published Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

TVA president Tom Kilgore defends coal ash inspections

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  • photo
    Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Tom Kilgore, left, and TVA spokesman Mike Bradley, are shown leaving the federal courthouse in Knoxville, Tenn., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011. Kilgore earlier testified at a trial on lawsuits seeking damages for the utility's Dec. 2008 coal ash spill in East Tennessee. (AP Photo/Bill Poovey)
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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Is TVA at fault for the coal ash spill?

KNOXVILLE — TVA president and CEO Tom Kilgore had some testy comments during his testimony Wednesday in the fourth day of the trial over the 2008 Kingston ash spill.

Kilgore became irritated by questions from plaintiffs' attorney Jeff Friedman about the failure of the landfill dike that led to 1.2 billion gallons of toxin-laden sludge being dumped onto the land and rivers near TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant.

"No matter how many times you ask the question, I'm not going to let you construe [the dike's failure] to just its construction," Kilgore told Friedman at one point.

Kilgore testified for a little more than two hours Wednesday in the trial of five lawsuits that cover more than 230 plaintiffs seeking damages from the Dec. 22, 2008, spill. Other lawsuits related to the spill are set for trial in November.

TVA has estimated the cleanup will cost more than $1 billion.

"I agree we have a responsibility to take care of our property so we don't impinge on our neighbors," Kilgore testified

But he wouldn't accept that TVA was to blame for the spill.

Friedman put numerous documents and statements in front of Kilgore, including the TVA chief's statements to a U.S. Senate panel, a congressional committee hearing and a TVA board meeting.

The statements offered assurances of "comprehensive" inspections and analyses of the ash pond's walls before the spill and afterward to determine the cause of the rupture.

"When TVA uses a term like 'comprehensive' in a sentence with inspection, what does it mean?" Friedman asked Kilgore.

"To me, it means thorough," Kilgore replied.

Friedman asked Kilgore if TVA has specific training programs for its inspectors. Kilgore said he didn't know.

"Would it surprise you that the only geotechnical engineer inspecting the dike [before the failure] had never done an inspection before? Did you know he had never been on a dike?" Friedman asked.

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    Staff File Photo by Patrick Smith Remains of a coal ash spill that blanketed more than 300 acres in Harriman, Tenn., surround the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant.

Kilgore said he did not know.

Friedman asked Kilgore if he knew the contractor authorized to determine what caused the spill said he was instructed by TVA to limit his review to mechanical failures, and not to look at engineering practices or policy or design problems.

Friedman pointed to a TVA inspector general's report stating that the agency's root-cause review was designed toward litigation strategy rather than finding the root cause of the spill. He asked if Kilgore knew the contractor was also told not to judge TVA or to place blame.

"All I know is that I asked the staff to find the best company or one of the best to find out what happened," Kilgore answered.

Friedman showed documents indicating some ash pond dike inspections had problems that seemingly were not dealt with year after year, appearing again in the next inspection and the next.

On cross-examination, TVA attorney Edwin Small asked Kilgore only one question: What was his instruction about the contractor hired to find the root cause of the spill?

"It didn't have anything to do with a litigation strategy," Kilgore said.

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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harrystatel said...

[Tom Kilgore]wouldn't accept that TVA was to blame for the spill.

"Tap-Dancing" Tommy reminds me of when the tobacco executives were before a congressional panel and said that "tobacco wasn't addictive."

Why would anyone believe this guy?

September 22, 2011 at 7:30 a.m.
riverstronghold said...

If they apparently can't manage an ash pile, nor take responsibility for it failing, why don't we let them run some nuclear plants for us?

Oh wait a minute, we do, and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says they don't do that with all possible diligence either. And that's costing ratepayers money.

On the plus side, though, I bet they won't be responsible if something were to go badly wrong at one of those nuclear plants.

Just like they're not responsible for what has gone wrong at them so far, like the bases of NRC "red" findings. It's always those rotten inspectors causing inspections failures, just like those pesky citizens shoving their houses up under TVA's ash pile.

And yet maybe still they can salvage their credibility and take responsibility for their operations -- but that requires an about-face and accepting that responsibility. Like it was what, somebody else's ash pile?

While discussing credibility and ash piles, remember the false claims about what had happened, and how bad it was, at the time.

And it's one thing to mess up, and make mistakes, but to lie about it, deny it, and blatantly understate the obvious to anyone with eyes is something that in an individual we would expect or require behavioral health measures be implemented, if not confinement and removal from the society of others.

In our democracy at this time those interventions are being implemented by the courts and the NRC. Thanks y'all! I believe TVA is going to do better, i just can't wait to see it happening. Another chance missed today. TVA has been and is a godsend to the Valley. But Mr. Roosevelt couldn't be proud of some of these recent failures to perform -- or more importantly, failures to accept responsibility for these failures, when these responsibilities are so very grave and the costs of further failures could be catastrophic.

September 22, 2011 at 3:38 p.m.
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