SACE Releases TN Coal Ash Report in Advance of EPA Public Hearing

Guest Blog | October 26, 2010 | Coal, Energy Policy, Events

Just a few weeks after the December 2008 Kingston coal ash disaster, on January 7, 2009, SACE Executive Director, Dr. Stephen A. Smith, traveled to Washington, D.C. with five residents of Harriman, Tennessee, the epicenter of the Kingston spill.  These residents walked the halls of Congress and implored elected officials to hear their stories about the ways their lives were disrupted, their fears about the future, and their anger over the destruction that befell Roane County, Tennessee as a result of an unregulated waste stream from coal.  On that same trip Dr. Smith testified before the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and called on our federal agencies finally, after years of delay, to regulate coal ash.  Utilities and their lobbyists have successfully ensured for decades that coal combustion residuals were left unregulated in an effort to reduce the burden of environmental compliance.


This past spring, in response to an out-pouring of concern, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a proposed rule to regulate coal ash, and now, on October 27, EPA is coming to Knoxville for a final, landmark public hearing on their proposed regulations. Knoxville was nearly passed up for a public hearing but EPA added the location as a last site after an outpouring of discontent from citizens, advocates, and even Sen. Lamar Alexander who feel that TVA’s Kingston coal ash disaster makes East Tennessee the most logical place in the country for a hearing.  In advance of this hearing, SACE is releasing a brand new report highlighting the state of TN’s failure to adequately put in place regulatory measures to protect public health and the environment from future such coal ash disasters.

The EPA public hearing will run all day starting at 9a at the Knoxville Marriott, located at 500 Hill Avenue SE. Remember that even though pre-reserved speaking times are full, walk-in spots are available and you can simply arrive at the hearing, listen to speakers, catch a film screening at 1pm of “Perry County” a short film about the minority communities of Alabama receiving the coal ash waste from the Kingston disaster, or mingle with other interested citizens until EPA calls you to the podium.  Stick around for a public Rally “Coal Ash is Scary!” put on by the student activists from UT Knoxville at 5:30pm in the Marriott Hotel outside parking lot.



For those of you who won’t be able to make the hearing, please follow the proceedings right here on the Clean Energy Footprints blog.  We recently added a widget to the blog that will allow readers to view a live Twitter feed of the EPA hearing.  (The widget is right there on the upper right-hand side of your screen in vivid black and green).  The feed will include all tweets with the #coalash tag from SACE staffers as well as other allied groups such as SOCM, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, Greenpeace and Environment North Carolina.  There will even be live tweets from individual activists and media.

Federal regulation of coal ash is a crucial step in protecting human health and the environment from a plethora of toxic chemicals found in this waste stream, and it is important to keep abreast of the progress.  The best way to keep informed and experience this pivotal public hearing is by coming in person, the hearing runs from 9am until all speakers are through, possibly as late as midnight, so there is plenty of time to stop by if you’re in the area.  However, we know that we all lead busy lives and schedules sometimes won’t allow an in-person visit, so please keep your eyes on Clean Energy Footprints for up-to-the minute information.


Speaking at this hearing is not the only way to get involved in the EPA’s decision-making process.  EPA is accepting written comments on this proposed rule-making until November 19th.  There are a number of ways to submit written comments.  You can submit hard copies of comments by mail to: United States Environmental Protection Agency, Ariel Rios Building, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Mail Code: 1101A, Washington, DC 20460.  You can fax comments to 202-566-0272.  You can email comments to [email protected].  Or, finally, you can anonymously submit comments through  No matter which method you use, be sure to mark your comments with the proper coal ash docket number: EPA-HQ-RCRA-2009-0640.  Please remember, the due date for comments is November 19.  You can learn more about how to comment, and see a sample comment letter here.


In the run-up to this hearing, SACE authored a comprehensive report detailing the shortcomings of Tennessee’s coal ash regulations.  According to the report, these shortcomings highlight the need for EPA to select Subtitle C special-waste designation to govern coal ash.  The report finds that:

“despite the inherent dangers of coal ash, despite being home to the largest coal ash disaster in history, two high hazard coal ash impoundments and five documented cases of water contamination from ash storage, Tennessee does not have a regulatory system designed specifically to protect individuals and the environment from the unique dangers of coal ash.”

Key findings of this report include:
report• Tennessee has only one law designed specifically to address the dangers of coal ash and that law is riddled with exceptions.
• When ash is stored in a wet impoundment, like Kingston, the wastewater discharges are regulated, but structural stability, groundwater, siting, corrective action, closure and post-closure care are left unregulated.
• The Tennessee Safe Dams Act does not apply to surface impoundments.
• Solid waste regulations are not applied to surface impoundments
• Landfills can operate under weak “permits-by-rule” if they merely state that the landfill will ultimately be used for something other than ash storage alone. No proof or assurance of this intent is required.
• The Commissioner of the Department of Environment and Conservation can waive all landfill regulations on a permit-by-permit basis.
• High levels of surface or groundwater contamination have been found in and around TVA impoundments at the Johnsonville, Cumberland, Gallatin and John Sevier coal plants. Contaminants include arsenic, aluminum, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chloride, iron, lead, manganese and nickel.
• TVA’s Cumberland and Bull Run impoundments are categorized by EPA as a “high hazard” ponds. This rating means that there will probably be a loss of human life if the impoundment has a structural failure like the one at Kingston.

Other organizations endorsing this report include: The Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, Tennessee Environmental Council, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Tennessee Interfaith Power & LightWestern North Carolina Alliance, Greenpeace USA, French Broad Riverkeeper, Watauga Watershed Alliance, United Mountain Defense, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice.

The full report is available on the SACE website.

The lesson of this report is simple:  States are not doing a good job of regulating coal ash.  If Tennessee–home of the Kingston disaster–will not properly regulate coal ash, it is imperative that EPA adopt strong and enforceable protections.  That is exactly what Subtitle C does, and that is why it is important to let EPA know that you support Subtitle C.  Whether you follow us on Twitter, attend the hearing or provide written comments, your input will make a difference, so please, get involved!

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