Two years after the coal ash disaster: Class action lawsuits target TVA and others

Story by Bill Kovarik

Lawsuits against the Tennessee Valley Authority are continuing in the wake of the coal ash disaster two years ago.

Currently, 58 lawsuits against TVA have been consolidated into a class action suit alleging various health, economic and environmental damages from the collapse of a poorly-built dam and release of one billion gallons of coal ash on Dec. 22, 2008.

The suit will be heard by a federal district court judge—not a jury as plaintiffs requested—sometime in 2011 or 2012 in eastern Tennessee. The court denied TVA’s earlier attempt to dismiss the lawsuits.

At present, plaintiffs are taking pre-trial depositions from Tom Kilgore, chief executive officer of TVA, and other TVA officials, according to the law firm Beasley-Allen. Among the evidence to be presented at the trial are positive tests for heavy metals in some residents’ bloodstream, Beasley-Allen said.

In a related lawsuit, federal courts dismissed a request for an injunction this September that would have compelled better handling procedures in the Perry County, Ala., waste dump that is receiving the TVA coal ash waste. The firms handling the waste have declared bankruptcy and must deal with bankruptcy before they can be sued on other matters, the court said.

Dr. Robert D. Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark University in Atlanta, and a coalition of Southeastern environmental groups issued an urgent call for the reform of the EPA’s regional regulatory agency this November, noting the need for more transparency and accountability. According to Bullard, these and other coal-ash issues need to be seen in the context of the struggle for environmental justice
Meanwhile, a decision on whether to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste is due from the EPA sometime in December, 2010 following a round of public hearings this summer and fall.


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