The head of the Tennessee Valley Authority indicated Wednesday that the 3 million tons of coal ash from the Allen Fossil Plant will almost assuredly be buried in Southeast Memphis.
“Where I sit, the South Shelby landfill in Capleville still looks like the best choice. Now we have some additional work to do here yet,” TVA CEO Jeff Lyash said during an interview Wednesday.
Lyash’s comments come after TVA has undergone what it has called a ‘pause’ to gather further community feedback about the plan to move tons of coal ash from ponds near the retired Allen plant off of McKellar Lake. The ash, at present, represents a risk to the area’s drinking water supply. The longer it sits in the two ponds, the more risk there is to contaminants in the coal ash impacting the Memphis Sand Aquifer.
The Center for Applied Earth Sciences and Engineering at the University of Memphis’ research has uncovered potential areas near Allen, which is in Southwest Memphis, where runoff from the ash ponds could get into the aquifer.
The coal ash disposal within Shelby County and Memphis city limits could be a political liability for TVA. Memphis, Light, Gas and Water, the city-owned utility and the federal power provider’s largest electricity customer, is asking the private sector for bids on its electricity supply.
If those bids prove attractive enough for Memphis to leave TVA, the federal power provider would lose about 10%o of its revenue. The Memphis City Council, which has the final say if Memphis stays or goes, has passed a resolution against TVA burying the coal ash in Memphis.
Lyash said Wednesday that he would not let Memphis’ future decision dictate what his company does about the Allen coal ash, once again emphasizing that TVA, the city of Memphis and Shelby County have all signed an agreement about the removal of the ash from land that is owned by Memphis and Shelby County taxpayers.
The City Council did not sign that agreement about removal and has, instead, passed a resolution asking for the ash to be disposed of outside Memphis and Shelby County.
“We’re all responsible and it’s important that we do the responsible thing. And you know, prime among what the priorities are for me isn’t influencing some future decision. It’s protecting the aquifer and disposing of this coal ash in the right way. That’s what we’re doing,” Lyash said.
A coalition of Memphis-based environmental organizations and the Southern Environmental Law Center sent TVA a letter Tuesday, asking the federal power company to reconsider how it disposes of the Memphis coal ash.
The coalition, which includes Protect Our Aquifer and Memphis Communities Against Pollution, argued in their letter that the millions of tons of coal ash could be removed by rail lines and taken outside of Shelby County. And it argued that it would be quicker than the nine years it will take to truck the coal ash from Allen to the South Shelby landfill.
“New information confirms that by eliminating those options without analysis, TVA overlooked reasonable alternatives for coal ash disposal. In comments on TVA’s proposed Remedial Plan, Waste Connections, Inc. submitted a letter describing Waste Connections facilities in proximity to the site of the Allen Fossil Plant that could receive and properly store the material,” the letter said. “The Waste Connections letter suggests that the toxic coal ash could be removed by rail to a variety of landfill sites near railways much more quickly than TVA indicated in the 2020 EIS, potentially cutting in half the time it would take to finish closing the ash ponds.”
In the interview Wednesday, Lyash addressed the proposal from Waste Connections and the possibility of removing the ash from Memphis by rail.
“Waste Connections is not an ash-hauling or removal company. And they did and they were free to bid this process. And frankly, didn’t qualify during the process for a whole range of reasons, including not meeting the technical requirements of the proposal,” Lyash said.
Samuel Hardiman covers Memphis city government, politics and energy for The Commercial Appeal. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or followed on Twitter at @samhardiman.
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