Dec 29 2008
03:21 pm

Joe Powell raises some interesting questions re. who exactly is in charge of responding to and managing the Kingston Steam Plant sludge disaster.

There's the usual alphabet soup of agencies, but who is coordinating, and who has final regulatory and oversight authority?

Also, when I was reading the "Life on Swan Pond" blog report on yesterday's meeting, I was struck by this:

A family with an expectant mom who is 7 months pregnant asked if it was safe for her to be there... as they have the spill literally in their backyard... again.... no definitive answer. Come by the office if you have questions was often the answer given.

Come by the office? That doesn't inspire much confidence in TVA's sense of urgency about reaching out to help these people.

(A better answer would be that "we don't know, but if you have health concerns see me after the meeting and I will put you in contact with someone who can relocate you until we know more.")

It makes you wonder what kind of emergency response plans they have in place for other disasters, such as failure of a major dam or an incident at a nuclear power plant. If you've ever driven around rural Rhea Co. and seen those little blue evacuation route signs leading you away from the Watts Bar nuclear power plant you might wonder if that's the extent of their plan.

I'm sure it isn't, but the response to the Kingston incident suggests that maybe all of their emergency plans should be independently reviewed and tested.

And lastly, I'm sure Tom Kilgore is qualified (at least on paper) to run a multi-billion dollar utility, but reports of his performance at yesterday's meeting suggest he isn't the kind of details guy TVA needs out in front talking to people about solutions.

He should be commended for his willingness to personally engage some understandably concerned and angry citizens, but "come by the office" hardly seems like an acceptable response, even from where I'm sitting with no fly ash sludge in my back yard.

P.S. I agree with Katie on what a PR disaster this is turning into for TVA, and the meeting yesterday sounds like yet another example.

gonzone's picture

What I wonder

If TVA can't build a dam to hold back this ash sludge, how well constructed are the dams that hold back all that water?

I've always considered them to be some of the pre-eminent dam builders in the world but now one must reconsider.

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

reform4's picture

Corps of Engineers

I think they designed and built all the dams- TVA just operates them.

Not that Katrina gives us much faith in the COE's recent abilities... of course, for the last 20 years, a lot of the work has been outsourced. The work the COE did in the 1940s-1970s is probably just fine.

Rachel's picture

Wrong about the Corps. TVA

Wrong about the Corps. TVA designed and built at least the vast majority of the dams it operates. Some of them were built by Alcoa during the war, I believe.

The Corps operates the locks at TVA dams because they are responsible for navigation. That's about it wrt their role. TVA pretty much is it wrt dams etc. in the Tennessee Valley watershed (note: most of middle Tennessee is NOT in the watershed, which is why you see USACE dams on the Cumberland, etc.).

reform4's picture

I stand corrected...


Since TVA also has some responsibility for navigation in their charge, I thought their relationship was a lot closer Since the Corps built pretty much every other dam in the country, I find it odd the COE's expertise would not have been utilized by TVA. Good reason to be concerned!

Rachel's picture

EPA's website - which has

EPA's website - which has pretty good info about what's going on at Kingston, better than TVA and much better than TDEC, which doesn't even mention this incident - indicates they are "providing oversight."

Re Kilgore's quote: "come by the office" may well be a paraphrase by the blogger. Kilgore may have said much what you wanted him to say. Or he could have said "come by the office."

It's hard to make sense of reports of what went on in a meeting if you weren't there yourself, or aren't reading reports from someone whose reporting you're familiar with.

I agree that the technical people need to be talking, but Kilgore is about 1000x better than the "communications" folks they put out the first day or two.

Ragsdale2010's picture

Where is Susan Williams? She's usually a chatterbox

she's wanted this TVA board membership and now she's got it, where is she when there is an environmental disaster which gets bigger and bigger as the agencies/organizations/media that know about this stuff begin to (a) arrive in Kingston to see for themselves and (b)begin to ask the real questions that our local media goobers don't know how to ask.

Rachel's picture

Susan Williams is not

Susan Williams is not currently on the TVA board. Bush reappointed her, but she hasn't been confirmed by the Senate.

Tess's picture

Important Question on Roane Views

Professional Counselors needed for Traumatized Coal Ash Disaster Victims

Hey yall, we are in the middle of field testing and going door to door collecting information where Swan Pond is where the ash blowout happened.

People are answering their doors crying. They answer their phones that way--we are dealing with traumatized folks and our field personal are science geeks.

We need someplace we can tell people where they can go for counseling.

Can anyone recommend anyone in Harriman, Kingston, Oak Ridge, or Knoxville--a center or something that we can send people to?

If you have suggestions, go here:

Above is quoted from linked site, but my question is: Isn't the well-being of the people who have been harmed by this disaster not something else that TVA should be taking care of? (and apparently is not?) I am getting more and more angry by the minute...

I just had a thought! I bet a lot of the TVA board members have a lake house or mountain house, in addition to the house that they live in. Why not, as a show of good faith, let these families who have lost their homes on the river in Swan Pond live in those second homes until this situation is resolved?

Anonymously Nine's picture

TVA Private Security?

More heavy handed tactics from the folks who care, your TVA.



We have a friend who talked about the damage mining does to the ecosystem long before the Kingston spill. We’ve been pestering this friend to say something in the aftermath of this giant mess. The friend decided to take water samples and photographs before giving an opinion. Our friend needs more evidence than “looks yucky” to hypothesize about something. Sadly, we couldn’t get the scientific explanation we were hoping for, since our friend was prevented from getting near the site. Our friend wasn’t just told to stay away, they were physically detained and interrogated. After being labeled an “ecoterrorist” our friend was finally allowed to leave without water samples or photographs.

If the area is safe, why aren’t people allowed to take photographs? Why are they refusing to allow scientific experts to sample and test the water? If the area is too dangerous for anyone except HazMat cleanup crews, why isn’t the mess being cleaned up with any kind of expediency? What damage can an ecoterrorist do to a toxic waste spill? Are they afraid someone might, I don’t know, clean it up? Minor correction. “ecoterrorist” was our friend’s word; tva private security used “environmental activist”

This "TVA Private Security" force seems to be taking some liberties. Literally.

Anonymously Nine's picture

TVA is part of the government?

Don't ever give them a false name as that is lying to a government official and, as I found out in 1994, makes them very, very upset at you.

Again, what are you living under? A boulder?

TVA is part of the government? Since when? Didn't TVA become a private utility many years ago?

Justin's picture

Dear digit,The Tennessee

Dear digit,

The Tennessee Valley Authority is a wholly-owned, but self-funded agency of the U.S. government.

Keep tilting those windmills.

Anonymously Nine's picture


The Tennessee Valley Authority is a wholly-owned, but self-funded agency of the U.S. government.

Will the U.S. government be listed on the various lawsuits?

Justin's picture

Will you admit that you are

Will you admit that you are a no nothing, obnoxious ass that loves to hear himself talk?

Anonymously Nine's picture

Not exactly...

The Tennessee Valley Authority is a wholly-owned, but self-funded agency of the U.S. government.

Actually, TVA is not a Federal Agency. It is also not a Federal Asset. It is owned by the American people. TVA bonds are not secured by the Federal Government. TVA is supported by ratepayers.

Justin's picture

I never said it was you

Did you bother to research the TVA web site before you started posting about how TVA was privately owned? Nice try Quixote.


The Tennessee Valley Authority is a wholly-owned, but self-funded agency of the U.S. government.

TVA is wholly owned by the federal government.


From its creation in 1933, TVA has been wholly owned by the United States government and is considered an agency and instrumentality of the United States.


TVA is still a government agency but self-financed.


MDB's picture

Number9, upside down?


Shouldn't that make him Number6, then? (With apologies to my fellow fans of The Prisoner, of course.)

"I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat." -- Will Rogers

Rachel's picture

Nine, when you're in a hole,

Nine, when you're in a hole, stop digging.

It's really not that hard to say "gee, I was wrong. Guess I learned something."

Come on, try it. Ah, come on. You can do it. We'll all clap for you.

Anonymously Nine's picture

PR you can trust...

You can trust the TVA website for information? There is no way possible it could have dated information?

I thought someone would be curious enough to find the answer.

TVA is not a Federal agency. The changes in the 90's were more profound than you know. TVA is unique. When the lawsuit hit we may find out how unique it is.

Rachel's picture

Quick, digit, head to

Quick, digit, head to Nashville. You need to let the Governor know he has this wrong.

"TVA is a federal agency," he said.


Justin's picture

Rachel, its all a scam. You

Rachel, its all a scam. You see, Jack over at the KNS received a phone call from Rags. Rags wanted him to change the governors statement from "TVA isn't a federal agency" to "TVA is a federal agency. This all happened after Rags secretly changed the "don't park in your front yard" ordinance votes from "against" to "for". Very simple.

gonzone's picture


"TVA is part of the government? Since when? Didn't TVA become a private utility many years ago?"

Remind me to NEVER attempt to carry on a conversation with you with the assumption that you know ANYTHING at all about ANY subject matter, OK?

[beats head on desk in amazement at such total ignorance]

Three things to remember (nine is too high a number)

1) If you heard it on talk radio, it's probably wrong, a lie, or both.

2) Google can really be your friend.

3) FOX News, and lots of other television causes severe brain damage, avoid it and read books instead.

[now whistling to self]

"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Hunter S. Thompson

Rachel's picture

Are you freakin' serious?

Are you freakin' serious? You think TVA is a private utility and you're spouting off like you're God about everything else??

To quote you talking to me a few days ago: "I'll type slowly so you can understand:" TVA is part of the Federal government. It does not operate with Federal $$$, although the natural resource/environmental folks were paid out of Federal funds until sometime in the 90s. It is funded strictly from power revenues. It has a great deal of autonomy, but its board is appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. TVA employees are Federal employees, although they are not covered by Federal Civil Service.

And legally, TVA isn't a utility; it was established as a regional planning agency, whose mission is to: improve the navigability and to provide for the flood control of the Tennessee River; to provide for reforestation and the proper use of marginal lands in the Tennessee Valley; to provide for the agricultural and industrial development of said valley; to provide for the national defense by the creation of a corporation for the operation of Government properties at and near Muscle Shoals in the State of Alabama, and for other purposes. (TVA Act) But Toby, for all practical purposes I would submit that it's evolved (or devolved) into a utility.

reform4's picture

To be more clear...

TVA was founded in 1933 as a *PUBLIC CORPORATION*. That is where the confusion lies. It is, in effect, a corporation and is treated like any other corporation for organization, and even tax purposes. Therefore, it does not operate with tax dollars. That is why TVA employees are not covered by Civil Service, and their paychecks come from the corporation (TVA).

TVA effectively has one share of stock, owned by the Federal Government. Hence, all board appointments are made by the Federal Government.

It actually makes lawsuits easier- you can sue a corporation (regardless of who owns it). Suing the Federal Government is actually quite difficult. So, the fact that TVA is a public corporation makes them open to legal claims like any other company. Mind, you, we will all share in the losses as taxpayers and ratepayers. So, rather than enriching attorneys along the way, it is a WHOLE LOT CHEAPER to just DO THE RIGHT DA** THING, clean up the mess, and help these people out.

(... banging head on table, knowing that the right thing won't happen ....)

Anonymously Nine's picture


TVA was founded in 1933 as a *PUBLIC CORPORATION*. That is where the confusion lies.

I knew the answer before I asked the question. But it is always good to hear from the usual suspects. It is so easy to bait the hook.

There was a change in the 90's which further protected the Federal Government from liability. Even TVA's PR on their website is dated. Does TVA even know what they are? Bredesen doesn't. It is unbelievable.

This was about liability from lawsuits. The Federal Government was wise to get as far from danger as possible considering how TVA operates. The Federal Government will not be on the lawsuits. Which of course was my point.

The ratepayers will pay for this unless there is a Federal bailout.

So simply put, we pay for TVA's screwups.

Rachel's picture

Oh, you knew the answer all

Oh, you knew the answer all along. So that's why your original post read: Didn't TVA become a private utility many years ago?

Now explain how a private utility = Federal corporation.

I've never met anybody more congenitally unable to admit they're wrong that you. It's fascinating in a creepy kind of way.

Anonymously Nine's picture

Someday, you may get it...

reform4's picture

You're kidding, right?

Your explanation is that you were trying to pose a quiz? Is that your final answer?

The only change I can think of for TVA are the changes related to power/non-power revenues and financing. That wouldn't have any effect on litigation. Perhaps you can refer us to the 1990-era changes you are alluding to.

TVA has previously tried to express immunity using McMellon vs. U.S. However, TVA "is a corporate entity, separate and distinct from the Federal Government itself." [Pierce v. United States]. In fact, TVA on numerous occasions has argued themselves that they are distinct from the government for the convenience of suing the U.S. government themselves. [TVA vs. EPA, 2002, TVA vs. United States, 2001]

Suggested reading...

Rachel's picture

I don't think TVA is taxed

TVA is not taxed like a regular corporation. They make in lieu of tax payments instead, which is a different animal. I don't think they make any Federal tax payments at all (not 100% sure about this).

Update - found it: As a federal corporation, TVA does not pay income taxes and is exempt from local property taxes. But under the TVA act, the federal utility must pay 5 percent of its revenues to states and local governments, based equally on the amount of power it sells in each area and the amount of TVA assets in each community.


Note that TVA DID receive tax $$$ until the 90s. They no longer do so.

And TVA employees ARE Federal employees. The joke around the towers is that they're considered Federal employees when it hurts them and not when it would help them (like not being covered by Federal Civil Service).

So, rather than enriching attorneys along the way, it is a WHOLE LOT CHEAPER to just DO THE RIGHT DA** THING, clean up the mess, and help these people out.

(... banging head on table, knowing that the right thing won't happen ....)

What should TVA be doing to clean up the mess that it's not doing now?

I in no way absolve them from responsibity for creating this mess in the first place. But so far they seem to be taking their responsibility to clean it up pretty seriously. But then I'm 40 miles away, so maybe I'm missing something.

Tess's picture

High levels of toxic chemicals found at coal ash spill

Independent water quality testing results for spill...
For immediate release
January 1, 2009
Preliminary tests find
High levels of toxic chemicals
In Harriman TN fly ash deposits
Donna Lisenby, Appalachian Voices / Upper Watauga Riverkeeper, 828-262-1500
Dr. Shea Tuberty, Associate Professor of Biology, Appalachian State University, 828-262-6857
Dr. Carol Babyak, Associate Professor of Chemistry, Appalachian State University, 828-262-2756
High levels of toxic heavy metals are present in samples taken from the Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill in Harriman, TN, independent testing shows. Preliminary testing was conducted on samples from the Emory River by scientists working in coordination with Appalachian Voices and the Waterkeeper Alliance's Upper Watauga Riverkeeper Program.

Concentrations of eight toxic chemicals range from twice to 300 times higher than drinking water limits, according to scientists with Appalachian State University who conducted the tests.

"Although these results are preliminary, we want to release them because of the public health concern and because we believe the TVA and EPA aren't being candid," said Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., chair of the Waterkeeper Alliance.

The tests were conducted this week at the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry labs atAppalachian State University in Boone, NC, by Dr. Shea Tuberty, Associate Professor of Biology, and Dr. Carol Babyak, Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Tuberty and Babyak conducted tests for 17 different heavy metals in triplicate using standard EPA methods. The samples were collected on Saturday, December 27 by Watauga Riverkeeper
Donna Lisenby from three separate locations on the Emory River.

More at Roaneviews

Tess's picture

Sounds like the governor has stepped up to the plate

Gov. Phil Bredesen said today he'll call for a "top to bottom" review of state environmental regulations in the wake of the billion-gallon coal-ash spill at TVA's Kingston steam plant that covered hundreds of acres Dec. 22.

"TVA is a federal agency," he said. "I strongly suspect that over the years there may have been exaggerated deference given to them as a federal agency. We need to take a fresh look at that. We will be looking at all aspects of that. We need to tighten those up."

The governor said he also wants to see daily testing of water for Kingston and Rockwood and the results posted online as promptly as possible.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation will conduct free testing for any residents who want their wells inspected, he said.

From Knoxnews today at (link...).

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