Senate committee hears from East Tennessee residents on ash spill

By: Gordon Boyd Email
By: Gordon Boyd Email

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WVLT) -- Barely two-and-a-half weeks after a coal ash breach destroyed homes and fouled property, folks in Roane County are hearing that the full cleanup could take more than two years.

The words come from Tennessee's senior Senator, just before a hearing looking into how TVA's managed coal ash, and the spill itself.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd traveled to Washington, D.C., where some of the spill victims have argued TVA needs a watchdog over it.

Put simply, the feds regulate what TVA burns, but not the coal ash afterward.

Not what's in it, nor how to get rid of it. Some Senate Democrats, now in control, vow that's gotta change.

Sen. Barbara Boxer says "They are farmers, ranchers, nurses, and parents."

Lawmakers say they want to look beneath the ashes to the Roane Countians affected.

But Terry Gupton's certain "It's a different world from Swan Pond."

He and his neighbors never testify. But after meeting with both committee members and TVA's Congressional caucus, he's not surprised when the Committee's chair tells TVA's boss "You never had a plan to clean this up, and you don't have a plan now. That's my point."

TVA's Tom Kilgore says, "We're looking at everything we can find to see what went wrong As I said my focus right now is on recovery. The failure investigation will take a little longer."

Kilgore says TVA's trying to determine whether the coal ash pond wall failed for being too full--or its design's flawed-- or to put the blame on heavy rains or other factors.

But Senator' Boxer says previous leaks make clear, TVA bought a cheap fix.

"You were wrong, and there's a lot of blame to go around."

Even before the Southern Alliance For Clean Energy makes its case, Boxer makes clear she believes EPA needs to start regulating how power companies store or dispose of coal ash.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says, "I don't like to shoot before I aim. That's why I'm not ready to recommend what the federal role ought to be."

Tennessee's Senior Senator says TVA and EPA should use coal spill disaster to kick start what he calls a Mini-Manhattan project to develop cleaner coal.

Alexander says, "Coal is a dirty business but in Tennessee it's 60 percent of our electricity."

Alexander says government should hold TVA to its promise to make every spill victim right.

There are no guarantees, but Terry Gupton believes the trip's been worth it.

"The Senators and other people know what's gone on in Roane County and
and we will have a good route to get relief if we don't get it locally."

TVA's Tom Kilgore says he expected this tongue lashing, but that investigators haven't decided whether they're better off spreading or burying the coal ash on site--or hauling it somewhere else.


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