Kingston Recovery Continues: TVA Pays $27.8 Million to Coal Ash Spill Victims

Guest Blog | August 6, 2014 | Coal, Energy Policy
Chris Copeland standing on the coal ash that destroyed his home near TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant.

Last week the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) finally agreed to pay $27.8 million to more than 800 property owners who suffered damage from the massive 2008 Kingston coal ash spill. The spill is one the largest of its kind in US history, and spread over one billion gallons of toxic coal ash over 300 acres of aquatic ecosystems, farmlands and neighborhoods. TVA previously purchased over 180 properties in the spill area for approximately $147 million, and while this is likely to be the last wave of settlements, the impacts of this disaster will continue to be felt for decades to come.

We applaud TVA for finally compensating those directly impacted by the spill, while recognizing that the surrounding community, rivers and environment will never be the same and that residents in Perry County, AL who received much of the Kingston ash waste have yet to be compensated for their pollution burdens from this disaster.

As long as our utilities continue burning coal without proper regulations and oversight for their coal ash dumpsites, communities nationwide remain at risk from devastating coal ash spills and pollution problems. 

Even though the utility was found wholly responsible for the spill, TVA ratepayers as well as the utility’s insurers will shoulder much of the  $1.78 billion in clean up costs. Roane County’s local economy now carries the stigma associated with being home to one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history and two rivers have been forever-polluted with 500,000 cubic yards of coal ash left after the spill. TVA may tout their progress at rehabilitating the spill site and the advanced coal ash management systems now in place on the site, but SACE maintains that the best solution for a coal ash spill is to prevent it in the first place.

On the other side of this embankment is one of the new ash containment cells built to store ash on site. Unlike the original impoundments, these are lined with durable plastic liners intended to prevent leaching of coal ash toxics to groundwater and waterways.

Even as utilities (including TVA) phase out burning dirty coal for electricity, we lack adequate regulations protecting the public from 450 coal ash impoundments scattered across the Southeast. Utilities continue the outdated and dangerous practice of dumping ash into unlined pits near floodplains, waterways and communities. At both the federal and state level, regulators and elected officials have balked at creating the strong, enforceable protections needed. Even in North Carolina where legislators promised safeguards following the most recent coal ash disaster at Duke Energy’s Dan River facility, there has been no action to clean up dangerous and polluting sites.

TVA has now finished construction on the largest retaining wall in the U.S. – stretching 12 miles in total length and embedded 70 feet into the bedrock – to hold the remaining 240 acre ash containment cell at Kingston.  Unfortunately, other massive ash impoundments continue to threaten surrounding areas with little more than clay dikes and plastic linings (hopefully) to contain them.

Federal coal ash regulations are desperately needed to ensure coal ash is safely stored and managed in all communities. EPA is currently under a court-ordered deadline to finalize regulations by December 19, 2014. Send your message to EPA demanding the most protective safeguards possible, so no more communities have to experience the devastation and destruction of a coal ash spill, or worry if coal ash is endangering the safety of the water they drink or the air they breathe.

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