Press Release | April 14, 2015

Conservation Groups File Lawsuit Against TVA Over Coal Ash Pollution at Gallatin Plant

Gallatin, TN – Today the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association (TSRA) and the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN), to end decades of coal ash pollution from Tennessee Valley Authority’s Gallatin Fossil Plant into surrounding waterways, including the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake upstream from Nashville, TN.

Last November, the conservation groups filed a notice of intent to file a citizens’ suit against TVA for violations of the Clean Water Act. In response to the notice, the State of Tennessee brought a civil enforcement action under Tennessee law against TVA stating under oath that TVA has been and continues to violate the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act and the Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Act. The conservation groups have intervened in the state’s enforcement action and now bring this federal lawsuit to address multiple ongoing violations of the federal Clean Water Act that will not be addressed by the state enforcement action.

Before the state responded to the conservation groups’ notice of intent to sue, the state of Tennessee had not taken any enforcement action as a result of illegal discharges into the Cumberland River despite years of evidence that TVA had contaminated the Cumberland River and groundwater in violation of state and federal law and its permit for coal ash disposal. In recent years, TVA’s Inspector General has issued reports stating that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) should have initiated an enforcement action against TVA requiring it to initiate corrective measures.

The Commissioner of Tennessee Department of Conservation (TDEC), Robert Martineau, who represented TVA as legal counsel when he was in private practice, recently stated in a media interview that TDEC initiated its enforcement proceeding in state court because TVA would “rather deal with us than a federal judge.”

“We want to ensure that TVA stops its ongoing pollution of the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake and move the toxic coal ash to a safer location away from waterways,” said Anne Davis, Managing Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center. “Over 1 million people in the Nashville area depend on the Cumberland River for clean drinking water. TVA’s continued illegal discharge of toxins and its failure to clean up the decades of prior contamination puts our communities at risk.”

The groups contend that Gallatin’s coal ash ponds located adjacent to the Cumberland River hold over fifty-five years of coal ash waste in unlined, unprotected pits. Coal ash waste is widely known to contain harmful pollutants, including heavy metals that can cause harm to human health and the environment. Known pollutants exceeding federal safety levels at the Gallatin site include arsenic, mercury, cadmium, and lead. In some cases, the amounts of pollutants tested at the site are hundreds of thousands of times what is legally allowed.

The Cumberland River provides drinking water for 1.2 million residents downstream from these leaking coal ash pits in the Nashville area. The City of Gallatin lists TVA’s power plant as a primary threat to its drinking water supply, which is withdrawn from the Cumberland River less than one and one-half miles downstream of the leaking coal ash pits. In addition, independent testing suggests that private drinking wells within a mile of the Gallatin facility have been contaminated by the coal ash operations at the plant.

“Six years after the largest coal ash spill in the country occurred at Kingston, TVA is still cleaning up that disaster,” said Stephanie Durman, Attorney at Tennessee Clean Water Network. “We can’t wait any longer for TVA to clean up the coal ash contamination that has been happening every day for decades at the Gallatin plant.”

“This is a necessary step to ensure that TVA takes action to be a responsible steward of the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake. We want to ensure that these beloved locations for outdoor activities are protected from harmful pollution for generations to come,” said James Woodall, President of Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association.

Coal ash ponds from power plants line the banks of nearly every major river in the Southeast, and SELC is partnering with conservation groups throughout the region to protect communities and the environment from the dangers of coal ash pollution. Following lawsuits by SELC, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper are moving all wet coal ash stored in South Carolina to safer, dry, lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes. In North Carolina, SELC represents various groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits against Duke Energy, which is currently facing state and federal charges and has recently agreed to clean up four of its leaking coal ash sites in the state. In addition, SELC has filed suit against Dominion Virginia Power over coal ash pits contaminating the Elizabeth River.

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About Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of about 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SoutherEnvironment.org

About Tennessee Clean Water Network:

Tennessee Clean Water Network is a nonprofit organization created to advocate for strong policies and programs that result in more effective protection and restoration of Tennessee’s waters and to educate organizations, decision-makers and the public about important water resource issues. www.tcwn.org

About Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association:

The Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association (TSRA) is a volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation, protection and restoration of the scenic, free-flowing rivers of our state. Based in Nashville, Tennessee, the organization has approximately 1,000 members across the state and the south. www.PaddleTSRA.org