Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal to generate electricity. Depending on the type of coal, the amount of ash that remains is generally about 10 percent.
According to the American Coal Ash Association, more than 50 percent of coal ash was recycled in 2015 and used in products such as cement, concrete, wallboard, and roofing materials.
Coal ash that cannot be recycled is stored in basins. As the electric power industry transitions its generation fleet, some coal-based power plants are being retired. This means that coal ash basins near these power plants are no longer needed. Electric companies are beginning to close basins where coal ash is stored, in ways that put safety first, protect the environment, minimize impacts to the community, and manage costs for customers.
In April 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a national rule to regulate how coal ash is managed and stored. The rule provides two options for closing basins: managing coal ash in place (closed-in-place) or excavating and moving coal ash to another location (closed-by-removal). The EPA recognizes that both options are viable and provide environmental benefits, and the electric power industry is committed to meeting or exceeding all federal, state, and local regulations.
Understanding the Safe Coal Ash Basin Closure Process