A house surrounded by coal ash from the 2008 spill. (Photo by United Mountain Defense.)

A federal judge ruled today that the Tennessee Valley Authority is liable for the 2008 coal-ash spill that dumped thick sludge across a community in eastern Tennessee, destroying three homes. From WATE.com:

U.S. District Judge Thomas Varlan said in a ruling issued Thursday morning that “TVA is liable for the ultimate failure of North Dike which flowed, in part, from TVA’s negligent nondiscretionary conduct.” …

The focus of the litigation is the spill that sent 5.4 million cubic yards of coal fly ash from TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant into nearby homes, farmland and the Emory River on December 22, 2008 after a storage dike failed.

The litigation involves more than 60 cases and more than 800 plaintiffs. They have sued over claims of damage to their property and their health. Judge Varlan heard three weeks of testimony in the case during September and October 2011.

“People have been harmed through the actions of TVA, in some cases irreparably,” one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Nashville-based Beth Alexander, said in a statement. “TVA did its best to avoid financial responsibility for the harm it has done, but there was no merit or justification for it to be given such extraordinary protection. TVA spent millions of dollars in legal fees fighting to be cleared of responsibility for what they did wrong instead of compensating the people whose property was damaged.”

Coal ash is a by-product of coal-fired power production. In 2010, the EPA proposed a rule to regulate its disposal; that rule is being contested in the courts.

The second phase of the lawsuit will allow plaintiffs to demonstrate the damage they incurred for eventual restitution. The full ruling can be seen here.