Questions linger of TVA move to relocated coal ash in Memphis

By: - December 22, 2021 4:59 am
Memphis City Hall (Photo: City of Memphis Community Affairs page, Facebook)

Memphis City Hall (Photo: City of Memphis Community Affairs page, Facebook)

On Tuesday, Memphis city council members discussed the difficulties they’ve had getting clear answers from TVA on the agency’s decision to relocate coal ash to Southeast Memphis. 

Since routine groundwater monitoring found elevated levels of arsenic in ponds situated over the Memphis Sand Aquifer, TVA officials have been under pressure to remove coal ash stored from the nearby Allen Fossil Plant in order to reach the bottom closest to a shallow barrier protecting the aquifer.  If not done effectively, the toxins could leak into the aquifer, poisoning Shelby County’s natural source of drinking water. 

The cleaning process will take years, so city and county officials agreed to give TVA authority over the procedure, but during summer 2021, council members were shocked to learn that TVA’s final decision involved relocating the coal ash to Southeast Memphis.

TVA made no efforts to create an open and transparent process and only informed the public after a final decision had been made, council members pointed out. Also concerning, said Council member Chase Carlisle, that TVA hired Republic Services, a contractor, to take the coal ash to the South Shelby landfill in Southeast Memphis, which it owns. 

“The issue that we are having as a council is the transparency of the process in which TVA arrived at hiring Republic utilizing the South Shelby Landfill [Memphis] versus some other landfill and or barging down the Mississippi River and trucking into the state of Texas,” said Council member Chase Carlisle. 

Council members were told there was a bidding process to allow participation of other firms interested in the removal project, but the process wasn’t open to the public, but no information is available on what other companies participated beyond Republic Services. 

Council members also addressed their concerns on the lack of transparency surrounding TVA’s decision to use Republic Services. 

Due to the lack of transparency, Carlisle requested that TVA produce documents about what the bidding process was and how it went. 

Beyond receiving the necessary permits from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and the Environmental Protection Agency, TVA offered no explanations to council members as to why Southeast Memphis was chosen. 

Councilmember Cheyenne Johnson said residents are also concerned about the routes TVA trucks are taking while carrying loads of coal ash. Some of these routes are crossing Southeast Memphis neighborhoods, where an estimated 72,000 people live. 


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Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.