Knoxville News Sentinel: EPA to hold coal ash hearing in Knoxville

Agency to get public input on proposed rules

Posted on September 9, 2010

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to hold a public hearing in Knoxville next month on the disposal of coal fly ash, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced on Wednesday.

Alexander spokesman Jim Jeffries said Alexander received a phone call from the EPA on Wednesday morning informing him of the agency's decision.

An EPA announcement indicated that the hearing will be held during the week of Oct. 25. An exact date and location will be announced later.

EPA's decision to hold the hearing follows an earlier one the agency made to extend the public comment period on proposed new rules for disposing of coal combustion residuals. Alexander had asked for a hearing near Kingston.

EPA had scheduled seven meetings to get public input before deciding whether coal ash should be regulated as a "special" hazardous material.

But none were scheduled in Tennessee, even though Roane County is the site of the largest coal ash spill in U.S. history.

In December 2008, 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash spilled into the Emory and Clinch rivers and surrounding land when a TVA impoundment at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County broke open. Residents were dispersed, environmental damage resulted, and clean-up costs are estimated to cost up to $1.2 billion, according to Alexander's office.

"The EPA made exactly the right decision" to include Tennessee in its hearing sites, Alexander said in a prepared statement. "Having hearings on coal ash without asking Tennesseans what they think would be like having hearings on Katrina without asking people in New Orleans what they think, or on the oil spill without asking people who live on the Gulf what they think."

Roane Countians also applauded the decision to hold a hearing in East Tennessee.

"I think it is a great move," said Roane County Commissioner Randy Ellis, whose district includes the hard-hit Swan Pond area. "But I also think it is a shame that EPA was not more forward and proactive in the beginning. ...

"My main concern is that we keep hearing how we must minimize the cost to ratepayers. But that should not come at expense of putting those who live around coal ash and storage areas in danger."

The Knoxville hearing will be EPA's final one on fly ash. The public comment period for the proposed regulation closes on Nov. 19. EPA will consider all comments received by the closing date.

"(The) Kingston (area ash spill) was primarily the reason for these hearings, so I'm glad they are having one locally," said Roane County Mayor Ron Woody.

Jim Balloch may be reached at 865-342-6357.