Bloomberg Business Week
TVA chief trying to avoid deposition in ash spill
March 25, 2010, 5:20PM ET
Attorneys for hundreds of people suing the Tennessee Valley Authority over a massive coal ash spill asked a federal magistrate Thursday to force the utility's top executive to answer their questions in a deposition.
Nearly a dozen plaintiffs' attorneys at the hearing contend that TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore may have had opportunities to avert the December 2008 spill, based on a report by the TVA's Office of Inspector General.
TVA attorneys told U.S. Magistrate Bruce Guyton that Kilgore shouldn't have to give a deposition, since he wasn't directly involved until after the spill at TVA's Kingston Plant west of Knoxville.
Guyton did not immediately rule but set an April 18 deadline for TVA attorneys to file a supplement to Kilgore's statement about his role with the TVA Enterprise Risk Council.
TVA has projected the ongoing cleanup of 5.4 million cubic yards of ash that breached an earthen dike, flowed into the Emory River and surrounding landscape will cost $1.2 billion. The utility expects to continue dredging the arsenic- and mercury-laced ash from the river until late spring and will work on the remaining spill area for several years.
"He (Kilgore) is in this up to his neck," said Jeff Friedman, an attorney for several of the litigants seeking damages. "He approved expenses or refused to make expenses to fix the dike."
Photo by John L. Wathen
Plaintiff attorneys have also said in court filings that they have a right to question what Kilgore learned when he arrived at the spill and whether he could have had any "forewarning that the disaster was likely or imminent."
TVA attorney Ed Small told Guyton that the request to depose Kilgore is too broadly based. Small said Kilgore, the utility's president and CEO since 2005, was not with the nation's largest utility when the ash pond structures were designed.
"His connection to the facility (in Kingston) is no more than his connection to the facility in Paducah, Kentucky," Small told the court.
TVA attorneys also said a deposition by Kilgore would be premature because the court hasn't ruled on the utility's motion to dismiss claims for punitive damages.
Nineteen TVA employees have already given depositions.
TVA has nearly 9 million consumers in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.