TVA coal ash waste not coming to midstate

The waste from a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee will be dumped in a landfill in Alabama, not in the midstate’s Taylor County, under a proposal sent to the federal Environmental Protection Agency last week.

“That’s good news,” said Georgia state Rep. Debbie Buckner, who represents the district that includes the Veolia landfill in Mauk, which had been one of two vying to receive the waste. “I had heard from a number of people that they were very concerned about the (effect on) the ground water, and I think they’ll be very happy now.”

Last month, the Veolia landfill accepted test loads of the waste from the December collapse of a Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash pond near Harriman, Tenn. TVA officials had said they would evaluate which competing companies did the best job loading the waste onto train cars, transporting it and unloading it.

TVA spokesman Barbara Martocci said Tuesday that the company last week submitted a letter of intent to the EPA that proposes sending the estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of ash waste to the Alabama site. She said further details weren’t available, and the company can’t close the deal until the EPA signs off on the ash disposal plan. EPA officials reached Tuesday did not have an estimate on how long that might take.

The coal ash released from the pond at TVA’s Kingston Plant flowed over half a square mile and contaminated the Emory River. Most of the coal waste is material the TVA is being required to dredge from the river.

Tennessee and TVA tests of the coal ash showed that it contains traces of heavy metals such as arsenic, beryllium, selenium and thallium, some at levels that exceed federal safety standards. But coal ash is not considered a hazardous waste and can be placed in any lined landfill, unless states bar it. Georgia does not.

“We did dodge the bullet,” said Justine Thompson, executive director of the Atlanta firm GreenLaw. “There’s overwhelming evidence that coal ash is problematic. ... It’s just a shame that this all could have been prevented if the federal government had taken coal ash regulation seriously.”

Buckner said she’d like to pursue legislation to raise Georgia’s waste disposal fees so they are no longer among the lowest in the Southeast.

“I just don’t want my home state to be a dumping ground,” she said.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report. To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.