Memphis council presses TVA for study to no avail

By: - May 24, 2022 6:00 pm
Memphis City Hall (Photo: City of Memphis Community Affairs page, Facebook)

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

The Memphis City Council passed a resolution urging the Tennessee Valley Authority to study the potential impacts of having coal ash transported through and stored in south Memphis communities.

Before the afternoon council meeting, council members on the Parks and Environment Committee recommended passage of the resolution requesting that the TVA conduct a Supplemental Impact Statement, alleging that TVA officials were reluctant to address their questions.

In 2017, TVA found high levels of arsenic and other toxins in shallow groundwater that lies above the Memphis Sand Aquifer, from which Shelby County draws its drinking water. The coal ash needed to be removed and relocated before the potentially toxic coal-byproduct seeped into the aquifer, but in 2021, Memphis officials and residents learned that south Memphis had been chosen. 

Memphis Councilmember Chase Carlisle. (Photo:
Memphis Councilmember Chase Carlisle. (Photo:

Memphis officials asked for more information about the bidding process but TVA officials were instead “dancing around a very direct question,” said Councilmember Chase Carlisle.

“When asked a direct answer and never getting a direct question is always very troublesome,” he said.

“I’m very disappointed about what I thought was going to be a very transparent ongoing dialogue about how we can look for alternative solutions to an issue that concerns a great many people, and instead it was ‘we’re not coming back, we’re just going to move forward,” Carlisle added.

Local activists and environmental organizations—including the Southern Environmental Law Center, Protect Our Aquifer and Memphis Community Against Pollution—have also urged TVA to conduct a study. TVA officials reviewed the letter but said there is no new information to influence their decision.

“The city council is demanding the TVA do what they are supposed to do, which is keep the people first, not their profits or behind-the-scenes processes,” said Justin J. Pearson, co-founder of MCAP. 

Protect Our Aquifer executive director Sarah Houston, said the heavy traffic from trucks carrying coal ash is already affecting communities. 

“We do know that accidents happen, and when you’re thinking about impacts to community members, when you have migrant dust, you’re going to have potential air quality impacts, potential surface water quality impacts, and that could ultimately impact our aquifer and drinking water sources,” said Houston. 

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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.