TVA on defensive; '60 Minutes' to feature ash spill

TVA on defensive; '60 Minutes' to feature ash spill

October 3rd, 2009 by Pam Sohn in News

The CBS news program "60 Minutes" will focus Sunday on the Kingston ash spill, and TVA's CEO and president, Tom Kilgore, sent out a letter to "stakeholders" on Friday afternoon.

"Given the program's large audience and its reputation for conflict-driven journalism, we at TVA believe it is important to give you our perspective on the report and some background on our cooperation with the "60 minutes" staff," states the letter, signed by Mr. Kilgore.

"We are not sure how the news program '60 Minutes' and its on-air personalities will shape the story or how they may edit or portray the information we shared," but "TVA is restoring the site and is committed to 'doing the right thing' for those affected," the letter states.

CBS spokesman Kevin Tedesco said the story is fair.

"We look forward to what the TVA has to say after they have seen the '60 Minutes' story Sunday night, which is fair, accurate and goes beyond the local story to also address the national issues of coal ash management."

The CBS "60 Minutes" Web site contains a trailer for the program and a short print story, which states that '60 Minutes' correspondent Lesley Stahl will report from the town, "where a billion gallons of muck containing coal ash -- the byproduct of burning coal for power -- inundated homes and yards in a spill 100 times larger than the Exxon Valdez."

The trailer features Ms. Stahl interviewing Lisa Jackson, the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And the print story questions:

"If coal ash is safe to spread under a golf course or be used in carpets, why are the residents of Kingston, Tenn., being told to stay out of a river where the material was spilled last December?"

Tennessee Valley Authority spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said Mr. Kilgore's letter was sent to TVA distribution customers, members of a community action group and utility employees.

"The letter was sent to ensure that our folks in the community and those customers we work with would know that TVA was interviewed and why we chose to do that interview," Ms. Martocci said.

Community resident Sarah McCoin, an outspoken critic of TVA since the spill, said she has seen a portion of the program that will air locally at 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS.

"It's not a biased story. It's a very balanced story. But it's something TVA can't control," said Ms. McCoin, who spoke with CBS producers as they worked the story and sought community interviews.

"What I think is that TVA is about to be exposed publicly," she said.

Mr. Kilgore's letter states that a CBS crew toured the spill site in mid-June and was given a background briefing on ash removal and cleanup efforts, among other things

In early August, the letter states, Leslie Stahl came to Kingston and interviewed Anda Ray, TVA's chief science and environmental officer and the then-lead executive on the cleanup.

"As expected, the interview was tough and aggressive," the letter states. But TVA officials believed it was important for TVA to participate "and attempt to add perspective and balance" to the story.

The letter says TVA complies with regulations and is "making comprehensive changes" at every one of its 11 coal fired plants to prevent a similar occurrence elsewhere.