News | June 13, 2019

TVA announces big coal ash clean up after being sued by state and SELC

Millions of tons of coal ash will be moved out of unlined leaking pits upriver of Nashville thanks to a settlement announced today. The State of Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and two public interest conservation groups entered into a pair of settlement agreements with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to resolve a state lawsuit alleging TVA’s ongoing violation of state laws protecting clean water at the Gallatin Fossil Plant.

In November 2014, on behalf of the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN) and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association (TSRA), SELC sent TVA a 60-day notice letter, which is required before bringing suit under the federal Clean Water Act. The notice letter alleged that TVA had been violating environmental protection laws for decades at its coal-fired Gallatin Fossil Plant by polluting groundwater as well as the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake from leaking, unlined coal ash pits. This letter prompted state officials, in January 2015, to sue TVA for violations of state environmental laws. SELC intervened in the case on behalf of TCWN and TSRA.

Under the settlement, TVA will be required to dig up the majority of the coal ash it stores in the leaking manmade, unlined pits at Gallatin (approximately 12 million cubic yards of ash). Based on the settlement terms, this ash will be removed and either recycled or placed into a permitted landfill.

“After years of tireless advocacy by our clients, Tennessee Clean Water Network and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, we’re pleased to have been able to work with the State of Tennessee to achieve a resolution that will safely remove and clean up coal ash from TVA’s leaking, unlined pits at Gallatin,” said Amanda Garcia, Managing Attorney for SELC’s Tennessee office. “This case has helped to protect the Cumberland River, a precious resource for our drinking water and recreation in Middle Tennessee.”  

The settlement also requires TVA to comply with a newly-issued administrative order at a second, smaller storage facility on-site at Gallatin, which contains about 2 million cubic yards of coal ash. Under the administrative order, TVA will have five years to develop a plan and demonstrate it can correct groundwater pollution in this area of the power plant. TDEC will then select a remedy to address impacts from coal ash, such as any remaining groundwater pollution.

The Gallatin plant sits on a bend in the Cumberland River northeast of Nashville.

“For years, we’ve been working to hold TVA accountable and safeguard waters impacted by the Gallatin Plant,” said Kathy Hawes, Executive Director of TCWN. “This agreement requires TVA to excavate the majority of coal ash at its Gallatin coal plant and so takes the first step toward cleaning up and protecting Tennessee’s waterways for communities that rely on these resources for fishing, boating, swimming, and clean drinking water.”

If the settlement is approved, the public will be invited to provide feedback on the specifics of TVA’s plan to correct on-site contamination at Gallatin from both storage facilities. TSRA and TCWN will also continue to monitor implementation of the settlement throughout the course of the excavation and future coal ash cleanup at the facility.  

“The settlement reached today is a prime example of the difference we can make as citizen advocates to protect our state’s waterways, but there is more work to be done,” said Gary Weatherford, President of the Board of Directors for TSRA. “We intend to continue to hold TVA responsible as it pursues the appropriate actions needed to safely remove this pollution.”

TVA has a legacy of coal ash pollution that stretches across the Valley, threatening the health and safety of local communities. This case alleged that for nearly 60 years TVA dumped coal ash in the cheapest, most primitive way possible at its Gallatin Fossil Plant, discarding toxic ash in unlined, leaking pits on the banks of the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake. Multiple unlined, leaking coal ash pits at the Gallatin site release a variety of toxic pollutants into Tennessee waterways, including arsenic and boron, according to the complaint against TVA.

The amount of coal ash that TVA agreed to excavate under this settlement is larger than seven of the nine unlined coal ash pits that North Carolina directed Duke Energy to excavate recently in North Carolina.