News | November 11, 2016

EPA refutes TVA claim that cap-in-place coal ash plans have federal blessing

Despite claims to the contrary, the Tennessee Valley Authority did not receive federal sign off on its plans to cap coal ash in place across its territory, a plan that would leave the toxic ash sitting in groundwater and in leaky pits next to our rivers and lakes.

An October letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency clarifies that it “did not approve or disapprove the closure-in-place of the ash impoundments” at TVA’s coal plants. This contradicts statements by TVA’s CEO Bill Johnson made at the utility’s Board of Directors meeting in August, where he asserted that EPA agrees with TVA that capping the ash in place is the best option.

In EPA’s response, they note previous statements appear to have been misinterpreted, and that TVA’s closure plans are contingent on the utility’s ability to meet state and federal requirements for clean up and water protection.

“We agree with EPA’s view that TVA hasn’t shown it will protect the rivers and drinking water supplies that belong to the citizens of Tennessee and Alabama,” said Amanda Garcia, an attorney in SELC’s Tennessee office. “Twice now TVA has been caught mischaracterizing how state and federal regulators view its plans to cover up its leaking, unlined ash ponds and leave them in place continuing to pollute. If TVA can’t be trusted to accurately represent to the public its pending obligation to comply with the law, why should we trust TVA’s claim that its plans will actually keep our citizens and waters safe?”

This latest back-and-forth highlights the problems with TVA’s plans for its millions of tons of toxic coal ash stored across the state in leaking, unlined pits next to waterways and upriver from drinking water sources. New federal coal ash storage standards recently went in to effect, so utilities across the country are working to meet deadlines for reporting their plans. The new storage standards were implemented after two devastating coal ash spills in the Southeast—the first at a TVA site along Tennessee’s Clinch River in 2008 and the second at a Duke Energy plant on North Carolina’s Dan River in 2012—highlighted the serious threat these massive holdings of toxic ash pose to communities and the environment.

SELC and our partners are urging TVA to excavate coal ash for recycling or storage in safer, dry, lined landfills away from our rivers, groundwater and drinking water supplies as utilities in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia utilities have committed to do with more than 70 million tons of coal ash. Instead, TVA’s current plans show they hope to get approval to cover the coal ash and leave it in the leaking, unlined pits next to waterways. SELC and our partners continue to advocate the utility take a more protective approach.