Environmental Protection

Lawmakers Get an Earful on TVA Coal Ash Spill

Stephen A. Smith, Ph.D., executive director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, planned to tell a Senate committee on Jan. 8 that coal ash should be classified as a hazardous waste.

On Dec. 22, more than 1 billion gallons of coal sludge came cascading through Eastern Tennessee. The sludge toppled houses and dirtied rivers and streams. This toxic coal ash has been stored in an open 40-acre pond next to the 50-year-old power plant. According to state authorities, after the spill there are 54,000 people with contaminated water in Roane County alone, and many more outside the county may also have tainted drinking water.

Smith was to testify about the Tennessee Valley Authority's failure to react adequately following the coal ash spill on Dec. 22. He also seeks heightened accountability for TVA. "I have witnessed the betrayal that members of this community feel; TVA has unleashed devastation on the very watershed and communities it was created to protect," said Smith. "Given the evidence of short-term cuts taken by the TVA to fix the warning signs of this disaster, it is clear that this was a man-made disaster."

The U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works had scheduled an oversight hearing on the spill.

"In 2000, EPA shirked its responsibility by not regulating coal ash as a hazardous waste, and today, EPA can not fully account for the hundreds of millions of pounds of coal ash generated in our country every year," said Smith.

He also called for the phase out of all toxic coal ash wet storage, the immediate inspection and monitoring of all toxic coal ash storage and disposal units, and federal regulation of all toxic coal ash storage and disposal by 2010.

"TVA was born out of crippling economic times. As we find ourselves again in difficult times, this is an opportunity to remake TVA as an effective utility in the 21st Century," said Smith. "TVA must be a living laboratory modeling a clean energy future heavily invested in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and smart-grid technology."

In related news, a broad coalition of activists is asking Congress for a moratorium on new coal plants.

Gillian Caldwell, campaign director of 1Sky said, "The Tennessee coal ash spill was a man-made disaster that is directly tied to our reliance on fossil fuels. In the face of this tragedy, the coal industry still wants to build more pollution-belching coal plants, and we cannot let that happen. This just proves that in reality, there is no such thing as clean coal."

"If you think this could not happen to you, think again," Caldwell said, "More than 50 percent of Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant." Caldwell said that even if you are lucky enough to not live near a coal plant you are still affected by dirty coal because it is the No. 1 source of global warming pollution in the United States. The coal industry spent more than $45 million last year trying to convince Americans that the dirtiest fuel on the planet is "clean."

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