NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The nation's largest public utility has agreed to pay $27.8 million to settle claims from Tennessee property owners who suffered damages from a huge, 2008 spill of toxin-laden coal ash sludge that drew national attention to coal ash and its toxic contaminants.
The spill happened when a containment dike burst at the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Fossil Plant, releasing more than 5 million cubic yards of ash from a storage pond. The sludge flowed into a river and spoiled hundreds of acres in a riverside community 35 miles west of Knoxville.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan ruled in 2012 that TVA was liable for the spill. He wrote in his opinion that if TVA had followed its own policies, the problems that led to the dike failure would have been investigated and addressed.
The settlement with more than 800 property owners was announced on Friday. Varlan still has to approve it.
In a news release, TVA called the settlement a "significant milestone" and reiterated the utility's commitment to "completing the Kingston recovery project and restoring the community to as good as or better than it was before the spill."
The Environmental Protection Agency says coal ash contains toxic contaminants including arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals.
In 2010, the agency proposed a rule to treat coal ash in landfills and other storage areas as a hazardous material. That rule has never been finalized, however, so it was not in place six months ago when a spill at a Duke Energy plant in Eden, North Carolina, coated 70 miles of the Dan River with toxic sludge. State lawmakers there are divided over a bill that would require Duke to clean up 33 unlined ash pits that state regulators say are contaminating groundwater.
The EPA is under a federal court order to finalize the coal ash rule by December 19, said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, one of the parties in the case.
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