Federal Water Tap, August 27: Coal Ash Liability and Water-Energy in Congress

A federal judge ruled that the Tennessee Valley Authority, a utility owned by the U.S. government, is responsible for a spill in 2008 of toxic waste from a coal-fired power plant. The Associated Press reports that in the next phase of the case, the judge will determine compensation for each of the more than 800 plaintiffs. The TVA estimates that cleaning up the spill, which happened in eastern Tennessee and fouled tributaries of the Tennessee River, will cost US$1.2 billion.

Water-Energy in Congress
Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, released a report on the connections between water use and energy production. The report is, in the main, a compendium of statistics from federal agencies, news reports and academic scientists. To loosen the water-energy knot, the report recommends developing water-free renewable energy such as wind and photovoltaic solar, improving the efficiency of existing systems, exploring new financing models, and using alternative water sources—like recycled wastewater—and new technologies.

Despite greater awareness of the water-energy connections, bills addressing the problem have stalled in this Congress. Legislation has been introduced in both the House (the Energy and Water Research Integration Act) and the Senate (the Energy and Water Integration Act), but neither bill has moved beyond committee.

A New Water Bill
Speaking at the water utility for the state’s largest city, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said that he would introduce legislation that would create a federal loan program for drinking water and sewer projects. Modeled after a similar program for transportation projects, the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act would lower the cost of borrowing for utilities. A member of the senator’s staff told Circle of Blue that the bill would be introduced this fall once Congress returns from its summer break.

Water, Drought, Power
This summer, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has allowed power plants to dump almost 100-degree water into lakes and rivers when state law limits discharged water to 90 degrees. The hot water potentially threatens fish already stressed by the heat and drought, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Industry representatives said they they have to release the hot water to keep up with soaring energy demand from air conditioners in one of the hottest summers on record. A Natural Resources Defense Council director said power plants are already producing more energy than Illinois needs, so they should power down to protect fish and other river critters.

Oil Shale/Tar Sands Comments
Public comments submitted for the comprehensive environmental review of oil shale and tar sands development in the western U.S. are available for browsing. Comments are indexed by organization and by name.

Crop Studies
Using a host of climate and crop models, scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that no-till farming, a technique in which the soil is not disturbed between plantings, helped maintain yields in the face of rising temperatures and disrupted precipitation patterns. However, even this advantage was lost as the changes became more extreme—above an 8 degree Fahrenheit average increase.

Clean Water Act
Boston’s water and sewer utility will inspect and monitor its stormwater sewer system to reduce illegal discharges under a court agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and state regulators. The utility will also pay a US$235,000 civil penalty and use green infrastructure to reduce stormwater flows.

Global Waters
The U.S. Agency for International Development has published its periodic newsletter that describes the agency’s activities abroad. This issue looks at sanitation in Senegal, the state of global fisheries, and a water institute in Ethiopia.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

Andrew Maddocks, a Washington D.C.-based reporter for Circle of Blue, contributed to this report.

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