Press Release | November 10, 2014

Conservation Groups File Notice Against Tenn. Valley Auth. Over Coal Ash Pollution at Gallatin Plant

Six years after TVA was involved in largest coal ash spill in the country, groups allege that coal ash at TVA’s Gallatin Plant is leaking into Cumberland River and other drinking water sources

Gallatin, TN – Coal ash ponds at Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Gallatin Fossil Plant have been leaking harmful pollutants into the Cumberland River and surrounding groundwater for decades in violation of the Clean Water Act, charged conservation groups in a notice filed today.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), representing the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, and the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN), sent notice today to the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) of their intentions to bring suit under the Clean Water Act to stop the release of coal ash pollutants, such as arsenic and cadmium, into the Cumberland River and other surface and groundwater sites near the Gallatin Fossil Plant in middle Tennessee.

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, which can cause harm to human health and the environment. Known pollutants exceeding federal safety levels at the Gallatin site include arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, cobalt, mercury, and vanadium. 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 Gallatin, Nashville, Rutherford County, and Williamson County. In fact, the City of Gallatin’s drinking water system withdraws water from the Cumberland River less than one and one-half miles downstream of the Gallatin Plant, and the city lists the Gallatin Plant as a primary threat to its drinking water supply. 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.

The coal ash ponds at Gallatin have already been called a “significant hazard” by the EPA, indicating that a dam failure would cause economic loss, environmental damage, or other concerns. Moreover, in 2013, EPA found that some of the earthen dams at the Gallatin Plant were only in “fair” condition and in need of improvement.

The EPA stated that improvements to rectify Gallatin’s shortcomings “should be given the highest priority” given the potential impacts on human health and the environment. “Even though the EPA made it clear that the Gallatin plant poses a hazard to the surrounding communities, TVA has not yet acted to make the fixes the agency recommended, leaving us all still at risk,” said Anne Davis, Managing Attorney at SELC’s Nashville office. “We know these coal ash pits are leaking harmful toxins into our water. It can’t go on another day. It’s time for TVA to remove all of the coal ash and move it to safe facilities away from our water supplies.”

“TVA has known for years that the coal ash ponds at Gallatin are leaking into our rivers and our groundwater,” said Stephanie Durman Matheny, Attorney at Tennessee Clean Water Network. “You would imagine that in the wake of the Kingston spill—which TVA is still cleaning up six years later—it would make sure another disaster on that scale would never happen again. Unfortunately, Gallatin’s leaking coal ash ponds are proof that TVA hasn’t learned its lesson, and we’re the ones who will pay the price if another disaster happens.”

 “The scariest thing about the coal ash ponds at Gallatin is that they hold over two billion gallons of pollutants, meaning a disaster there has the potential to dwarf the Kingston coal ash spill,” said Charlie Wilkerson, President of Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association. “The Kingston disaster, which spilled one billion gallons of coal ash and other pollutants into the Emory and Clinch Rivers, was the single largest coal ash disaster in history—and an accident at Gallatin could be far, far worse.”

Nearly every major river in the Southeast has coal ash ponds from power plants on its banks, 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 the Southern Environmental Law Center, two of the three utilities in the Carolinas—South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper—are removing coal ash from unlined pits near rivers in South Carolina to safer, dry, lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes. In addition, SELC currently represents dozens of groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits to clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites throughout North Carolina.


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.

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.

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.

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