TVA hopes to dodge lawsuits filed by coal ash spill victims
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is shelling out billions of dollars as a result of the massive coal ash spill from its Kingston, Tenn., fossil fuel plant that dumped more than a billion gallons of toxic sludge on to a neighboring community. But the nation’s largest utility is hoping a federal district court judge will grant it immunity from mounting lawsuits filed by property owners injured by the spill – a move that would leave those victims footing the bill for their own losses.
The coal ash wave that poured down on an east Tennessee community in late December of 2008 piled as high as nine feet in some areas. It knocked houses from their foundations, destroyed land, and contaminated waterways.
In the months since the spill, the TVA has taken on a long and pricey cleanup, estimated to take up to three years and cost the TVA nearly $1 billion. The utility has also spent another $20 million to purchase property from victims. Last week it announced it will shell out another $43 million to Roane County, Tenn., to help clean the town’s image, which was tarnished from the spill, through civic upgrades and a public relations campaign.
But the financial woes as a result of the spill don’t stop there for the TVA. The utility could be forced to pay out millions more from lawsuits by those who suffered from the spill. One lawsuit, filed by a developer of new homes on Watts Bar Lake, is asking for $17 million. The utility is hoping to dodge those mounting lawsuits. Last April, it made a request to the Federal District court in Knoxville to dismiss all tort claims filed against it related to the coal ash spill.
There is no word yet on when the court will make a decision on whether to grant the TVA immunity from those lawsuits. But one thing is clear, leaving the victims high and dry is simply unfair. “It is a slap in the face of the people who have suffered for … months,” says a plaintiff’s attorney in response to the TVA filing last spring. “Clearly, TVA has delayed taking responsibility with respect to the many residents and how they’ve suffered.”