Whatever Happened To…TVA Kingston Coal Ash Disaster

I will never forget when this man-made catastrophe occurred. I was a newcomer to Twitter but had several trusted journalist friends who were already tweeting. One such friend, the highly regarded Amy Gahran, along with me and a few others, noticed tweets coming out about an enormous failure at a coal or fly ash repository in Kingston, Tennessee.

The big issue? No one was covering it. This was December 2008 and the organized tweeting of terrorist attacks and natural disaster was still somewhat unusual and rare. But Amy and I and others were transfixed by the human tragedy unfolding in what many would say are truly unforgotten areas with somewhat in invisible populations of people living on the edge and living off of an industry anchored by coal and energy consumption. Amy wrote this excellent post about the situation.

Although the spill eventually got the attention it deserved, like many disasters, the coverage is short-lived and the memories of it in most Americans minds fade even more quickly. I actually continue to follow it through my Google alerts specifically to avoid that but even so, I don’t blog about it nearly often enough.

One of the most recent news items I received via the alerts revealed the alarming amount of money being spent (let alone yet to be spent) to clean up the disaster’s effects. According to this article, “TVA at crossroads as it decides future of Bellefonte nuclear plant”:

Cleanup from a December 2008 calamity at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired plant, which sent a mountain of damp ash cascading across fields and yards and into the Emory River, is costing about $1 billion.

Consider, however, that this tragedy was only three years ago. How much more will it cost, and what would it have cost to prevent that disaster – by either reducing the reliance on coal or regulating coal ash or enforcing better retaining mechanisms for the sludge?

Blogging about the Moms Clean Air Force, has convinced me that there is no question that the debate about which energies we should be using, developing and investing in – all of which should be done with an eye toward supporting our environment – is only going to intensify as time goes on.

Likewise, the focus on costs, including the cost of preventing exceedingly expensive consequences of our energy choices, must continue. This is exactly what supporting stricter clean air standards is about. Rather than spend the billions we are spending on treating people with asthma, neurological problems, lung disease and heart disease, let’s clean up the polluting coal plants–do the best we can with coal, until we can stop relying on it entirely. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, “Coal kills people everyday.”

Given those realities, I hope you will please join the MCAF and help keep people apprised of these critical issues that affect all of us. We must not allow any rhetoric or special interest-driven argument obscure facts like those from the Harriman spill: one billion dollars – just spent on clean-up.

No way, no how is that cost-efficient. We have got to be able to do better. And making sure we continue to keep this information in the public dialogue is a huge part of the doing better.

One thought on “Whatever Happened To…TVA Kingston Coal Ash Disaster

  1. Until the price of breaking the law becomes an obstacle to short-term profits, regulation will be naught but a mild speed-bump to our demise.

    One billion dollars may be quite cheap next to the profits generated during the period of cost-cutting measures like safety violations.

    They should be penalized based on their earnings, not trusted to do the right thing. They’ve already demonstrated that is not in their best interest when it comes to profits.

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