News | August 28, 2015

TVA moves forward with coal ash cleanup after state’s order

In a welcome development for coal ash protections in Tennessee, earlier this month the state’s environmental agency directed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to investigate and clean up any problems at its coal ash sites across the state. Yesterday, TVA announced it was seeking public comment on how it handles coal ash disposal.

The administrative order from the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC) requires more stringent oversight and stronger protective measures than required by new EPA guidelines, released last December.

This action follows a lawsuit filed earlier this year by SELC against TVA regarding its Gallatin Fossil Plant, where for decades coal ash has been leaking harmful pollutants into the surrounding groundwater and the Cumberland River, a source of drinking water for over one million Tennesseans.

SELC has demanded safer protections for the handling of coal ash across our region, including moving it to dry, lined storage away from waterways. A toxic byproduct of burning coal for power, coal ash can seep into groundwater if not stored properly and massive spills in recent years have contaminated major drinking water sources in Tennessee and North Carolina. The 2008 Kingston coal ash spill in central Tennessee was the largest industrial spill in U.S. history.

Since then, the storage and handling of coal ash throughout the Southeast has come under greater scrutiny. In TDEC’s order, not only is TVA required to investigate regulated coal ash storage sites and, if necessary, mitigate, but TVA also must inspect any sites that existed before coal ash requirements were on the books.

TDEC said the order was intended to create a “transparent and comprehensive process.”

The plants specifically mentioned in the order are Allen, Cumberland, Johnsonville, Kingston, Bull Run, John Sevier, and Watts Bar fossil plants. TVA’s Gallatin plant is not on the list due to its pre-existing coal ash plan, in place thanks to earlier SELC litigation.

Another key component of TDEC’s order is the emphasis on public participation. Under the order plan for investigation and mitigation must include opportunity for public notice and comment

Read further coverage of TDEC's coal ash order:

State orders TVA to investigate coal ash disposal sites, The Tennessean

State puts TVA coal ash ponds under extra scrutiny, The Knoxville News-Sentinel