Tennessee Coal Ash Disaster Anniversary -- News Roundup

by Ben Somberg

December 22, 2009

One year ago today, about 1 billion gallons of coal ash were spilled when a dyke collapsed at the Tennessee Valley Authority's fossil plant in Kingston, Tennessee.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel has the moment-by-moment account of what happened that night. They report that Roane County real estate and tourism have suffered, and that there are 14 lawsuits pending against TVA in relation to the disaster, which will likely take years to resolve. And they editorialize:

TVA and the EPA have vowed that they will do everything in their power to prevent anything of this kind and this magnitude from ever happening again. We believe they will try — and public oversight and accountability will be the best tools to hold them to their promise.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports a group of local residents speaking up against TVA and state and county authorities.

The Washington Post and the Charleston Gazette look at prospects for EPA action on coal ash regulation. As the Post puts it:

One year later, most of the ash on the land is still there. And the problem of similar coal-ash ponds still sits on the long and fast-expanding to-do list of President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency.

Last week, we noted here that the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has already held 10 meetings with industry representatives on the issue, before any EPA notice-and-comment period has begun.

It’s a systems problem. In the past it was easy as 1-2-3. Step 1: Dig “magic rocks” out of the ground. Step 2: Transport them. Step 3: Burn them. But now we’ve realized that: 1A: Digging them out of the ground is a dirty and dangerous business. In some areas we send miners underground for coal. Other areas we blast mountains into piles of mill tailings and slag heaps to get to the coal. 2A: Transporting the coal requires energy, which means release of greenhouse gases into the biosphere. 3A: Burning these “magic rocks” releases arsenicals, carbon dioxide, mercury, oxides of nitrogen and sulpher, radionucleotides, and other stuff, much of which is toxic. We know how to capture and store the ash – everything but the CO2 – but it’s expensive. And, as happened 12/22/08 in Kingston, Tennessee, the storage pools can overflow and burst. We don’t really know how to store the CO2, but it will be phenomenally expensive. Just like we switched from horse and buggy to the car, the real solution is to leave coal underground, and switch to wind, solar, geothermal, marine current hydro, and conservation.
— Larry Furman
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