With legislation action on climate change deadlocked by partisan divisions in Congress, the Obama Administration is pursuing a growing set of administrative and regulatory initiatives under existing authority. Many of these involve actions by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) applying Clean Air Act (CAA) authority, but some involve other EPA authority and/or other agencies.
Effective March 4, 2014, EPA excludes qualifying injection of carbon dioxide (CO2) injection into underground wells for the purpose of “geologic sequestration” from regulation as hazardous waste disposal under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). This conditional exemption requires specific management actions, some of which involve demonstration of compliance with other laws.
What is Geologic Sequestration?
Geologic sequestration is the injection of a material—in this case carbon dioxide—deep underground into formations believed capable of isolating it there for very long periods of time. This program is used by other programs; for example, EPA administers underground injection control (UIC) permit programs under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), which provide permitting for six categories of waste injection under conditions intended to prevent contamination of potential drinking water sources. Since January 2011 this program has provided for non-experimental wells for geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide (Class VI).
Why CO2 Sequestration?
Attempts to reduce CO2 accumulation in the air generally focus on reducing emissions, from power plants, motor vehicles, and other activities that use fossil fuels. An alternative approach is to capture and sequester CO2 from the air, either at combustion sites or from ambient air. EPA has proposed CAA rules that would require new coal—and gas—fired electricity power plants to limit net CO2 emissions, probably by carbon capture (I previously blogged about the latest proposal; it was issued in September 2013 and finally published in the Federal Register on January 8, 2014). One possible fate for captured carbon is sequestration.
What Conditions Must Be Met to Qualify for Exclusion From Hazardous Waste Requirements?
EPA’s latest rule provides conditions to be met, which allow CO2 injection for sequestration purposes to occur without triggering permit requirements for “hazardous waste disposal” under RCRA. The conditions are as follows:
Any transportation complies with applicable Department of Transportation requirements (including pipeline requirements).
Injection complies with UIC Class VI permit requirements.
No other hazardous wastes are mixed with the CO2.
The generator of the stream signs a required certification statement attesting to compliance with these requirements.
EPA has adopted this exclusion to reassure potential users of sequestration that their activities will not trigger RCRA requirements, and to formalize a compilation of requirements that may be applied by other federal environmental health and safety laws and regulations.
Is my organization planning to construct a new electricity generating unit, to be fueled by natural gas or coal?
If so, is it designed to include carbon capture or some other method to meet EPA’s proposed CO2 emission limits?
Does my organization operate an existing electricity generating unit, to be fueled by natural gas or coal?
If so, have CO2 emissions been calculated?
Has my organization considered retrofit of this unit to include carbon capture or some other method to meet stricter CO2 emission limits that EPA may propose?
If my organization captures CO2, does it provide for eventual sequestration somehow?
If the organization intends to remove CO2 from the environment by geologic sequestration, is it prepared to comply with EPA requirements to:
Comply with applicable DOT requirements for transport?
Obtain and comply with a Class VI UIC permit?
Ensure that no hazardous wastes are mixed with the CO2?
Provide required certifications?
Where Can I Go For More Information?
SDWA UIC program
Carbon Capture and sequestration webpage
- Carbon Pollution Standards webpage (including links to power plant emission proposals)
RCRA rule providing exclusion for qualifying geologic sequestration (as published in Federal Register).
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About the Author
Jon Elliott is President of Touchstone Environmental and has been a major contributor to STP’s product range for over 25 years. He was involved in developing 16 existing products, including Environmental Compliance: A Simplified National Guide and The Complete Guide to Environmental Law.
Mr. Elliott has a diverse educational background. In addition to his Juris Doctor (University of California, Boalt Hall School of Law, 1981), he holds a Master of Public Policy (Goldman School of Public Policy [GSPP], UC Berkeley, 1980), and a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering (Princeton University, 1977).
Mr. Elliott is active in professional and community organizations. In addition, he is a past chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSPP Alumni Association, and past member of the Executive Committee of the State Bar of California's Environmental Law Section (including past chair of its Legislative Committee).
You may contact Mr. Elliott directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org.