A year ago, a massive coal ash spill took place in Tennessee. About 5.4 million cubic yards of ash ended up in a river and covering the private property of local citizens. The EPA this week called the spill at TVA's Kingston plant "one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history."
Here's a video from last year. It shows some of the damage. When we think about coal, we mostly think about burning it and mining it, but the TVA spill should burn into our memories the fact that disposing of all that coal ash can lead to a whole other series of environmental disasters (soon after the TVA spill, a second one took place in Alabama).
Today the AP writes: "While the spill of ash from burned coal contains arsenic and potentially carcinogenic heavy metals, it is not regulated as hazardous waste. Some enviromental groups want EPA to change that. TVA owns nearly 3,000 acres of ash ponds at its other coal plants in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama."
The EPA said it would decide how to regulate coal ash within a year, but it has now pushed back its decision.
I definitely support the eco groups who want coal ash to be more regulated. Legislating things isn't the best way to do things in all cases, but in this case, it seems to be making a lot of sense. It also makes economic sense: All those reservoirs filling up with coal ash day after day are just problems waiting to happen, and if we're just waiting for catastrophes to happen before we do something, the true cost of burning coal isn't being internalized properly; local citizens and people downstream of those rivers end up paying for it with their health and by losing their local environment (what if your family house was buried in potentially toxic sludge?).
Slow Clean Up
It takes a long time to clean up such a big mess:
TVA expects to get the spilled coal ash out of the Emory River by spring 2010 and to have the 2.4 million cubic yards that spilled on site collected by 2013.
Kilgore said the utility is "making good progress" on the projected $1.2 billion cleanup that could cause possible rate increases. He declined to speculate about the amount.
Via AP, WaPo
More on the Coal Ash Spill
Overview of Recent Toxic Coal Ash Spills
What the Heck? Second Coal Ash Spill, this Time in Alabama
Aftermath of the TVA Coal Ash Spill: Get Ticketed for Taking Water Samples (Video)
Ash Spill Fallout Continues: Now "260 Times the Allowable Amount" of Arsenic in Drinking Water Supply