An Alabama law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority on behalf of property owners impacted by a recent coal ash spill in East Tennessee that experts are now beginning to say may be the most significant environmental disaster in the United States since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.
A coal-fired TVA power plant in Kingston, Tennessee, about 40 miles west of Knoxville, released 1.1 billion gallons of toxin-laden sludge into a rural neighborhood when a waste storage pond retaining wall failed on Dec. 22.
The law firm of Jere Beasley is suing TVA, the nation’s largest public utility, for an unspecified sum.
Coal-fired power plants produce coal ash and other toxic waste byproducts. The material is usually stored on site in retention ponds or dams. A failure in the retaining wall, or an overflow, can result in an environmental disaster contaminating surrounding waterways, soil, and wildlife, and endangering human health and life.
There is ongoing debate about how coal ash is stored and regulated. Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not regulate these types of retention ponds or the materials contained in them. Surprisingly, the EPA does not consider the coal ash hazardous material. There is a great deal of debate over whether state regulations are sufficient to regulate these retention ponds, as evidenced by this most recent disaster.
“It is absolutely incredible that there is no real oversight for the storage and safe disposal of this toxic waste,” said Beasley Allen attorney Rhon Jones, who specializes in Environmental issues. “Most of these retention ponds are not lined or reinforced, and it’s inevitable that potentially hazardous material will leak out. They just are not a long-term solution. It’s only a matter of time before the next disaster. These facilities are everywhere – Alabama, Tennessee. Communities are living under a cloud, uncertain of their safety.”
There is a U.S. Senate hearing set for Jan. 8 to review the Tennessee disaster that will include representatives from the TVA and environmental groups. Beasley Allen attorneys have contacted Congressional leaders offering to speak at the hearings, and lawyers from the Beasley Allen team will be present in Washington.
Beasley Allen will be working with attorneys Gary Davis and Mary Parker in Tennessee, both of whom have Environmental experience. The firm has previously handled large environmental claims, including a $700 million settlement with Monsanto/Solutia in Anniston, Ala., over PCB contamination, the largest environmental settlement in American history. More recently, Beasley Allen obtained a $20.7 million verdict against manufacturers of carbon black for nearby property owners, a verdict that was upheld by the United States Supreme Court.
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