How TVA Has (not) Changed

12/23/14 – How TVA Has (not) Changed – SOCM members call on TDEC to reject the major modifications to the Kingston Gypsum Landfill Permit

Kingston, Tenn. – On Tuesday, December 9th concerned SOCM members joined partners and other Roane County citizens to voice opposition to the TVA’s proposal to store coal ash in a current gypsum landfill at the Kingston Fossil Plant site in Kingston, TN.

The news of TDEC’s preliminary approval of the major modifications to the old permit should have shocked the community.  It would have shocked the community, had it been given the proper coverage it was due.

The Kingston Fossil Plant is the site of one of the worst environmental disasters in recent history, which happened on Dec.22, 2008. Since TVA built a combustion air scrubber to capture the sulphur in the smoke, it needed a storage place for the resulting gypsum. TVA got a permit for a gypsum only landfill in 2007 and built the landfill. Shortly after TVA started to put wet gypsum into the landfill, a sinkhole formed under the liner, the liner broke and a significant amount of gypsum flowed in the nearby Clinch River.

During the first 30 minutes of the public meeting participants could review maps and other pertinent printed material, but no history of the gypsum landfill was shown and that the landfill area was prone to sinkholes.

The Operations Manual for the gypsum landfill, which is part of the application shows on page 11 that the gypsum landfill area is not suitable for industrial waste, especially for toxic coal ash. It states: “ hydrogeologic evaluation indicates that no voids were detected immediately above bedrock that would indicate migration of soil into the deeper bedrock system. There are no natural karst features (i.e., sinkholes, sinking streams, and springs) directly formed into the subsurface. Coring of the bedrock at the site exhibits slight to highly fractured conditions. Most cavities and joints were also observed to be completely or partially filled with clays and sand.”  This is clearly sinkhole prone land, and is the smoking gun that TVA knew of the unsuitability but applied for the modifications anyway.

Moreover, TDEC is violating its own regulations if it permits a coal ash dump in an area that is unstable.

In addition to the health and environmental concerns over the landfill, those in attendance expressed concerns over what TDEC’s lackluster efforts to notify Roane County citizens of the public hearing.

“The lack of public response and awareness of the public hearing was glaringly obvious.  There were twice as many officials there as citizens and there were only two Roane County residents in attendance.  Finding the location was incredibly difficult – no lights, no visible street numbers and only a small paper sign taped to the door. The Roane County Environmental Committee Chair complained of difficulty locating the permit modifications at the Kingston Library, and once found, discovered a volume approximately 6 inches thick!” said Jean Cheely, SOCM Cumberland County Chapter Chair.

It is very ironic, that a big headline announced “TVA: We’ve changed” (Roane Co. News, Dec. 19-21,2014) and TVA’s CEO Bill Johnson praised all the efforts TVA made in cleaning up the 2008 disaster and restoring the landscape. But applying for so severe modifications to the gypsum landfill knowing that the area is not suitable for industrial waste, including toxic coal combustion waste, clearly shows that TVA has not changed.

On Friday 19 December, EPA announced new national guidelines on coal combustion products, specifically referring to the 2008 Kingston Coal Ash disaster. This is a welcome step in the right direction.  TVA claims that the Kingston Ash Recovery Project follows these new guidelines, and that input from the community was a major factor in making the recovery project a success.  It’s clear that input from the community was not a major factor in TDEC’s notification of the 9th December hearing, nor in TDEC’s willingness to approve the permit modifications that allows TVA to continue its irresponsible ways of doing business.

“I know the Roane County community has more than a passive interest in how coal ash is disposed,” said Ms Cheely.

This is, after all, their health, their land, their lives.

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Notes to Editors:

Contact: Patrick Morales, Board President, Tel: 423-504-7314, Email:

Unstable, as defined by TDEC in its ‘Rules of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Solid Waste Management, Chapter 0400-11-01, Solid Waste Processing and Disposal” “means a location that is susceptible to natural or human-induced events or forces capable of impairing the integrity of some or all of the landfill structural components responsible for preventing releases from a landfill. Unstable areas can include poor foundation conditions, areas susceptible to mass movements, and Karst terranes.”  The gypsum landfill is on an island that is well known, and acknowledged by TVA, to be prone to sinkholes

About SOCM

SOCM – Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment – is a member-run organization that encourages civic involvement and collective action so that the people of Tennessee have a greater voice in determining their future. The mission of SOCM is to empower Tennesseans to protect, defend, and improve the quality of life in their communities across the state. SOCM is working for social, economic, and environmental justice for all. We are committed to the journey of becoming an anti-racist organization. Recognizing our interdependence, SOCM is committed to overcoming social and institutional racism and embracing our diverse cultures.

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