likely that the next step will be a public hearing on the proposal.

The proposed bill provides liability protection and federal indemnification for the CCS demonstration projects. Under the bill, DOE is authorized to indemnify projects up to $10 billion for personal, property and environmental damages that might be above what is covered by insurance or other financial assurance measures. Upon receiving the closure certificate for the injection site, the site may be turned over to the federal government for long-term site management and ownership. The proposed bill also outlines criteria for site closure certification and includes provisions for siting the demonstration projects on public land. In addition, it would establish and fund a CCS training program for state regulators.

By the way, this new proposed legislation (S. 699) is extremely similar to a 2009 bill (S. 1013) that was reported out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources but died on the Senate floor as part of a larger energy legislative package that same year.

Know When to Hold (Sequester) 'Em: Is USEPA Giving Away Its Hand Regarding CCS?

This post was written by Jennifer Smokelin.

From the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA’s) BACT guidance to recent rules finalized by USEPA, all signs appear a “go” for USEPA to give the nod to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) as a control technology of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the future. In the second “niche” article on the blog, this post takes a look at USEPA’s references in the BACT guidance to carbon sequestration and asks whether this portends CCS being listed in USEPA’s central data base of air pollution technology information known as the RACT/BACT/LAER Clearinghouse in the near future. At this point, the answer is definitely possibly.

Prior to the release of the BACT guidance, industry groups had worried that USEPA would require facilities to use costly CCS technology to trap carbon dioxide and store it underground, but the guidance does not go that far.

The guidance states that: “[w]hile CCS is a promising technology, EPA does not believe that at this time CCS will be a technically feasible [best available control technology, or BACT] option in certain cases.”" It adds that ”[a] permitting authority may conclude that CCS is not applicable to a particular source, and consequently not technically feasible, even if the type of equipment needed to accomplish the compression, capture, and storage of GHGs are determined to be generally available from commercial vendors.” The BACT Guidance also states that “there may be cases at present where the economics of CCS are more favorable (for example, where the captured CO2 could be readily sold for enhanced oil recovery)….

But at another place in the BACT guidance, in one case study regarding refineries, carbon capture is ruled out as a possible emissions control technology. The guidance clarifies that, even if the technology would allow CCS at the facility, officials would be justified in rejecting it as a control strategy if the hypothetical facility were far from the nearest storage site and there were no pipeline to move the emissions there.

In short, USEPA’s guidance clearly does not require CCS as BACT for any facility, but USEPA is subtly indicating that, although CCS technology is not quite ready for prime time, it is likely to be “prime” in the future.

USEPA gives away its hand less subtly with the finalization of two rules recently that pave the way to CCS regulation. One rule creates a new "Class VI" injection well for carbon sequestration that would be regulated under a different set of construction, monitoring and testing requirements under USEPA's Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program authorized by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The second rule would require permit holders to create a CO2 monitoring, reporting and verification plan and to report the amount of CO2 sequestered using a mass balance approach under the Clean Air Act.