TVA refuses to disclose water quality data from leaking Gallatin coal ash site

TVA's Gallatin plant sits at a bend in the Cumberland River, upstream from Nashville, where leaks in its coal ash storage allow for ongoing pollution of the river, which serves as the capital city's water supply. (© Nancy Pierce/Flight by Southwings)

The Tennessee Valley Authority is refusing to turn over data showing that groundwater wells at the Gallatin Coal Ash plant on the banks of the Cumberland River—Nashville's drinking water supply—exceed maximum contamination levels of the state water quality standards. The Tennessee Attorney General’s office has now demanded TVA turn over the information to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, stating that its refusal to do so is a violation of state law.

Additionally, TVA is withholding information recently discovered by the state that there is a new sinkhole at its unstable Gallatin site where TVA currently stores coal ash in unlined, leaking pits. TVA did not disclose the new sinkhole nor the groundwater well data in recent pretrial filings. The filings were part of a lawsuit brought against TVA in federal court by SELC and conservation groups seeking clean up of TVA’s coal ash sites.

“This blatant act of deception on the part of TVA about its contamination of our water supplies is just one example in a long line of egregious abuses of power and lack of transparency,” said Beth Alexander, Senior Attorney in SELC's Nashville office.

The Gallatin coal ash pollutes groundwater from numerous sinkholes throughout the plant site, sending ash and toxins into the Cumberland River. Experts working on the upcoming federal trial against TVA used the utilities’ own accounting to estimate more than 27 billion gallons of coal ash has leaked from Gallatin’s ash ponds into groundwater and waterways in the past 60 years. Now, with this new undisclosed information from TVA, the contamination from coal ash pollutants could be even higher than previously estimated.

“TVA has a history of ignoring concerns of the communities and people of Tennessee, and polluting our water resources with its coal ash,” said Anne Davis, Managing Attorney of SELC's Nashville office. “The Gallatin plant has been contaminating our water supplies for more than half a century, it’s time we put a stop to TVA’s coal ash pollution.”

TVA also twice attempted to get immunity from civil penalties for violating the Clean Water Act; a request denied by Judge Crenshaw. The trial, where SELC is working with the Tennessee Clean Water Network and representing the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, is scheduled for Monday, January 30 in federal court in Nashville.

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