The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) should be prosecuted and penalized for not ensuring the safety of its Kingston, Tenn., coal ash impoundment pond to prevent it from breaking and spilling a billion gallons of toxic coal ash on to a neighboring rural community, according to angry environmental groups. But a long-standing federal rule that limits how the Justice Department can prosecute federal agencies could protect the nation’s largest utility from paying its fair dues.
“No corporation or agency should be above the law, especially at the expense of the environmental well-being of our citizens, wildlife and waters,” said Robert Dreher, senior vice president for conservation law and climate change at Defenders of Wildlife, one of the environmental groups outraged by the notion that the TVA may skirt fines and charges because of the law.
TVA officials say the allegations are unfounded, as they are already subject to penalties and lawsuits filed by citizen groups and the Environmental Protection Agency. TVA also is taking measures to change the way it stores coal ash by converting its wet ash ponds to dry storage.
The Environmental Integrity Project, one of the environmental groups leading the fight against the TVA, says the utility is one of the nation’s worst polluters and displays the “latest and most dramatic example of environmental mismanagement.” The group sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to have the Justice Department stop protecting the TVA from penalties. The group also recommended that Obama appoint new directors to TVA’s governing board and order the utility to establish a timeline for its plan to convert its wet storage to dry and phase out old coal-firing plants.