After TVA Fly Ash Spill, A Call For More Regulation

Nearly a year after the massive <"">Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) fly ash spill that decimated homes, wildlife, aquatic life, land, and waterways an advisory board in that state is now recommending more stringent regulations of ash impoundment facilities similar to the Kingston Fossil Plant, KnoxNews is reporting.

The advisory board, comprised mostly of engineers, has asked the TVA to have the Dam Safety Group manage its facilities; ban the sort of construction that took place at Kingston; adopt stricter regulations; and mandate owners of such impoundment facilities to fund an independent board, subject to the approval and oversight of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) regarding design, construction, and closure of these facilities, said KnoxNews.

“Immediately following the Kingston spill, Governor (Phil) Bredesen directed us to review all regulations regarding coal ash management in Tennessee to determine how they need to evolve,” said TDEC Commissioner Jim Fyke, quoted KnoxNews. “The recommendations made by this group will assist the department as we continue to move forward in that effort.”

The group also recommended exemptions to the Tennessee Safe Dams Act of 1973, in place for “farm ponds, wastewater impoundments and diversion weirs” be removed, said KnoxNews. Removal will not impact the TVA, according to Tisha Calabrese-Benton, TDEC spokeswoman, reported KnoxNews. “Federal dams, like those operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or TVA hydroelectric dams, are federally regulated and exempt from state regulation,” Calabrese-Benton said, quoted KnoxNews.

Regardless, the TDEC is looking to see how mandates can be changed to enable the same result if permit requirements issued by the divisions of Solid Waste and Water Pollution Control can be changed, said KnoxNews, noting that these do not involve federal exemption. Because of this, the TDEC look to implement recommendations in which legislative changes are not required, said KnoxNews.

For instance, the construction that took place at Kingston has been a point of concern. Each time pond walls were raised to increase accommodations, the new section was constructed back from the face and over the sludge, a so-called “upstream staged construction,” which, said the board requires, “the need for specialized understanding of the material performance,” quoted KnoxNews. Such understanding was not evident.

The report, which was critical of the TVA, said the utility expressed “an apparent lack of understanding or consideration of the evolutionary process of the construction at the TVA Kingston plant.” The panel also pointed out that the TVA treated the toxic sludge as if it were soil; however, it noted that ash and soil do not react in the same ways, said KnoxNews. The panel also said the utility “did not incorporate the standard of care and the understanding required for this type of structure.”

The catastrophic December 22, 2008 spill—the largest of its kind—dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal sludge and associated toxins into Tennessee’s Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding the TVA’s Kingston plant. The spill highlighted issues with contaminants in coal ash such as mercury and arsenic, which could present serious health and environmental problems.

The EPA is overseeing the clean up, which is expected to cost the TVA and rate payers, said KnoxNews, over $1.2 billion and will take years to complete.

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