SELC opposes delay in Tennessee state lawsuit over leaking TVA coal ash

Coal ash lagoons at TVA's Gallatin plant, above, are known to be leaking pollution into the Cumberland River, which provides drinking water for more than 1 million Tennesseans. (© Nancy Pierce/Flight by Southwings)

On Wednesday SELC and partners opposed a motion to indefinitely delay a state lawsuit against Tennessee Valley Authority over decades of toxic coal ash pollution from its Gallatin power plant northeast of Nashville.

SELC’s filing takes issue with the agreed-on temporary injunction between the state of Tennessee and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Rather than move toward quickly stopping the well-documented pollution at Gallatin, the injunction merely calls for unnecessary further study and would allow for unlimited postponement of action.

Last October the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) conducted its own water testing, at the request of conservation groups, which showed that hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, was detected in two private drinking water wells near the Gallatin power plant and in the Cumberland River at the City of Gallatin’s public water intake at levels above the EPA Risk-Based Screening Level.

“With decades of studies already conducted by TVA that show its continuing, illegal pollution, this maneuver can only be seen as an attempt to delay necessary clean up,” said Senior Attorney Beth Alexander.

Aware of the persistent pollution and ongoing inaction by the utility and the state enforcement agency, SELC served a 60-day Notice of Intent in November of 2014 to bring a lawsuit in federal court for TVA’s violations of the Clean Water Act at the Gallatin site. The 60-day notice prompted the state, in January, to file its own lawsuit against TVA in state court for coal ash pollution from the Gallatin plant in violation of Tennessee laws. SELC subsequently moved to intervene in the state lawsuit to ensure citizen and conservation interests were adequately represented.

The case had been quiet since then until the recent state filing. In it, TDEC confirmed that TVA has reported at least ten unpermitted and illegal seeps from its coal ash lagoons at Gallatin and alleged that groundwater around the Gallatin site was contaminated at levels exceeding state health standards.

Contrary to the evidence it has already brought forward in the lawsuit, the state is now letting TVA bypass any meaningful action by allowing it to indefinitely study the problem further.

As Renée Victoria Hoyos of Tennessee Clean Water Network noted, “the time for studying this problem is over. We have known for years about the problems at the Gallatin Plant and they need to be fixed.”   

Coal ash pollution and storage issues are particularly salient in Tennessee, where the nation’s largest-ever coal ash spill occurred at TVA’s Kingston power plant seven years ago. More than 300 acres were inundated with coal ash slurry in that spill.

SELC is representing the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association and the Tennessee Clean Water Network in this case.

 

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