Cohen, Kelsey urge TVA to clean up coal ash threatening Memphis water supply

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Federal and state lawmakers are calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority to do more to secure Memphis’s drinking water, which comes from an underground aquifer.

Right now, toxins near a retired plant on President’s Island threaten the water supply; the toxic coal ash pond is above ground, far from Memphis’ water supply, but environmentalists say it could leak down into it.

That’s why Scott Brooks with the TVA says they plan to clean it up.

“It’s best to get rid of the coal ash,” he said.

But according to lawmakers and activists, the TVA has known about the threat since 2016 and they aren’t acting fast enough.

Congressman Steve Cohen said he met with TVA officials on March 13. He sounded the alarm about the cleanup by releasing a letter this week, stating he remains “increasingly concerned with the timeline and the lack of urgency among leaders at the TVA.”

State Sen. Brian Kelsey (R- Shelby County) agreed; he introduced a resolution in the Statehouse on Wednesday urging them to get moving.

“Unfortunately, the TVA has said they’ll clean this up over a huge time span. And frankly, they have a terrible record,” he said.

TVA officials say they are already working on it.

“The next step is to put together a draft environmental review, an environmental impact statement. That’ll be some time later this year. And that will again be another public process,” Brooks said.

That attitude frustrated local environmental activists like Ward Archer.

“It’s sort of urgent. If you had a military style command and control operation and treated it seriously that it’s our water supply at risk, I’d feel a lot better than these 500-page reports,” Archer said.

He suggested the TVA designate one person located in Memphis to focus on the project.

TVA officials tell us removing dangerous chemicals, like arsenic, can take as long as 20 years. Activists said that timeline is unacceptable.

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