Federal Judge Dismisses Roane County Coal Ash Lawsuit

Oct 1, 2020

The aftermath of the 2008 Kingston coal ash spill is seen in this file photo.
Credit http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2013/03/21/senate-showdown-over-health-environment/

A lawsuit filed against the Tennessee Valley Authority and one of its contractors has been dismissed. Federal Judge Thomas Varlan said the plaintiffs -- Roane County and the cities of Harriman and Kingston –  failed to prove TVA and Jacobs Engineering could be held liable for certain claims, or waited too long to pursue legal action.

Seven claims were contained in a lawsuit filed in May 2019, accusing TVA and Jacobs of negligence, public nuisance and fraudulent conduct. In his ruling Wednesday, Varlan rejected every claim as insufficiently proven or past the statute of limitations.

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2008 disaster in which a coal ash storage pond retaining wall collapsed, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxin-containing material pouring into nearby homes and the Clinch and Emory rivers. Cleaning it up cost TVA more than a billion dollars.

Roane County and its municipalities initially declined to sue, accepting instead TVA’s offer to spend $43 million on economic development projects in the area. The governments changed their minds in November 2018, when attorneys in a different trial presented evidence that TVA and Jacobs had not fully disclosed the dangers of coal ash and its constituent materials, which include mercury and arsenic.

To date, fifty cleanup workers have died and more than 400 others have become ill. Some of the workers and their families say their illnesses are linked to the coal ash and have sued Jacobs Engineering, claiming the company misled them about the hazards of the job and failed to provide adequate protective equipment. Those lawsuits are in mediation, and Jacobs has asked Judge Varlan to dismiss them. TVA is not a party to those suits.

TVA defended its post-spill conduct in a statement sent to local press outlets Thursday.

“TVA properly accepted responsibility for the 2008 ash spill. We committed to restore the site to as good or better condition than we found it; and according to the regulatory agencies, we have,” the statement read. “Since 2008, we’ve contributed almost $100 million (dollars and in-kind) to the area around the Kingston plant, the majority of which went to Roane County and the cities of Kingston and Harriman.”