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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Racial and economic issues could hold up TVA’s plan to ship its spilled fly ash to Alabama.
“We’ve had a lot of questions, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why things are at a standstill now on the disposal option,” said Stephanie Brown, community involvement coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
TVA plans to ship the ash in trains to a landfill in Perry County, Ala.
Perry County is in the historic Black Belt. According to the U.S. Census, black people make up 69 percent of the population in Perry County.
More than 30 percent of the people there live below the poverty level.
By comparison, 16 percent of the people in Roane County live below the poverty level and the population is 95.2 percent white.
“EPA, the region and headquarters, is doing due diligence making sure that we’ve taken all that into consideration,” Brown said.
EPA has an environmental justice code, which it defines as the “treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
Brown said the EPA takes that code very seriously.
TVA sent fly ash to Perry County and Taylor County, Ga., in May as part of a test shipment.
During a public meeting at the Roane County Courthouse, TVA environmental executive Anda Ray said there were no environmental justice issues with either of those sites.
Taylor County also has a high minority population.
“These sites are approved by EPA,” Ray said. “The environmental justice has approved those particular sites, the qualifications and characteristics.”
EPA representatives had a different take than Ray. Brown said Monday that environmental justice was an issue EPA was still pondering.
A dike failure at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant last December sent 5.4 million cubic yards of fly ash spilling into the environment.
Most of the ash ended up in the Emory River.
Removing the ash from the Emory has become a priority since the EPA started overseeing cleanup operations in May.
It has been designated as a time-critical action by the EPA.
However, in its June 8-14 weekly report, the EPA noted that the cleanup schedule would be negatively impacted if approval to ship the ash off site was not received by June 16.
“It begins to create a backlog of material in our storage area, meaning we have to store more material waiting for disposal approval,” said EPA on-scene coordinator Leo Francendese.
Several steps have been taken to get the ash ready to ship by train.
New rail spurs have been constructed, and workers at the plant have been preparing for the pending shipments.
By press time Tuesday, approval had still not been received, though Francendese said it was imminent.
“Looking to get it done by the end of the week,” he said.