TVA president Tom Kilgore defends coal ash inspections

TVA president Tom Kilgore defends coal ash inspections

September 22nd, 2011 by Pam Sohn in News

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)

Tennessee Valley Authority President and CEO Tom Kilgore,...

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

POLL: 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.

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.

Staff File Photo by Patrick Smith Remains of a...

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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