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Utility to remove coal ash in Tenn.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The utility responsible for a massive coal ash spill that destroyed and damaged homes pledged Tuesday to make the affected community “as good, if not better than they were before.”

Environmental regulators also approved the start of dredging to remove ash from the Emory River. Until now, officials have been stabilizing the ash and working on a plan, said Anda Ray, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s top environmental officer.

About 5.4 million cubic feet of coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal to make electricity, breached an earthen retention wall at the Kingston Fossil Plant about 40 miles west of Knoxville on Dec. 22.

The spill covered 300 acres with grayish, toxic muck, destroyed or damaged 40 homes, and stirred a national debate on regulating ash facilities around the country.

More than 100 environmental groups sent a letter Tuesday to new Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson citing the Tennessee spill and calling for greater oversight.

“The disaster at TVA’s Kingston plant dramatized the need for federal standards for safe disposal of these wastes, which are virtually unregulated by EPA,” the letter said.

Ray said TVA, the nation’s largest public utility and operator of 11 coal-fired plants, would leave such regulation to Congress, but she cautioned the ramifications should be carefully considered because coal provides so much of the nation’s electricity.

TVA is spending $1 million a day on the cleanup, and estimates final recovery may cost $525 million to $825 million.

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