Press Release | December 29, 2015

Environmental groups oppose delay in state lawsuit over coal ash leaking from TVA’s Gallatin power plant

Gallatin, TN- Environmental groups oppose a motion to indefinitely delay a state lawsuit against TVA over decades of toxic coal ash pollution from its Gallatin power plant along the Cumberland River upstream of Nashville, TN.  

Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association (TSRA) and the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN), filed opposition to the agreed temporary injunction between the state of Tennessee and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which calls for a duplicative study of the well-documented coal ash pollution and would allow for unlimited delay in halting the ongoing contamination of groundwater and the Cumberland River. 

“With decades of studies already conducted by TVA that show its continuing, illegal pollution, this maneuver can only be seen as an attempt to delay necessary cleanup,” said Beth Alexander, Senior Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center. 

TVA’s previous failure to comply with TDEC’s orders regarding coal ash casts doubts on the strength of this agreement with the state. Last August Tennessee Department for Environment and Conservation (TDEC) ordered TVA to provide its coal ash management plans and relevant environmental data. The deadline was not enforced by TDEC and TVA has yet to provide the requested information.   

After years of inaction by TDEC to stop TVA’s ongoing coal ash pollution, these environmental groups served a 60-day Notice of Intent on November 10, 2014  to bring a lawsuit in federal court against TVA for violations of the Clean Water Act at the Gallatin site. The state was prompted by the Notice of Intent to Sue to file its own lawsuit in state court. On January 7, 2015, the State of Tennessee and  TDEC filed suit against TVA for coal ash pollution from the Gallatin power plant in violation of the Tennessee Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act of 1977. The environmental groups subsequently moved to intervene in the state lawsuit because their interests were not adequately represented by the state in light of its historic neglect to stop the long-term contamination.

“This is yet another shiftless attempt by the state’s environmental agency to protect water quality in Tennessee. This sweetheart deal allows TVA to take its time to comply while pollution continues apace,” said Renée Victoria Hoyos of Tennessee Clean Water Network. “The time for studying this problem is over. We have known for years the problems at the Gallatin Plant and they need to be fixed.”    

In the state’s complaint, TDEC confirmed that TVA has reported to the agency at least ten unpermitted and illegal seeps from its coal ash ponds. TDEC also alleged that groundwater around the Gallatin site was contaminated at levels exceeding state health standards. Contrary to the evidence it has already brought forward in the lawsuit, the state is now letting TVA bypass any meaningful action by allowing it to indefinitely study the problem further. 

Last October, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) also conducted its own water testing, at the request of the conservation groups, which showed that hexavalent chromium was detected in two private drinking water wells near the Gallatin power plant and in the Cumberland River at the City of Gallatin water intake at levels above the EPA Risk-Based Screening Level.

“This is a bad deal for the Cumberland River and for over 1 million people downstream from TVA’s coal ash pollution who rely upon the river for drinking water and various outdoor activities,” said James Woodall of Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association.  

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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 nearly 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.SouthernEnvironment.org