Environmental groups welcome federal rules requiring TVA to clean up old coal ash dumps – Claiborne Progress

Environmental groups welcome federal rules requiring TVA to clean up old coal ash dumps

Published on Monday, May 13, 2024 at 3:47 PM

By Anita Wadhwani

Tennessee lookout

More than a decade after one of the worst industrial disasters in Tennessee history, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued new rules to force power plants to clean up leftover deposits of coal ash, a toxic byproduct of power generation that contains arsenic, mercury and other chemicals can leak. other hazardous pollutants in streams, lakes and groundwater.

The new rules require energy companies across the country to dig up millions of tons of coal ash from defunct power plants and old, unlined landfills that are in contact with groundwater and move them to dry, lined landfills.

In Tennessee, the rules will apply to locations in Sumner, Anderson, Roane, Hawkins and Humphreys counties owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. It was at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant in 2008 that disaster struck: an infrastructure breach sent more than a billion gallons of toxic coal sludge into nearby homes and waterways, prompting sick workers to be brought in to clean it up. Dozens of these workers have now died.

Environmental groups hailed the long-awaited new EPA rules as a critical and necessary check on the operations of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which for decades has dumped the toxic tailings of coal-fired power plants into unrestricted ponds and landfills.

“This is so important because many utilities are already cleaning up coal ash in the Southeast, but for those like TVA who haven’t done so yet, this is important to boost those cleanups and protect surrounding communities and their water sources,” said Nick Torrey. a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

TVA is currently reviewing the new EPA rules, agency spokesman Scott Brooks said Tuesday. In a brief statement, Brooks called TVA an “industry leader in safe, innovative coal ash management, implementing best practices years before they were needed.”

TVA’s handling of coal ash has been the subject of scrutiny by state and federal regulators since the 2008 Kingston disaster. The utility is currently subject to an order from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to investigate all of its existing coal ash sites and develop a plan for their remediation, which is due to occur this year. The plan has not yet been made public.

The EPA coal ash rules, issued last week, are intended to close a loophole that emerged after it was established in 2015 for the proper disposal of coal ash at active coal-fired power plants. The 2015 rules did not cover existing stocks of coal ash waste at defunct factories and unlined landfills. The TVA and other energy companies will now be required to clean up these coal ash deposits.

One of the unanswered questions now is whether the TVA will choose to transport coal ash from existing sites to other communities, said Bri Knisley, director of public power campaigns for Appalachian Voices.

After the Kingston coal ash disaster, TVA chose to ship more than 800 million tons of coal ash to Uniontown, Alabama, a predominantly black and predominantly poor community.

Today, Uniontown residents have few answers about the long-term effects of coal ash dumped in their backyards, a question brought into sharper focus by the EPA’s recent preliminary findings that exposure to even small amounts of coal ash can harm health and environment. has a cancer risk that is 35 times higher than previously thought.

“That’s the other complicating factor,” Knisely said. “If it gets cleaned up, where are they going to store it? How are they going to involve the community or the public in where the ashes go?”

Knisely noted that the newly issued EPA rules also do not address safety measures for workers responsible for transporting the coal waste.

Axel Ringe, chairman of the Sierra Club’s coal ash working group, said he was also concerned about the track record of energy companies since the 2015 rule requiring strict containment of coal ash residues in active coal plants. “Most power plants have ignored it,” Ringe said.