Tuesday, December 22, 2009
One Year Later: America's Worst Environmental Disaster Continues with No Regulatory Relief in Sight
One year after environmental disaster in Tennasee area residents describe the
area as a moonscape, a war zone, a sad sight.
Press Release from Environmental Justice
One Year Later: America's Worst Environmental Disaster Continues with No
Regulatory Relief in Sight
Spill in Tennessee Dec. 22, 2008, sent 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into
nearby homes, rivers, and communities
December 21, 2009
Washington, DC -- It's been one year and piles of coal ash still remain. Train
cars full of the toxic waste move from Kingston, Tennessee to Perry County,
Alabama. The few remaining residents along the Clinch and Emory Rivers say the
cleanup goes on, but not much of the scenery has changed. They describe it as a
moonscape, a war zone, a sad sight.
One year ago, a billion gallons of toxic coal ash -- the leftovers from
coal-fired power plants that contain dangerously high levels of arsenic,
selenium and other toxins -- burst through a dam at the Tennessee Valley
Authority's Kingston Plant. It spread across 300 acres, destroying dozens of
homes and poisoning the Emory and Clinch Rivers.
The nation quickly took notice. Congress convened hearings about the disaster
and brought experts in to discuss the impacts that coal ash has not only in
Kingston, but at similar sites across the U.S. Local newspapers wrote about coal
ash ponds in other parts of the country. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson vowed
that her agency would introduce the first ever federal regulations on coal ash
ponds by the end of this year. But just last week, the EPA announced they were
going to delay federal coal ash regulations "due to the complexity of the
analysis the agency is currently finishing."
"We're obviously disappointed that the EPA couldn't get these regulations out to
the public before the end of this year," said Earthjustice attorney and coal ash
expert Lisa Evans. "Power industry lobbyists have relentlessly pressured EPA,
the White House, and other federal agencies to back off regulating toxic ash.
Polluters are spreading baseless fears about cost and compliance. But what we
know to be true is that the tragedy that happened in Tennessee is just waiting
to happen again unless the EPA acts quickly and forces stronger protections."
Earthjustice has compiled a timeline of events related to the Tennessee disaster
over the last year. It can be found at:
In March, the EPA sent letters to every coal ash pond owner seeking information
about the size, age, location and last inspection of coal ash ponds. 584 coal
ash ponds were tallied, but some companies refused to turn over the information,
citing "confidential business information" claims.
In June, the EPA identified 49 "high hazard" coal ash ponds, where the failure
of a dam will probably cause a loss of human life. But it wasn't until members
of Congress and environmental groups got involved that EPA decided to share the
list of high hazard sites with the public.
"For 30 years, these coal ash ponds have gone unnoticed and unchecked," Evans
added. "It's sad to think that it took a tragedy such as what happened in
Tennessee to get our government to finally take notice."
Lisa Evans, Earthjustice, (781) 631-4119
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice, (202) 236-5855