The response from Tennessee's governor Phil Bredesen, 9 days after the huge wave of toxic coal sludge poured into the Tennessee Valley, is encouraging. He's calling for greater participation and independent oversight on how TVA works and how they handle toxic waste:
"You get a sense of how big, how terrifying, it must have been."
While the TVA handles the cleanup and workers from state environmental and health agencies monitor for signs of short-term or long-term danger, Bredesen called for a much more aggressive role for the state in future environmental monitoring.
The governor called for inspections of all of TVA's retention ponds and a thorough review of state environmental regulations, with an eye toward taking back some of the responsibilities it may have ceded to federal authorities. Right now, for example, TVA inspects its own facilities. That could change, he said.
"TVA is a federal agency, and over the years there may have been an exaggerated deference paid to federal agencies," he said, noting that many of the state's environmental regulations were written in the 1970s."
And he was smart enough by Dec. 31st to make sure his presence and complaints were aired on CNN, via the local Knoxville TV station WVLT. (Several videos of the press conference are on the site.) UPDATE: Christian at NashvilleIsTalking has the video and full transcript of the press conference.
It is most fortunate that the area is not heavily populated, or I am sure there would have been fatalities at the scene. Still, the damage done has altered the area forever, no matter what clean-up takes place.
Thank god for the bloggers across the state and the region who would not give up their constant efforts to inform Tennesseans and the nation about this massive toxic disaster. They made sure the press got involved, and the press helped put pressure on state and national leaders. Much remains to be done, but if the promises are kept, millions of Americans could be safer than they are today.