A 2010 file photo from the Tennessee Valley Authority shows the "after" scene of the Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill.
A 2010 file photo from the Tennessee Valley Authority shows the "after" scene of the Kingston Fossil Plant ash spill. - 
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Yesterday a federal judge said the Tennessee Valley Authority is liable for the big sludge spill at its power plant near Knoxville a few years back. Millions of tons of coal ash spilled out of a man-made lake and blanketed nearby rivers and land.

The Kingston spill was bad news for nearby landowners like Steve Scarborough, who had been trying to sell some property upstream.

"My two boys were both in college, and this is how we had saved up money to pay for it," Scarborough said. "And then our property values just fell off a cliff."

Scarborough is one of several hundred people who can now try to hold TVA accountable for damages. The agency will spend more than a billion dollars on cleanup. Footing the bill? Its electric customers.

Stephen Smith heads up the TVA watchdog Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. He notes the disaster has drawn some looks from Congress, but so far no big rule changes for the industry. Smith figures the EPA shares in the blame, for not regulating coal ash.

"We were promised shortly after the Kingston spill that the EPA was going to engage this, and see the regulation that has never been done through to completion, and they've more or less punted on that," Smith said.

Smith doubts yesterday's ruling will do much to spur new regulations. He says the rule-making has become political, and probably won't move much until after the election.

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