COLUMBIA - Less than a week after the Tennessee Valley Authority said it was looking at out-of-state sites to move millions of tons of coal ash, a South Carolina senator filed a bill that would charge the federal utility hundreds of millions of dollars to move it to his district.
The authority announced last week that it was considering six landfills in the South in which to deposit 3.5 million cubic yards of the toxin-laden byproduct from the old Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis, Tennessee. Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity.
One site considered is in Bishopville, The Associated Press reported last weekend. After Sen. Thomas McElveen read the story, he scrambled to write a bill that would make it too expensive to move the ash to his district.
"There's been a history of folks coming into rural counties like this and dumping some of the worst stuff in the world," said McElveen, a Democrat from Sumter.
McElveen's bill would charge $30 a ton to anyone bringing coal ash to any landfill in South Carolina outside of the state's 12 most populous counties.
The TVA would have to pay about $140 million to move the ash under the proposal, which if it isn't enough to knock South Carolina off the list should be enough to protect nearby residents and the environment, McElveen said.
"Eventually the landfill closes down and the economic investment and the jobs go away. We get stuck with what's left," McElveen said. "And coal ash is some of the worst stuff you can find."
The bill passed a Senate subcommittee less than two hours after it was proposed Thursday.
Other sites under consideration are in Shelby County, Tennessee; Robinsonville, Mississippi; Uniontown, Alabama; and Mauk, Georgia.
The TVA estimates it would cost $300 million and take 10 years to remove the ash from the Memphis plant.
The authority said in an environmental impact report that it wants to remove the ash from the closed plant so the site can be developed and to lessen risks to the environment.
The TVA, which provides power to more than 10 million people in parts of seven Southern states, has recently come under scrutiny for its handling of coal ash.
In 2017, high levels of arsenic and other toxins were found in monitoring wells at Allen, igniting fears that the aquifer that supplies Memphis' drinking water could become tainted.
Testing has since deemed the public water supply unaffected. But a report released by the utility also showed a connection between the shallow aquifer where toxins were found and the deeper Memphis Sand Aquifer that provides the city's slightly sweet-tasting drinking water.
The TVA said it published ads in newspapers informing residents that their community had been named by the utility, but McElveen said almost no one had heard about it before the article.
The TVA report had no public comments from South Carolina.
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