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Tom Kilgore, President and Chief Executive Officer
Tennessee Valley Authority
Environment and Public Works Committee
January 8, 2009
Chairwoman Boxer, Ranking Member Inhofe, and members of the Committee. Thank
you for this opportunity to appear before you to discuss TVA's work on recovery and
clean up of the release of ash at one of TVA's power generating plants in East
Tennessee. Here with me today is Bill Sansom, Chairman of the Board of Directors of
The release followed a failure of a retention wall for a coal ash containment area at
TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant.
We will diligently work to determine the cause of this failure, but as I have told the
members of the public in that area and our employees, our focus right now is on
cleaning up the spill. I want to assure you that TVA will do a first-rate job of remediation
of the problems caused by the spill.
As you know, TVA is a corporate agency of the United States and the nation's largest
public power provider. In partnership with 158 wholesale distributors, TVA provides
reliable, competitively priced electricity to about 9 million people and 650,000 businesses
in seven southeastern states. TVA also provides power directly to about 60 large
industrial customers and federal installations. TVA is more than a power company.
When Congress established TVA in 1933, it set our mission to include managing the
nation's fifth-largest integrated river system, providing environmental stewardship, and
being a catalyst for economic development in its 80,000-square-mile service area. TVA
is funded primarily by its ratepayers and receives no appropriations.
The incident being discussed today occurred at TVA's Kingston coal plant. The Kingston
plant was built in the early 1950s, in accordance with congressional authorizations,
primarily to meet the defense needs of the nation - specifically, the need to provide
power for the production of atomic defense materials at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Currently, Kingston is one of the mix of generating resources that TVA uses to supply
electricity to our region. About half of our nation's electricity supply comes from coal,
and the TVA region is in a similar situation. While we are working to increase the
amount of carbon-free generation we use, about 60 percent of TVA's generation comes
from coal. And like utilities around the nation, we must manage the ash that is a by-
product of coal-fired power production.
Kingston Fossil Plant
At the Kingston plant, ash material that remains after the coal is burned is stored in a wet
ash pond. Six of TVA's eleven fossil plants use wet fly ash storage cells. The other five
plants use a dry fly ash storage method. All of TVA's ash disposal sites are engineered
facilities and follow the permit requirements for the states in which they are constructed.
They are surrounded by dikes, and they incorporate engineered drain systems and
water runoff controls.
At all of our fossil plants, these areas undergo a formal inspection annually and other
inspections on a quarterly and a daily basis. The storage cells at Kingston are visually
checked daily by plant personnel. In addition, TVA plant personnel inspect the cell for
seepage on a quarterly basis. Annually, TVA engineering staff members perform a
comprehensive inspection and document the findings and recommendations in a report.
Kingston's most recently completed report is dated February 2008 for the inspection
conducted in December 2007. That report is currently posted on the TVA Web site.
Kingston's most recent inspection was in October 2008, and the report was being
compiled at the time of this incident. Initial reports from that inspection indicated no
noticeable increases in seep flow were observable during the 2008 inspection.
Outreach to the Public
In the early morning hours of Monday, December 22, I received the call about the failure
of the retention wall shortly after 1 a.m. and arrived at the plant within the hour. The
initial response by the Roane County, Tennessee, Emergency Management personnel,
along with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, was excellent; and we will
always be grateful for their swift and professional response. Other agencies also were
notified, including the National Response Center.
Of course, our first concern on hearing the news was for the safety of the neighbors in
the area around the plant. Frankly, the only good news in the week was when we
learned about five o'clock that morning that there was no loss of life and no injuries that
required medical attention. We also made visual inspections of the ash retention dikes
at our other plants to note any changes in conditions and will continue to do so.
Our first priority was to reach out to the people immediately impacted, especially the
three families who lost their homes, to ensure that they were safe and that they had
temporary housing, meals, and other necessities. We established a team of TVA
employees and retirees to provide one point of contact for each family impacted to
ensure their needs are met and concerns addressed. These support teams are
continuing to work with the families.
We also have set up a 1-800 number and a local facility that is open seven days a week
for residents to go to if they have a property-damage claim, question, or concern. This is
in addition to the telephone line we began staffing around the clock shortly after the
incident for the public to call with any concerns, questions, or requests for the State to
test private drinking-water wells.
After seeing that our first objective - the safety of the public and our employees - was addressed, we immediately began dealing with potential public health issues and the
containment and stabilization of the ash material.
Consistent with Homeland Security Directives, we are using the National Incident
Management System (NIMS) approach for the onsite emergency response. This means
that an onsite Command Center with a Unified Command has been established and is
staffed by federal, state, and local response organizations that sit side-by-side, share the
same information, and staff a Joint Information Center where information is provided to
the public in a timely and coordinated manner. A number of agencies, including the
Roane County Emergency Management Agency, Tennessee Department of
Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Department of Health, the Tennessee
Emergency Management Agency, and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are
with us at the site to respond to the event and to monitor our work. The agencies are
conducting their own water, air, and soil testing, and sharing all findings among the
Unified Command. I would like to discuss that testing next.
In addition to the agencies listed, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
also responded to this incident. Service staff surveyed the affected area and assessed
effects to natural resources, mainly migratory birds. USFWS's main concerns are
effects on fish and wildlife from habitat loss, suspended fly ash, and metals in the water
and sediment of the Emory River.
Within hours of the event, TVA, the Tennessee Department of Environment and
Conservation, and the Environmental Protection Agency began water quality testing.
Sampling is also being done at water treatment facilities closest to the site. Each
agency is using certified labs for the analyses, and the data among all agencies is
consistent. The results of water sampling to-date show that municipal drinking water
continues to be safe. I will note that the Kingston City Water intake is actually upstream
of the confluence where any suspended ash would float by. Our River Operations staff
is monitoring the water flow to maintain a positive flow in the correct direction, past the
water treatment plant, in order to protect the water supply. The State is also sampling
private groundwater wells within a four-mile radius of the plant.
While most of the fly ash deposited in the water sank, there was a lighter, inert part of
the fly ash that floated. It is a hollow, sand-like material that is actually collected and
sold for use in a variety of products, including cosmetics, bowling balls, and fillers. We
have dispatched more than 12,000 feet of boom skimmers to collect and dispose of this
Our next focus was on the material deposited offsite. The ash material is not classified
as a hazardous waste under the standards of the Environmental Protection Agency. It is
not classified as a carcinogen and it is not combustible, but it does contain trace
amounts of metals. Regardless of the inert nature of fly ash, however, it is meant to be
contained, and we are committed to cleaning it up.
One of our first actions was to test and characterize exactly what was in the material that
moved offsite and compare it to historic data on the content of storage cells. Preliminary testing of the offsite soil samples shows, as was expected, that metals are well below
the limits for classification as a hazardous waste. They are 10 to 100 times below the
limits for metals. The trace concentrations of metals in the offsite material sampled are
consistent with and generally lower than that of the historic sampling results from the
storage cell. The data shows that the concentrations of most metals in the deposited
ash are not dramatically different from concentrations found in natural, non-agricultural
soils in Tennessee, with the exception of arsenic. Total arsenic results were above the
average that occurs naturally, but well below levels found in soils that are well-fertilized
and significantly below the limits to be classified as a hazardous waste.
Now that I've addressed the water and the soil, let me turn to the air we breathe.
Breathing particulates - fly ash or any other airborne particulates - over long periods of
time can, however, irritate the respiratory system. For that reason, we are taking
measures to keep the ash residue damp and monitor the air quality in the area. We
have begun spreading grass seed and fertilizer over the area as part of our immediate
actions to minimize dust and erosion. This process is similar to the one used by
highway departments to provide ground cover. Prior to this action, we began real-time,
hand-held monitoring of air quality and established fixed air monitoring locations. More
than 700 real-time monitoring points have been logged, and air monitoring takes place
24 hours a day at five fixed stations located in residential areas near the plant and on-
site. The most recent results show that concentrations of air particulates remain below
levels established by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
I know that technical data and monitoring equipment do not make the human emotions
and the physical effects of this incident go away. But I hope that the results of the
preliminary environmental data and the objectivity provided by multiple agencies and
certified labs will help reassure members of the public and address their concerns. We
are sharing the information with the public as it becomes available.
On the operations side, we have moved into the important recovery phase. About 275
surface acres were impacted, and cleanup and recovery efforts are under way. These
efforts are being conducted under the watch and with the assistance of other concerned
Federal and state agencies.
Starting on the day of the incident, we put equipment and personnel in place to
immediately begin placing barriers to minimize the movement of ash and to begin clean
up. Those crews have been working around the clock since then. Each day, we make
progress on removing the ash from two local roads. One road is still closed to public
traffic but has been cleared sufficiently for use by construction equipment. We are
creating a 100-foot buffer between the road and the remaining fly ash. The damaged rail
track has been removed, and reconstruction on the track has begun.
We are also constructing two weirs, one underwater and one above water, in the
affected area to let water flow continue while trapping the ash material so it does not
move down stream. The first weir is underwater and is almost complete. It spans
approximately 615 feet across the Emory River, just downstream of the failure, to further
contain the ash. The second weir is in design and is essentially a dike; it will be
approximately 2,000 feet long and located at the site of the failure. When complete, it
will confine the largest body of the ash and keep it from entering the river during the
process of dredging the river. Dredging may occur wherever there is ash; the U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers will approve the dredging plan while TVA is responsible for the
dredging. The Corps also provides underwater river mapping contour information and
has provided new contour information to us subsequent to the failure. For public safety
while recovery operations are under way, the U.S. Coast Guard has closed
approximately 4 miles of the Emory River to navigation, except for vessels involved in
the sampling and recovery operations.
Now that we have entered the recovery phase, we are turning our attention to a long-
term plan for full recovery and restoration. I cannot tell you at this point how long this
might take, but we are planning to work with area residents and public officials to
develop sound plans and to keep them informed as we move forward. We are beginning
an independent, in-depth root-cause analysis to determine why the ash pond dike failed.
And, as our work continues, public safety and the safety of our employees at work on the
job are paramount.
TVA has been part of the Kingston and Roane County community since 1951, and for its
first decade of operation the Kingston plant was the largest of its kind in the world. The
300 TVA employees who live and work in the area care deeply about their community.
We will continue to reach out to Roane County residents over the coming weeks,
keeping them informed of our activities, and making sure they have the information they
need. We will continue working, as well, with federal, state, and local elected officials
and agencies, and with you and other members of Congress.
Since being established by Congress in 1933, TVA has served the people of the
Tennessee Valley region and our nation, generating and delivering the electricity
required for a stronger economy and brighter future.
At TVA, we take seriously our mission of providing electricity, environmental
stewardship, and economic development to the Tennessee Valley region. The quality of
life in the Valley region and the natural beauty of the region and its rivers are special to
all of us at TVA, and we are committed to restoring and protecting these resources.
As we make progress toward restoration, we will also share information and lessons
learned with those in regulatory roles and with others in our industry, for everyone's
As I stated at the beginning of my comments here, TVA will do a first-rate job of
containment and remediation of the problems caused by the spill. We are going to be
able to look our neighbors in the eye and say that TVA is doing the right thing.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this report on our continuing recovery efforts,
and I look forward to your questions.