TVA closing coal ash ponds, leaving ash in place

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — TVA is closing and capping 10 coal ash ponds at power plants in Tennessee and Alabama, against the urging of environmentalists who want the ash dug up and removed.

TVA issued its decision on Friday, affirming plans to keep the coal ash at six fossil plants where the ash was dumped over the past half century. TVA said the best, fastest and cheapest method of cleaning up the ponds is to close them and put a cap on the wastes to prevent leakage.

“We believe that TVA’s coal combustion residuals’ management activities are not harming human health or the environment,” John McCormick, TVA vice president of safety, river management and environment, said in a statement Friday. “We also found that digging up the coal ash and moving it someplace else has more potential environmental and safety impacts than closure-in-place and adds significantly more time and costs for our ratepayers.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also signed off on TVA’s plan.

But environmental groups denounced TVA’s decision, warning that it keeps toxic materials stored at riverfront plants near drinking water supplies, The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported (

Scott Banbury, conservation program coordinator for the Sierra Club’s Tennessee Chapter, says TVA should clean up, not just cover up, the ash pond sites.

“We are deeply disappointed in TVA’s decision to take the cheap way out, instead of living up to its promise to protect our communities after the disastrous Kingston coal ash spill in 2008,” Banbury said. “The only way to adequately protect our public health and environment is to move coal ash to dry lined storage away from waterways.”

TVA decided to phase out its wet storage of coal ash following the rupture of a coal ash pond at its Kingston Fossil Plant, which spilled 1.1 billion gallons of toxic sludge into the Emory and Clinch Rivers. The Kingston accident was one of the worst environmental spills in U.S. history.

The ash will be capped and left in unlined pits at 10 TVA sites at Kingston, Bull Run, John Sevier, and Allen in Tennessee, and Colbert and Widows Creek in Alabama.

TVA said the former coal ash ponds will continue to be monitored for at least 30 years.