TVA calls coal ash spill disaster a ‘catastrophe’

Nearly two months after a coal ash pond in Kingston, Tennessee, failed and poured 1.1 billion gallons of toxic material onto 300 acres of a rural east Tennessee community, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) finally admits it wishes it could have handled its responses differently, the Associated Press reported.

“It was a catastrophe,” said Tom Kilgore, TVA president, referencing an internal memo that was obtained by the Associated Press that downplayed the incident by changing the description from “catastrophic” to “sudden, accidental.” The memo was also edited to remove references of a public health risk, instead choosing to call the spill an “acute threat” to fish.

The spill has caused heartache to both the TVA and residents in the area. When the December coal ash pond spilled over, it destroyed homes and damaged property. The environmental damage has yet to be determined. Several property owners have filed suit against the utility and just last week, TVA announced that its has cut incentive programs for all employees, including senior management. TVA also is facing mounting cleanup costs as much as $1 million a day, which is expected to total as high as $825 million. How it will pay for the cleanup is still unclear. TVA said after insurance payments are made it will consider options that include raising customers’ rates.

In an effort to improve its credibility and garner more respect from the communities in which it serves, TVA has hired an outside consultant to lead an investigation into the cause of the massive spill. The utility also is inspecting ash storage areas at its other coal-fired plants, in particular the coal ash ponds like that in Kingston that failed.