From Bloomberg News:

Holly Schean didn’t know what was on the other side of the hill near her parents’ home in Kingston, Tennessee. At 1 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2008, she found out. The earth split and toxic coal ash surged across a finger of the Emory River.

The 5.4-million-cubic-yard torrent from a slurry-filled pond owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority deposited the splintered house 10 yards from its foundation. It relocated a road and a rail line, choked waterways and created a moonscape of mounds residents dubbed “ashbergs.”

The hill “was real pretty,” said Schean, 28. “You never dreamed it was coal-ash pond. You never dreamed it would cause so much madness.”

The disaster prompted President Barack Obama to propose rules for the nation’s 678 such ponds — impoundments holding smokestack ash and water. Now, his coal-ash push is a symbol in the Republican campaign against what the party calls job-killing regulations as presidential candidates challenge the reach of government. The coal-ash regulation is one of six rules under consideration that the administration has said would cost industry more than $1 billion.

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The U.S. had other such spills in the past decade, in Georgia and Pennsylvania, and on Oct. 31 the wall of a Wisconsin coal-ash landfill collapsed into Lake Michigan. The Kingston accident, which will cost the TVA $1.2 billion to clean up, dwarfed them. The amount unleashed was enough to cover nearly 850 football fields to a depth of three feet — including end zones.

Last year, the administration proposed two possible rules for coal ash. The power industry supports one, environmentalists the other.

The first would let states regulate the substance, which contains toxins such as mercury and arsenic, as a nonhazardous solid waste. The second would classify it as hazardous and put the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in charge.

Scott Segal, a power-industry lobbyist with the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm in Washington, said environmentalists and the EPA are exploiting the Kingston disaster.

“They couldn’t get a climate-change bill passed, so they want to diminish the coal industry in an extralegal way,” he said. “The way they do that is by changing its cost structure.”

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