(865) 522-7007CONTACT

TCWN and Other Citizen Groups Urge TDEC To Revoke TVA's Permit for Coal Ash Disposal Facility at Kingston Coal Plant

December 30, 2014

Proposed TDEC Permit Raises Major Red Flags, Fails to Protect Health and Safety

KNOXVILLE, TN – Today, a coalition of environmental and conservation groups urged the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to revoke a 2007 permit for a coal ash disposal facility at the Tennessee Valley Authority Kingston coal plant.  The groups also asked TDEC to reject major changes to the 2007 permit requested by TVA until a safer site is found for the disposal of past and future coal ash.

Coal ash, the toxic by-product left over after coal is burned, contains heavy metals like arsenic, lead, selenium, and other dangerous substances. The public health hazards and environmental threats to nearby communities from unsafe coal ash storage have been documented for decades, and include increased risk of cancer, learning disabilities, asthma, and other illnesses.

In 2008, over 5 million cubic yards of toxic coal ash from the Kingston coal plant had disastrous consequences for the local environment. In 2010, the landfill TVA is seeking to modify with a new permit experienced a collapse from a sinkhole, releasing ash waste and wastewater that included large quantities of selenium, which is toxic to fish, into the environment. The extent of harm to the Clinch River is not yet fully known.

To address the problems with the existing coal ash permit, and the proposed modifications requested by TVA to the landfill, the groups submitted extensive technical information and comments to TDEC. The groups note that in addition to ongoing contamination from the Kingston coal ash ponds, the site continues to be geologically complex and unstable.  Also, the proposed permit modifications do not adequately plan to deal with future sinkholes or provide sufficient analysis of the ecological dangers posed to the Clinch River from coal ash.

“The site under consideration is vastly unstable and inherently flawed as a storage facility for toxic coal waste. We strongly urge TDEC to deny the permit modification and start over with TVA to ensure that they get this right and not risk any more collapses that threaten nearby waterways that have already been so insulted by contamination problems,” stated Ulla Reeves, High Risk Energy Director with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

The groups’ comments highlight the unsuitability and instability of the coal ash landfill, which both TDEC and TVA have acknowledged. TVA discovered 10 sinkholes after construction of the landfill initially began, and in December 2010, an 11th large and sudden sinkhole collapsed within one of the ash disposal areas. Currently, the proposal to mitigate sinkholes that carry wastes directly to surrounding waters does nothing to protect groundwater levels influenced by the Clinch River.

Additionally, TVA’s proposed water quality monitoring plan doesn’t meet TDEC’s own policy regarding monitoring for a long list of toxic chemicals associated with coal ash, including aluminum, arsenic, boron, manganese, strontium, and Total Dissolved Solids (TDS).

“Given TVA's history of leaks, blowouts, and the catastrophic disaster at the Kingston coal ash landfill, it’s hard to believe the utility, along with TDEC, would propose a permit modification as inadequate and sloppy as this one,” said Axel Ringe, Conservation Director of the Sierra Club’s Tennessee Chapter. “Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set new coal ash rules, which makes you wonder why TDEC and TVA rushed to push these changes to the permit through so swiftly in the first place.”

Franz Raetzer, a Roane County resident and member of Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment added, “Undiluted coal combustion waste is toxic and has to be stored in a safe way forever. I do not understand why TDEC and TVA are proposing a permit that does not seem to take this into account and instead seems to cover up that this storage would not be safe. As a resident of Roane County, I am deeply concerned about this, in light of the 2008 and 2010 spills, and the effect on our community.”

“This permit is a disaster in the making.  TVA is fully aware of what happens when it stores coal ash in an unstable area. Yet, TVA is proposing to do the same thing again and hoping for a different result.  TVA should go back to the drawing board and find a safe site for its coal ash landfill,” said Mary Whittle, an attorney for Earthjustice.

“TVA and TDEC didn’t even require groundwater monitoring for coal ash pollutants – something they told the citizens of Tennessee they would do at all of TVA’s coal ash landfills.  And that’s just one example of how little thought went into this permit modification,” said Abel Russ, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project.

The coalition of groups submitting comments to TDEC includes: Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Southern Environmental Law Center, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and Sierra Club.


Tennessee Clean Water Network

625 Market St.

Knoxville, TN 37902


Mailing Address:

PO BOX 1521

Knoxville, TN 37901


Office: 865.522.7007

Fax: 865.525.4988