News | March 30, 2022

TVA sued over refusal to release records about proposed methane gas pipelines

The TVA Allen gas plant in Memphis is one of the authority's already-operating methane gas plants. (Credit: Nancy Pierce)

Last week, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority alleging the federal utility violated the Freedom of Information Act when it refused to release unredacted records relating to its planned construction of methane gas plants and pipelines.

A reckless methane gas expansion

The lawsuit comes as TVA is planning to retire its remaining coal-fired power plants. Instead of replacing them with cheap, clean renewable energy sources, the federal utility is proposing to spend billions on another fossil fuel: methane gas. The proposed plants and pipelines will lock TVA into methane gas for decades and make it practically impossible for the utility to pursue cheaper clean energy options, even as the prices of solar, battery storage, and other renewable technologies continue to fall. This means that ratepayers – who already face some of the highest energy burdens in the country – could be stuck with higher power bills. TVA currently generates just five percent of its power from wind, solar, storage, and energy efficiency.

The plan also includes the construction of 149 miles of methane gas pipelines in East and Middle Tennessee. The two pipelines will cut through Tennessee communities and will leak dangerous, climate-warming methane gas for decades.

Refusing to hand over records

Because of the long-term impacts, it is critically important that TVA fully study the impacts of the proposal and its renewable energy alternatives before making a final decision on how to replace its coal plants. These studies – and the public comment and review periods that follow – are required under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Even though important environmental studies are not complete, TVA entered into contracts called ‘precedent agreements’ with two pipeline companies owned by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan. Those contracts appear to commit TVA to purchase gas from the pipeline infrastructure intended to support the proposed gas plants. That commitment could interfere with TVA’s National Environmental Policy Act requirements to study the proposed gas plants’ impacts and alternatives and allow for public comment before making a decision.

However, TVA heavily redacted the contracts before giving them to SELC. As a result, the full extent of TVA’s obligations to the pipeline companies under the contracts is difficult to determine. SELC’s lawsuit alleges that TVA’s redactions violate the Freedom of Information Act.

“TVA shouldn’t play hide-the-ball in the face of a valid Freedom of Information Act request. Because TVA is a public utility ultimately funded by ratepayers, it should be transparent about its arrangements with methane gas pipeline companies. Ratepayers and the public deserve to know,” Senior Attorney George Nolan said.

Gas threatens Southern people and places.