While a half dozen Tennessee Valley Authority coal plants are going away, the leftover ash appears to be staying put. TVA has officially stated its preference on how to handle decades of coal waste.
These are the same kind of ash piles that collapsed and slid into the Clinch River by TVA’s Kingston plant in 2008. All of that gray muck, laden with heavy metals, was dredged from the river and sent by train to a landfill in Alabama.
TVA looked into what it would take to do the same thing for all of its closing coal plants, but spokesman Scott Brooks says the price tag isn’t worth it.
“Cost is certainly a factor because you’re talking about — depending on the size of the impoundment — millions of tons of coal ash and other product,” Brooks says, adding that removal could easily take years and might not improve safety at all.
Instead, TVA alerted regulators this week that the plan is to simply dry out the ash ponds and cover them permanently. Brooks says that should leave virtually no risk of another spill.
But environmental groups say TVA is just taking the easy way. They fear the ash piles will still contaminate rivers and ground water since coal plants are typically right on the waterfront.
Amanda Garcia is an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is suing the utility for leakage into the Cumberland River.
“We find it hard to believe that keeping it in place and covering it up will be as protective as moving it away from our water,” Garcia says.
By contrast, environmentalists are praising Georgia Power this week. That utility announced it will excavate and haul off ash from 16 of its 29 storage pits.