TVA Delays Cleanup of Unlined Leaking Coal Ash Pits with Appeal of a Federal Ruling

Nashville, TN – Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) 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 Southern Environmental Law Center 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."

A federal judge ruled in favor of Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), representing Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association (TSRA) and Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN), citing that TVA violated the Clean Water Act. The lawsuit against TVA proved the Gallatin Fossil Plant is currently polluting the Cumberland River through unlawful discharge of toxins contained in unlined coal ash ponds.

In the decision against TVA, the federal judge ordered the utility excavate and remove 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. In the order the court noted, "It 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.

"TCWN is disappointed TVA has chosen to delay addressing the health hazards of the coal ash at the Gallatin plant by appealing the decision," said Dana Wright, TCWN’s Director of Water Policy. “The coal ash spill at TVA's Kingston Plant has shown that coal ash is full of toxic materials that threaten human and aquatic health. As the judge in the Gallatin case ordered, TVA needs to take immediate action to protect Tennesseans and to protect the drinking water supplies around the Gallatin plant. TVA should comply with the judge's decision and not waste time by appealing the case."

TVA continues to postpone excavation of its coal ash ponds, allowing toxic substances to discharge 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 continues to use delay tactics to avoid following through on orders given by a federal judge," said TSRA Board Member, Don Safer. "Every day that coal ash remains in unlined pits at the Gallatin site adds to the contamination of the Cumberland River and to the risk of those that rely on the river.  The people of Tennessee deserve this win and the right to clean drinking water, safe recreation and a healthy river. TVA needs to finally do the right thing and begin the process of excavating these toxic ponds now."

TVA continues to press back on the time and cost associated with excavating coal ash from the unlined leaking ponds.

"TVA has consistently exaggerated the time and cost of cleanup,” said Alexander. "It needs to stop litigating and get to work cleaning up its 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."

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About The Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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