The Commercial Appeal
Cohen pushes for Coal Ash Act
Congressman seeks tighter rules on cleanup
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-fired 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 ramifications 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 five 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 identified 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 identified 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 offered 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 reflect 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 email@example.com or followed on Twitter at @samhardiman.