TVA Updates Citizens on Kingston Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Status

Guest Blog | June 5, 2013 | Coal, Energy Policy
On May 30, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing in Kingston, TN where they provided an update on their combined efforts to clean up the 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash that spilled 4 1/2 years ago into the land and water surrounding their nearby Kingston coal plant.  Our most recent blog on the Kingston coal ash disaster provided an update on TVA’s plans around the remaining coal ash – plans that include leaving some 400,000 cubic yards of ash at the bottom of the Clinch and Emory Rivers over a 200-acre swath.  At the meeting, agencies overseeing cleanup activities explained the long term monitoring plan that will be in place over the next 30 years that will keep an eye on the remaining ash in the surrounding waterbodies.

The response and clean-up efforts at Kingston are overseen by not only TVA and EPA but also the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.  Cleaning up the spill has an estimated price tag of $1.178 billion.  Previously, the TVA Board approved a budget decision resulting in TVA ratepayers being charged an additional 69 cents on their monthly power bills starting in October 2009.  A TVA spokesman also stated that additional costs could be passed on to ratepayers if TVA has to pay damages as a result of outstanding civil suits related to the spill – a likely result in light of a recent court ruling that found TVA liable for damages arising from the spill.

At the public meeting, TVA executive Bob Deacy said the cleanup would ultimately end in November 2014.  (Click here for a Dec. 2012 video of Mr. Deacy outlining the progress of the cleanup).  When all is said and done, a total of 3.8 million cubic yards of ash will be stored in an on-site 230-acre holding cell, then covered with thick plastic liner and 2 feet of clay. EPA project manager for the site, Craig Zeller, referred to this ash holding cell as “the most monitored coal ash cell in the United States.”

EPA has an entire website devoted to its role in the cleanup where they provide a series of aerial photographs that show the impacted area around the plant before, after and in its “cleaned” condition as of January 2013.  TDEC also has a webpage dedicated to the cleanup, which includes links to air monitoring results, fish tissue data as well as soil, ash and surface water results.  Rounding out the trifecta of agency websites dedicated to documenting the response to the Kingston disaster, TVA’s website provides detailed information about the long term monitoring plan for the remaining coal ash.

Although all the agencies involved have spent a lot of time and money to restore the area impacted by the disaster, there is little hope of the water and land around the spill site ever getting back to its condition before the spill.  Not only has this disaster affected the community around the Kingston plant, it has affected all TVA ratepayers who will have to shoulder some of the financial burden associated with cleanup efforts and anyone who enjoys recreational activities on the Clinch and Emory Rivers.  The Kingston spill and the lingering devastation to the surrounding environment underscores just how badly we need proper regulation of coal ash waste from the federal government. We all need to push Congress and regulators to enact strict regulations for coal ash that will help prevent disasters like this from happening in the future.

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