Prosecutions Sought in TVA Spill

Although the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) claims it has been punished enough for last year’s massive and catastrophic <"">fly ash spill, some environmental groups disagree and are seeking prosecution and asking that the utility no longer be protected by federal loopholes.

Nearly one year ago, the TVA let loose an unimaginable 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic coal sludge into the Emory and Clinch rivers and the 300 acres surrounding the TVA’s Kingston plant. The spill dumped more heavy metals into the Emory River than all of the power plants in 2007, combined, said the Environmental Integrity Project.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that TVA officials say the utility is not immune from penalties and legal actions filed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and that it is working on implementing changes to its processes. Environmental groups say the TVA is currently protected under a federal rule that places limitations on how the Department of Justice prosecutes federal agencies, such as the TVA, noted the AP.

Eric Shaeffer, Project Director at Environmental Integrity, previously described the massive TVA fly ash spill as “an ecological disaster,” quoted KnoxNews and urged the federal government to act on the regulation of these coal ash impoundments and to put into effect a ban on wet storage facilities, like the one at the center of the TVA Kingston Fossil Plan tragedy. “We think the data makes a very strong case for the EPA to take action on coal ash ponds,” Shaeffer said, reported KnoxNews.

In addition to the Project, the Sierra Club and others argue, said the AP, that the December spill is only the TVA’s “latest and most dramatic example of environmental mismanagement,” citing a report by the TVA’s inspector general, on which we have previously written. Schaeffer said the groups wrote to President Barack Obama, said the AP, seeking Justice Department action and stated that the utility uses “some of the worst practices in” the industry and has some ways in which it could help the TVA become a “model of clean energy production and environmental stewardship,” quoted the AP. New director appointments, a timeline to convert wet coal waste to a dry system, and elimination of coal-fired plants are among recommendations made to President Obama.

Meanwhile, two recent Congressional panels held hearings in which an EPA official said the remaining pollutants are at elevated but acceptable levels in the area’s treated drinking water, reported the AP. But, we have written that numerous studies have concluded that coal dumps leach dangerous toxins into the environment that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other serious health outcomes in water and wildlife, including frightening guarantees of developing cancer from drinking contaminated water and suffering damage to the liver, kidney, lungs and other organs from toxic metal exposure, such as cadmium, cobalt, lead, and other pollutants far above levels that are considered safe,” citing Environmental Integrity.

The Project’s earlier report also found that the spill released about four and a-half times more lead and two and a-half times more arsenic than was released by the entire power industry the year prior to the spill, said KnoxNews. Environmental Integrity based its findings on industry-supplied data to the EPA, said KnoxNews.

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