Front Porch Blog

Storage of TVA Coal Ash Waste Leads to Civil Rights Lawsuit

December 22 marked the three-year anniversary of the disastrous coal ash spill at Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant. Residents of the damaged Swan Pond community are still struggling with the impacts of relocation and pollution. But the toxic effects of the more than 1 billion gallons of coal ash that flooded the Clinch and Emory Rivers are now affecting new neighbors.

In Alabama, residents of the state’s poorest county have issued a civil rights complaint against the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, alleging that the agency is discriminating against the largely African-American community by allowing a nearby landfill to accept over half of the coal ash from the TVA disaster.

As The Institute for Southern Studies reported,

The operation of the Arrowhead Landfill in rural Perry County, Ala. “has the effect of adversely and disparately impacting African-American residents in the community,” states the complaint, filed this week with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Civil Rights by Florida attorney David A. Ludder on behalf of 48 complainants, almost all of them living near the landfill.

The complaint charges ADEM with violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents discrimination by government agencies that receive federal funds. ADEM receives millions of dollars in financial assistance from the EPA each year.

Moving TVA coal ash to the Arrowhead Landfill in Alabama has been controversial since the deal’s approval in 2009. According to a blog about state corruption, investors and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management said the cash-strapped county would gain $3 million by storing the coal ash, and ADEM stands to make just as much. A citizens’ group called Impact Perry County filed a complaint alleging that the Perry County Commission violated the state’s open meetings and open records laws. Further, the company behind the landfill, Perry Uniontown Ventures, was accused of a “take the money and run” scheme after it filed bankruptcy in Jan. 2010 to avoid environmental lawsuits, the Perry County Herald reported.

In a blog post, the Perry County Herald wrote:

The investors who are taking the bulk of the $95 million generated by the coal ash contract will never have to set foot in our county again once the landfill outlives its usefulness. They’ll never drink our water, or breathe our air, or eat bream from our creeks. They can call the shots from offices with glitzy addresses, never get a speck of ash on their hands, and endorse fat checks until those pristine fingers need a latte break. Can you?

In Perry County, over 68% of the population is African-American and over 35% live below the poverty line. The population in the census blocks surrounding the landfill ranges from 87 to 100 percent African-American. As The Institute for Southern Studies reported,

The landfill sits only 100 feet from the front porches of some residents, who say they have experienced frequent foul odors, upset appetite, respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. They also complain that fugitive dust from the facility has contaminated their homes, porches, vehicles, laundry and plantings.

Coal ash is a dangerous by-product of burning coal for electricity that contains heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, manganese, and selenium that are known toxins. People living near an unlined coal ash pond are at a 1-in-50 risk of cancer from arsenic, a rate that is 2,000 times greater than the acceptable level of risk.

Currently, the federal government has no authority to regulate coal ash, which is the nation’s second-largest waste stream after municipal garbage. Read more about proposed protections from coal ash here.

While the EPA and federal government continue political wrangling and delays over regulation of coal ash disposal, the citizens of Perry County are calling out their state’s environmental agency, arguing that, by using Arrowhead Landfill as a dumping ground for toxic waste, the state is engaging in discrimination against the landfill’s neighbors.




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