Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

Legal lookout: EPA responds to coal ash release

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Courtesy of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C.

Once again, it took a major catastrophe to wake up industry and regulators to a problem that should have been addressed long ago. Dec. 22, 2008, was a nightmare for federal and state regulators, electrical utilities, and most particularly the residents of Kingston, Tenn. On this day, approximately 5.4 million cubic yards (or 1.1 billion gallons) of coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) plant collection pond near Knoxville flooded some 300 acres of land, damaging property, polluting waterways, and killing fish. This article describes the efforts the agency has initiated to prevent similar incidents.

Coal ash has been accumulating for many years at the 440 electricity plants located in the U.S. Coal ash is the material that is left over after coal-fired power plants generate electricity. Ash can be stored wet or dry. The coal ash accumulating for over 50 years at the TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant covered more than 100 acres and rose to over 65 feet above ground level. The TVA plant used wet storage, and on that fateful day, an earthen dam burst, spilling the ash over 300 acres of land. While such incidents are not common (four similar events have occurred over the past five decades), they are spectacular, costly and certainly controversial.

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