Archive for the ‘TVA’ Category

Rot at the core: federally-owned TVA’s massive coal flyash spill – the TVA "protects" affected residents by hassling/arresting the volunteers who help them

March 10th, 2009 No comments

A few items of interest have come to my attention regarding the TVA’s massive spill last December 22 of wet coal fly-ash into a lovely river area near Kingston, TN (about 35 miles west of Knoxville, at the junction of the Emory and Clinch Rivers).  The collapse of a retaining wall released over five million cubic feet (more than a billion gallons) of wet coal ash
flooded nearly 400 acres of land adjacent to the power plant and into the nearby
Clinch and Emory rivers, filling large areas of the rivers, damaging homes and property, rupturing
a major gas line and damaging a
railway line.

– according to a report in the Tennessean, the TVA was long aware of the possibility of a release from the Kingston site, but elected not to proceed with any costly fix – the most expensive fix apparently in the ballpark of $25 million – because it didn’t want to set a precedent for spending similar sums at its other wet ash storage sites.  Penny wise, pound foolish – how often that happens when decision-makers don’t face personal responsibility for the downsides (yes, my “limited liaibility breeds moral hazards” meme)!

– in response to the accident, the EPA announced on Monday that it will: request electric utilities
nationwide to provide coal ash impoundment information (the EPA estimates there may be as many as 300 coal ash impoundments across the US
); conduct on-site assessments to determine structural
integrity and vulnerabilities; order cleanup and repairs where needed; and develop new regulations for future safety.  Said administrator Lisa Jackson: “Environmental disasters like the one last December in Kingston should never happen anywhere in this country.”  Not only are such regulations too little too late and probably unneccesarily costly, but one wonders why in this case she fails to note that as the TVA is wholly-owned by the US government, in this case the government did this to us itself.  The industry must be really grateful to TVA for leading the way to more regulations!

– The TVA is spending $1 million a day on the cleanup, and estimates final recovery may cost $525 million to $825 million.  This is just the cost for recovering the spilled ash, which could take two years or more, and does not cover long-term mediation costs, or litigation expenses, fines or any settlements
from the accident or the extra cost of upgrading coal ash ponds at
other TVA plants
, or costs being borne by local, state or other federal agencies.  So we could be easily talking physical damage of a billion dollars or more, and decades before local homeowners can start enjoying the rivers again.

– The TVA announced in February that TVA it lost $305 million in the fiscal quarter
ending Dec. 31 2008 due to the $525 million charge
the utility took for the
estimated cost of the ash spill.

– In response, TVA president and CEO Tom Kilgore, who earned $2.2 million in FY2008, saw his base and incentive compensation for FY 2009 cut by about half.  Said Kilgore, who had outraged ratepayers in October (on the heels of rate increases) by taking large compensation increase for FY2009 (in a package worth up to $3.275 million), “I’m at the point in
my career where it’s not all about money.”

– The fly ash poses health risks, both as the small particle dust can affect the lungs and since the ash contains elevated levels of heavy metals that were left behind from the combusted coal.  A Tennessee Department of Health survey indicates that a third of the people living near the toxic coal ash spill are experiencing respiratory problems, and about half
have increased stress and anxiety.  

According to TVA President Tom Kilgore, TVA and the state Department of Environment and Conservation have tested the water and believe there’s “no reason to believe that the water is not safe,” but “water quality tests conducted by environmental activists showed arsenic
levels as high as 48 times the primary drinking water standard in river
water nearest the spill
. Coal industry watchdog United Mountain Defense
and Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project said January
levels of arsenic, lead, selenium, cadmium, beryllium, antimony and
copper violated water quality standards and exceeded primary drinking
water standards.”

State senator Tim Burchett (a Republican) characterized TVA officials as “arrogant clowns” on March 10 as he presented legislation on coal ash storage to a Senate committee.  “I want to assure my colleagues that any offense (to TVA) is intentional,” he said. “I have little faith in what TVA is telling us.”

More on water testing results and on health, safety and environment impacts is here.

– the TVA is naturally trying to buy out residents, both to cut future losses and to limit coverage of the affected area. Apparently these buyouts require the sellers to waive all future health claims against the TVA.

– On top of such purchases, though, TVA – through its own police department – is trying to make it difficult for residents to remain and to prevent full disclosure of health risks, by restricting access to public roads and to the homes of residents, requiring any who receive medical checkups from TVA doctors to waive health claims and by hassling volunteers who, at the invitation of residents, do ash, water and air testing, deliver bottled water, and assist some residents with the transportation needs.   In two recent incidents, the TVA police have gone onto private property to detain volunteers and force the removal of private air quality monitoring devices, and arrested, shackled and jailed on March 6 a driver who had used a public road – now restricted by the TVA – to drop off a two grandmothers (one elderly and vision-impaired) at their homes after a town meeting – and who had written permission from residents to visit at any time.

According to one group, volunteers “have relatives in the Swan Pond Community and have an
open invitation to visit residents or their property near the disaster
site at any time day or night.”   The volunteer who was arrested reports the following, entirely believable – conversation with a TVA officer when he was being booked:

So as I was escorted to the Roane County Jail for processing I was informed by the TVA officer that he was “protecting the residents” of the Swan Pond Community from “people like me.”  When I questioned him further about this he stated that he meant onlookers and sight seers and people taking video while disrupting vehicle traffic and impeding the cleanup of the disaster site.
Well if TVA has any video proof of me personally disrupting vehicle traffic or impeding the cleanup of the disaster site I would like to see it, please post it to YouTube; show the world exactly what I am doing, PLEASE.    When I stated,” why would the residents need to be protected from someone who is delivering water, taking people to the grocery store, hospital, doctor, not trespassing, monitoring air/ water/ coal ash, helping facilitate trainings and organize with the local community, and sit at the Harriman American Legion building for more than 20 hours helping with heavy metal exposure testing,” he could not answer.

So far, one lawsuit against the TVA has been filed in federal court in Knoxville on
behalf of 109 citizens.  The TVA harassment policy may be aimed in part at preventing residents from gathering independent evidence to support their claims.

The TVA is governed by a nine-member board of directors, all current members of which were appointed by nominated by former President Bush (on
the approval of senators from the region) and confirmed by the Senate. 
Over the objections of the current chairman and two others
(Republicans),former national GOP committee chairman and former TVA board member was reappointed in February as chairman.  Since the TVA board has two vacancies, will
have two members terms expire in May and another in 2010, President Obama will have the opportunity to take control of the board.

– Photographic and video images of the impact of the ash spill are here:

– by renowned photographer Carlan Tapp

– by local residents (first three minutes are home footage before the accident)

– More information by the enviro group doing testing and resident support work

– the TVA’s home page, etc.


Where is anyone calling for the privatization of the TVA?

Categories: Coal, damage, limited liability, moral hazard, TVA Tags:

"Clean coal" leaves a big mess; which faceless employee, manager or shareholder committed this tort?

December 26th, 2008 3 comments

Yes, I’m referring to the bursting of the TVA holding dam in Kingston, TN a few days ago, leaving a Christmas Eve present of millions of cubic feet of wet fly ash several feet deep over hundreds of acres downstream, including now valueless private homes and property, and flowing into the Clinch River and Tennessee, where fish kills have been reported.  A video from a helicopter fly-over here; local coverage is here

Enviros and the press were fairly quick to point out that the federal government has declined, under industry pressure, to more strictly regulate the disposal of fly ash (replete with heavy metals and arsenic, and which has been captured in increasing amounts as clean air regulation requires greater “scrubbing” from power plant emissions) – but I’d like to make the point that this is the kind of faceless tort that we get from limited liability corporations, including federally-owned ones like the TVA , where shareholders have little interest and zero practical ability to monitor the risks created by the corporation. 

Further, this type of rent-seeking and money-influenced political balancing is
par for the course, and is a natural outcome of the replacement of the pro-industry, “pollute for free” era with the “government regulates industry” era that Walter Block speaks of

Limited liability:  a gift of the state that keeps on giving!