TVA is a public utility–that means we the people own it, and it’s responsible to us, right?
TVA takes our welfare seriously, can be depended on to do reliable monitoring of any potential pollution it creates, and therefore should have no objections to any third-party verification of those results, right?
Our District Attorneys are public servants–that is, they defend the public good when it is violated by private interests, right?
Wrong, Jack, wrong on all three counts. United Mountain Defense volunteer Matt Landon found that out when he was arrested for trespassing on newly-purchased TVA land, even though the residents (and former owners) had given him permission to be there. It just so happens that he was on this land to check on air monitoring equipment that UMD had set up there, near the Kingston coal ash spill. This was not an informal arrangement; UMD had entered into a legal, contractual agreement with the landowner to monitor air quality. In a truly Orwellian turn, TVA had forbidden the former landowner from informing Landon that TVA had purchased the property. In other words, TVA was acting to entrap Mr. Landon.
It seems to me that any District Attorney who took his “public servant” designation seriously would tell TVA to get lost for this kind of corporate bullying, but NOOOO! DA Russell Johnson was only too happy to kiss TVA’s fat, well-funded corporate ass. His office threatened Landon with a year in jail…for putting up an air monitor. Gag me with a spoon, folks, does it get any plainer than this?
Landon wisely demanded a pre-trial hearing instead of knuckling under, and got a plea bargain offer in return: some of the charges would be dropped, and he could plead guilty to the rest and just pay a fine. “Guilty” of setting up and maintaining an air monitor where he believed he had every right to do so? Again, he said “no way,” and got another plea bargain offer. In his words:
…for the next six months I cannot travel on the Clinch or Emory River from Interstate 40 to mile marker 4 on the Emory River. I cannot enter the 750 foot elevation (100 year flood plain) near these two rivers. I cannot interact with any TVA employees or any other company workers employed by TVA to work on the Coal Ash Disaster. The $3,000 bond will be held for the next six months until a follow up trial date of Sept 21, 2009 at which time I will have to pay court costs of nearly $600. If at any time I break any of these clauses I will be pulled back into court and all bets are off probably meaning jail time.
On advice of his public defender, Matt took this deal. After all, it shouldn’t be that hard to find somebody else to do what he has been doing, and anyway TVA’s hostile attitude about independent monitoring indicts itself.
Fortunately, UMD is not the only outfit keeping an eye on TVA. Appalachian Voices, a group dedicated to “protecting our mountain heritage,” used the very modern technology of GPS to precisely locate TVA’s own monitoring sites, and found an easy explanation for why TVA kept coming up with such “reassuring” results. In the words of Appalachian Voices spokeswoman Donna Lisenby,
“You can skew the data by putting testing points in odd locations, such as behind a sandbar or far upriver away from the spill. The GPS locations show that that is what the TVA has been doing.”
Bob Gadinski, a former hydrologist for the state of Pennsylvania, concurred, saying…”TVA isn’t interested in properly mapping the contaminants in that river,” and that ” the locations were intentionally biased for nonsignificance.”
Hey, TVA’s got a bottom line to protect…oops, sorry, it’s government owned, well, hey the gov has gotten adept at CYA’ing, after all, it’s not like it has to be responsible to us little people, is it?
A government agency run amuck (literally!), a district attorney more than happy to help defend them against public scrutiny. This is why we need a strong, viable Green Party here in Tennessee. It’s not just about statewide and national races, or even the state legislature. Local toadies like Russell Johnson should be challenged, repeatedly if necessary, by witty, well-informed opponents with a broad base in the community. Victory is not going to come overnight, but as long as we’re still coherent enough to be holding elections, it’s not too late to begin. Volunteers?