The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Lisa Evans, Earthjustice, (781) 631-4119
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice, (202) 236-5855

One Year Later: America's Worst Environmental Disaster Continues with No Regulatory Relief in Sight

Spill in Tennessee Dec. 22, 2008, sent 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into nearby homes, rivers, and communities


It's been one year and piles of coal ash still remain. Train cars
full of the toxic waste move from Kingston, Tennessee to Perry County,
Alabama. The few remaining residents along the Clinch and Emory Rivers
say the cleanup goes on, but not much of the scenery has changed. They
describe it as a moonscape, a war zone, a sad sight.

One year ago, a billion gallons of toxic coal ash -- the leftovers
from coal-fired power plants that contain dangerously high levels of
arsenic, selenium and other toxins -- burst through a dam at the
Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Plant. It spread across 300
acres, destroying dozens of homes and poisoning the Emory and Clinch

The nation quickly took notice. Congress convened hearings about the
disaster and brought experts in to discuss the impacts that coal ash
has not only in Kingston, but at similar sites across the U.S. Local
newspapers wrote about coal ash ponds in other parts of the country.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson vowed that her agency would introduce
the first ever federal regulations on coal ash ponds by the end of this
year. But just last week, the EPA announced they were going to delay federal coal ash regulations "due to the complexity of the analysis the agency is currently finishing."

"We're obviously disappointed that the EPA couldn't get these
regulations out to the public before the end of this year," said
Earthjustice attorney and coal ash expert Lisa Evans. "Power industry
lobbyists have relentlessly pressured EPA, the White House, and other
federal agencies to back off regulating toxic ash. Polluters are
spreading baseless fears about cost and compliance. But what we know to
be true is that the tragedy that happened in Tennessee is just waiting
to happen again unless the EPA acts quickly and forces stronger

Earthjustice has compiled a timeline of events related to the Tennessee disaster over the last year. It can be found at:

In March, the EPA sent letters to every coal ash pond owner seeking
information about the size, age, location and last inspection of coal
ash ponds. 584 coal ash ponds were tallied, but some companies refused
to turn over the information, citing "confidential business
information" claims.

In June, the EPA identified 49 "high hazard"
coal ash ponds, where the failure of a dam will probably cause a loss
of human life. But it wasn't until members of Congress and
environmental groups got involved that EPA decided to share the list of
high hazard sites with the public.

"For 30 years, these coal ash ponds have gone unnoticed and
unchecked," Evans added. "It's sad to think that it took a tragedy such
as what happened in Tennessee to get our government to finally take

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.