TVA delays cleanup of unlined leaking coal ash pits with appeal of federal ruling

The geology of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Gallatin plant makes it particularly prone to contamination because of the site’s porous karst terrain and its proximity to the Cumberland River. (© Nancy Pierce/Flight by Southwing)

Tennessee Valley Authority filed an appeal today after a federal court ruled against the utility in August for allowing coal ash contamination of clean water at its Gallatin Fossil Plant. TVA wants the court order requiring it to dig up the coal ash and move it to dry lined storage to be thrown out.

"We believe the right decision was already made in this case,” said Senior Attorney Beth Alexander. “TVA should do the responsible thing for Tennesseans and abide by the judge’s ruling to move this toxic coal ash to dry, lined storage. The federal utility has already spent years polluting our drinking water sources and this case proved it with scientific evidence."

In the August decision, a federal judge ruled in favor of SELC, representing Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association and Tennessee Clean Water Network, citing that TVA violated the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit against TVA proved its Gallatin Fossil Plant is currently polluting the Cumberland River through unlawful discharge of toxins contained in unlined coal ash ponds.

The federal judge ordered the utility excavate and remove the coal ash from all of its leaking coal ash ponds. The order noted that, as long as coal ash remained at the site, there would continue to be dangers associated with toxic pollutants contaminating Tennessee’s clean waters. The court noted, “[i]t is difficult to imagine why anyone would choose to build an unlined ash waste pond in karst terrain immediately adjacent to a river. While the decision to build the Ash Pond Complex is in the past, the consequences of that decision continue today, and it now falls on the Court to address them. The way to do so is not to cover over those decades-old mistakes, but to pull them up by their roots. TVA, as the entity responsible for the ponds, must be the entity to do so.”

For nearly 60 years TVA dumped coal ash in the cheapest way possible, discarding it in unlined pits covering 1,000 acres on the banks of the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake. The Gallatin site’s multiple unlined, leaking coal ash ponds hold more than 2.5 billion gallons of coal waste leaching a variety of toxic substances into Tennessee waterways, including arsenic, iron, aluminum, manganese, and lead.

TVA continues to postpone excavation of its coal ash ponds, pushing back on the time and cost associated with excavating coal ash from the unlined leaking ponds. The delays allow toxic substances to continue discharging into Tennessee’s clean waterways. More than 1 million people live downstream from the Gallatin Fossil Plant, and rely on the Cumberland River for drinking water and recreational activities.

“TVA has consistently exaggerated the time and cost of cleanup,” said Alexander.  “It needs to stop litigating and get to work cleaning up its coal ash pollution of the Cumberland River. We can’t afford any more delay. Recent test results confirm that contamination levels at the site are even worse than first projected. If TVA was going to move the coal ash regardless, it's unclear why the federal utility would want the court's order reversed.”
 

Learn more about SELC's coal ash work

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