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Jan 14, 2009

Tennessee Sludge Spill: Government Disaster

Tennessee Sludge Spill: Government Disaster 30 Times Worse than Exxon-Valdez
01/14/09 - BusinessAndMedia by Julia A. Seymour
TVA is responsible, but media ignore that it is run by the government.
[edited] The Tennesee Valley Authority (TVA) is a government agency created during the Great Depression, and the nation’s largest electric utility. Their earthen dam in the town of Kingston, TN held more than one billion gallons of thick, black coal sludge. This is coal ash mixed with water, enough to fill more than 550 [sic] Olympic-sized swimming pools. [I compute 1266 pools x 790K gals/pool via Wikipedia]

About December 22, 2008 the dam collapsed. Sludge spread out over hundreds of acres, fouling waterways, and burying homes while people were sleeping.

News reports portrayed the disaster as a failure of the coal industry, not of a government agency. Left-wing environmentalists called for more regulation of the utility industry, instead of blaming the government for failing to police itself.

TVA’s CEO Tom Kilgore admitted to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that “the most expensive solution wasn’t chosen … Obviously, that doesn’t look good for us.” That solution would have cost the TVA $25 million. The cleanup will cost $20 million, plus the settlement of lawsuits. [And, the dam will need to be rebuilt.]

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA: “We didn’t really do much in the first two years looking at TVA”.

Shaka Mitchell of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research: “If there is one thing we can all learn from the disastrous toxic ash spill in Kingston, it’s that when government-run companies fail, no one is held accountable, but everyone pays.”

Tennessee Gets a Lesson in Unaccountable Government
02/07/09 - WSJ Opinion by Scott Barker

The national media briefly gave some attention to the spill. In the Tennessee Valley, faith in government control of TVA may never recover. It was a wall of fly-ash sludge, a waste product of coal combustion from a nearby power plant. 300 acres were coated with debris in Swan Pond, a rural community about 35 miles west of Knoxville.

"I wouldn't have bought this land and built here if I knew this would happen," Mrs. Spurgeon told me after the disaster. "I guess you just trust government agencies."

Fly-ash contains arsenic, lead and beryllium, among other pollutants, so residents are worried about possible long-term effects to their health, water quality and property values.

TVA is trying to mitigate the damage by spending $1 million a day on the cleanup. But with several lawsuits in the works and a state investigation under way, nearly everyone is calling for the utility to be held accountable.

The problem is that it isn't really accountable to anyone. It is not scrutinized by shareholders and, unlike traditional government agencies, it is self-funded, so it doesn't have to justify itself to Congress to win annual appropriations.

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