CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — The Tennessee Valley Authority has been hit with penalties totaling $11.5 million for the December 2008 coal ash spill at one of the utility's plants, partly to pay for oversight of the cleanup.
Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation officials announced the first penalties against the utility for the spill in an order Monday. It said the company violated the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act and the Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Act.
The order also said the department still can assess future natural resource damages. A breach in an earthen dam at TVA's Kingston plant 40 miles west of Knoxville sent 5.4 million cubic yards of toxic muck into the Emory River and surrounding landscape.
Environmental department Commissioner Jim Fyke said in a statement that the spill was an "unprecedented event."
TVA said in a statement that the utility will obey and remains "fully committed to a complete cleanup of the Kingston ash spill."
The Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately answer an e-mail message seeking comment about the possibility of other federal penalties. State environmental department spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton said she was unsure if there could be federal penalties.
The EPA is slowly deciding how to regulate coal plant ash that contains arsenic, selenium, mercury and other substances that are defined as hazardous.
"The recovery work has progressed around-the-the-clock for more than 17 months since the event occurred, and the progress is on schedule," TVA's e-mail statement said.
In the first phase of cleanup that is near completion, the utility has dredged about 3 million cubic yards of ash from the river, much of it shipped by rail to a landfill in Alabama.
The penalty order says TVA must pay $2.5 million to the state by July 15 and must propose at least $2 million in supplemental environmental projects to benefit the environment, to be approved by Dec. 31. Another $2 million must be paid annually in 2011 and 2012. Another $3 million has been paid to reimburse the department's oversight costs, as required by a January 2009 emergency order TVA must pay any overrun.
TVA is battling federal lawsuits seeking damages from the spill and has bought more than 100 properties.
TVA has nearly 9 million consumers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.