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New EPA rules could affect TVA cleanup

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules to regulate coal ash could impact the non-time critical phase of TVA’s disaster cleanup.     

“How it affects what we want to do with phase 2 and closure of the cell, we’re still sifting through that,” said Craig Zeller, the EPA engineer in charge of the non-time critical cleanup.

The sifting may have to be done fast. TVA plans to announce its non-time critical cleanup option on May 18. A meeting to discuss it with the public will be on May 20 at Roane County High School.

“If it turns out that there’s no impact, we’ll keep the schedule that we’re on, release on the 18th and public meeting on the 20th,” Zeller said. “If it knocks all four wheels off the apple cart, we’ll certainly have to readjust and react accordingly.”

The EPA said the proposed rules are designed to prevent disasters like the one that happened in Roane County.

A dike failure at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant on Dec. 22, 2008, released more than 5 million cubic yards of ash into the environment.

The EPA, which is overseeing the cleanup, called it  “one of the worst environmental disasters of its kind in history.”

The time-critical phase, which focused on getting ash out of the Emory River, is nearing completion. The non-time critical phase will focus on removing ash from the embayments and dredge cell areas. Three options were considered for that phase of the cleanup.

With an announcement on the chosen option pending, members of the Roane County Community Advisory Group wanted to know how the new rules being proposed would impact the cleanup efforts.

Zeller said they have “armies of people” looking into that.   

“We’ve got attorneys working on that for both the state, EPA, TVA,” he said. “Believe me, we’re pouring through that collectively.”

“The short answer is we don’t know how it’s going to affect Kingston,” he added.

The EPA announced the proposed rules on May 4.

CAG chairwoman Brenda Timm said her group had to find out about the rules on their own.

She told EPA and TVA officials she was upset no one notified the CAG.   

“It’s very detrimental to what we’re working on right here,” she said.

EPA Community Involvement Coordinator Stephanie Brown and Zeller said the EPA workers here didn’t have any advance knowledge the proposed rules were going to be made public.

“That has nothing to do with anybody down in this area,” Brown said. “It came out and maybe about 15 minutes later, it went out public, so that came from headquarters.”

Zeller said he was laughed at when he asked people within EPA about the new rules last month.

“We were up in D.C. talking to people in April about this,” he said. “We asked them, ‘When’s the coal reg going to come out?’ I was talking to some of the highest-level people in Superfund, and there was laughter. They said you’ll know when everybody else does.”  

The EPA’s proposed new rules include two options for regulating ash. Under one of the options, according to the EPA, coal ash going for disposal would be a special waste subject to subtitle C regulations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, but not a “hazardous waste.”

Under the other option, the EPA said coal ash would be regulated as a solid waste under subtitle D of the act.

Zeller said the landfill in Perry County, Ala., is a subtitle D facility. TVA is shipping ash pulled from the Emory River to that landfill.

When the new regulations go into effect will depend on the option selected.

If the subtitle C proposal is chosen, the EPA said the effective date will vary from state to state, because each state would have to adopt the rule individually. That could take several years.

“Each state would have to develop and become authorized to handle subtitle C waste,” Zeller said. “The C action is a little more labor intensive from a variety of standpoints.”

The subtitle D proposal is the quicker of the two. The EPA said the effective date would most likely be six months after the rule is promulgated.

Details about the proposed rules are at www.epa.gov/coalashrule.