Later this month, TVA is expected to announce a public input process that will include a public meeting in Cumberland City regarding its Environmental Investigation Plan being developed at the Cumberland Fossil Plant.
The Environmental Investigation Plan (EIP) is being conducted under the direction of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and it will consider the condition of surface water and groundwater on and around the coal-fired, power plant site.
“TVA cares about the communities we are in, and we have been monitoring conditions and making course corrections for as long as we’ve been burning coal,” said Shawn Rudder, manager of Waste Permitting and Compliance at TVA. “We will continue to look further into the environmental conditions on and around our fossil plants, and make changes, working with TDEC to conduct necessary research and to translate any findings into positive action quickly.”
TVA must follow the Environmental Protection Agency’s CCR Rule, which in 2015 established technical requirements for storage and disposal of by-products of the coal burning process. Recently, the federal government moved to place oversight and enforcement of CCR (Coal Combustion Residual) mandates under state control.
Since the 2008 disaster of wet-stored coal ash escaping a ruptured storage pond at the Kingston Fossil Plant near Knoxville, TVA has been moving toward dry storage or “stacking” of CCRs at all of its coal-fired plants.
The Cumberland plant, which is the largest in TVA’s coal-fired fleet, has been ahead of the effort having dry stacked the by-products for many years and selling much of the products.
Approximately 70 percent of the fly ash is sold for beneficial reuse, and the rest is dry-stacked in a permitted on-site landfill. Approximately 90 percent of the plant’s gypsum continues to be sold to Georgia-Pacific for its wallboard plant.
Bottom ash is being stored in a pond and TVA says a dewatering tank-based solution is scheduled for 2019 to move it to dry storage.
The EIP involves checking for higher-than-normal levels of CCR residuals like boron, arsenic, lead, calcium, chloride, fluoride, pH, sulfate and certain heavy metals in water and groundwater around areas where CCRs are stored.
TVA also indicates the study will look at fish and other living species on and near the sites to determine if they are influenced by the coal ash disposal operations.
While TVA has monitored surface water and groundwater at Cumberland for many years, it is working with TDEC to install an enhanced network of new monitoring wells around CCR sites. officials said.
TVA contends the enhanced system will help determine the best method for final disposal of CCRs in compliance with EPA and TDEC regulations.
“We intend to use the information we’ve gleaned from our studies with TDEC to guide current and future decisions about CCR storage,” said Scott Turnbow, general manager of TVA’s Strategy & Engineering. “We are putting in the legwork to thoroughly study the situation, and will rely on science to tell us what to do next. Along with TDEC we’ll be making the decisions that comply with federal and state regulations, yes — but we’ll also be working to do what’s best for the environment and the communities we serve.”
Watchdog group, the Southern Environmental Law Center, has long criticized TVA’s monitoring process and echoed a 2013 Environmental Integrity Project report that contended that the western edge of the storage areas was “effectively unmonitored” and only a few groundwater monitoring wells around the plant were being maintained.
In early March, the Law Center weighed in on an EPA announcement that it wants to make a dozen changes to the regulations put in the 2015 CCR Rule. If enacted, the revisions would in effect give states and utilities more flexibility in deciding how coal ash is stored.
“Instead of protecting American communities and rivers from coal ash, the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to bail out utilities polluting our waterways and drinking water supplies,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at SELC. “Coal ash is polluting rivers, lakes and wells across America, but President Trump’s EPA is trying to weaken the standards that are supposed to protect Americans from this toxic threat.”
In April, TVA will share specifics about how the public can provide input on the EIP, as well as details about an open house where people can meet with TVA staff to talk about the plan.
Reach Mark Hicks at 931-212-7626 or on Twitter @markhicksleaf.