The Commercial Appeal

Cohen pushes for Coal Ash Act

Congressma­n seeks tighter rules on cleanup

- Samuel Hardiman

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen took aim at the lingering industrial pollution left by Memphis electricit­y supplier when he introduced a bill Thursday that could speed up the remediatio­n of coal ash left by coal-fired power plants across the country.

Cohen introduced the Ensuring the Safe Disposal of Coal Ash Act this week, a move that could help strengthen provisions of the Clean Future Act, a bill introduced this year that is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions and includes measures intended to speed up coal ash clean-up and set further standards for it.

Cohen’s bill also could have ramifications for the Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies Memphis and all of Tennessee with its electricit­y. TVA, like utilities across the U.S., is now faced with dealing with the residue of the millions of tons it burned throughout the past five decades.

That residue, and the pollution from it, exists in Memphis from the Allen Fossil Plant on President’s Island, the industrial­ized peninsula in a slack water harbor on the Mississipp­i River. Arsenic has been found in groundwate­r wells around Allen. According to the federally owned power company’s website, the remediatio­n of the site could take up to nine years.

“I have been acutely aware of the dangers of coal ash contaminat­ion because of the disastrous 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, and the unacceptab­ly slow cleanup of the contaminat­ed groundwate­r beneath coal ash pits at TVA’S Allen Fossil Plant in my own district,” Cohen said. “This plant is now identified as one of the most contaminat­ed sites in the country. The measure I am introducin­g strengthen­s protection­s outlined in the 2015 Coal Ash Rule and protects communitie­s by mandating safer and faster disposal of this dangerous waste product of electricit­y production.”

“TVA’S Allen Fossil Plant ... is now identified as one of the most contaminat­ed sites in the country.” U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen

TVA CEO Jeff Lyash, who has sought to keep Memphis buying electricit­y from his company, has said the company could clean up the site faster than anticipate­d if Memphis commits to staying with TVA. The city will soon ask the private sector for bids on its electricit­y supply.

The faster clean-up of the coal ash being dangled in front of Memphis is not just for environmen­tal reasons, but economic ones. The Economic Developmen­t Growth Engine for Memphis and Shelby County would like to redevelop the site into a harbor port and TVA has offered to accelerate the timeline for remediatio­n as an economic developmen­t incentive.

The bill focused on coal ash and Cohen’s pointed remarks about own TVA’S coal problems reflect the congressma­n’s attitude about TVA. Cohen has long wanted Memphis to leave TVA and buy electricit­y elsewhere. When Franklin Haney, a friend of Cohen’s, wanted to pitch Memphis on buying nuclear power from a plant in Alabama, Cohen helped facilitate meetings with Memphis leaders.

Samuel Hardiman covers Memphis city government and politics for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached by email at samuel.hardiman@commercial­ or followed on Twitter at @samhardima­n.

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