Epic Environmental Fail: Landowners sue Tennessee Valley Authority for $165M over Coal Ash Spill

coal ash sludge spill tennessee photo

Clean Coal Fans, Take Note
As reported here on TreeHugger and on Discovery News last week: "Monday night 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge broke through a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA's Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train." Read on for more.Cleaning this up is such a monumental task that it could take years, and we still don't know just how many toxic things are in that sludge and what the impacts on the local environment will be.

According to a second Discovery News piece on the subject:

America's thirst for energy generates leaves between 122 and 129 million tons of waste from spent coal each year. Most of that is fly ash, a fine, talcum-like powder. Bottom ash, boiler slag, and sulfur-rich solids left over from scrubbers in the plants' smoke stacks all have to be disposed of, too.

Strangely, the EPA "does not consider coal ash a hazardous waste, despite the fact that it contains mercury, selenium, and arsenic, among other heavy metals." But not everybody agrees.

39 environmental groups have drafted a letter asking the Obama administration to "reject a pending federal rule that will make it easier to dispose of coal combustion waste from power plants in abandoned mines" and tighten rules regarding coal ash disposal.

From CNN:

Steve Ahlstedt, an independent aquatic biologist, told CNN that a spill of this magnitude probably will affect the area's ecological balance.

"Once the ash has settled to the bottom of the rivers, all heavy metals will hang around for a long time," he said. "When coal releases into the water, the mussel population goes into deep freeze. They are the 'canary in the coal mine.' They are the main indicator of how healthy our water is."

$165M Lawsuit Against TVA
The latest news were that a group of Tennessee landowners decided to sue the Tennessee Valley Authority yesterday for $165 million.

TVA, its board of directors, President and CEO Tom Kilgore and other TVA executives are named as defendants. The suit asks for $15 million in compensatory damages and $150 million in punitive damages.

The nonprofit Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said it also notified TVA on Tuesday that it intends to sue under the federal Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

According to Discovery News: "In a 2006 report, EPA officials stated that they investigated 86 complaints of damage to human health or the environment caused by "fossil-fuel-combustion waste management units" between 1994 and 2004. Though the outcomes of the investigations were not immediately clear, the report appears to tacitly acknowledge that coal ash is dangerous, a position that would contradict the agency's own lax policy toward the waste product."

Something will definitely have to be done to make the storing of coal ash safer (the ultimate solution would be to stop burning coal, but that won't happen in the short-term unfortunately).

Via Discovery News, Associated Press
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2.6 Million Cubic Yards of Toxic Coal Ash Slurry Released in Tennessee Dike Burst
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