Press Release | June 13, 2019

State of Tennessee and Conservation Groups Reach Settlement over Gallatin Coal Ash Pollution

Nashville, TN – 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), the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) sent TVA a 60-day notice letter, which is required prior to bringing suit under the Clean Water Act. The notice letter alleged that TVA had been violating environmental protection laws for decades at its coal-fired Gallatin Fossil Plant in Sumner County by discharging pollution into groundwater along with the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake from leaking, unlined coal ash pits. This letter prompted the State of Tennessee, 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 of these claims, TVA will be required to excavate 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 drinking water and recreation in Middle Tennessee.”   

The settlement also requires TVA to comply with an 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.

“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, and we hope that others will join us as citizen watchdogs.”

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 contain billions of gallons of coal waste which, according to the complaint against TVA, leaches a variety of toxic pollutants into Tennessee waterways, including arsenic and boron. By its terms, the settlement is neither an establishment nor admission of TVA’s liability.

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Southern Environmental Law Center

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region.

Tennessee Clean Water Network

Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit established in 2000 as a grassroots effort to unite environmental advocates, both individuals and organizations, to further the goal of clean water for all Tennesseans. TCWN continues this mission of improving water quality through innovative programs that address specific issues related to safe drinking water, clean water access, healthy communities, and water pollution statewide.

Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association

The Tennessee Scenic Rivers Program is a voluntary community-based partnership intended to preserve and protect the free flowing, unpolluted and outstanding scenic, recreational, geologic, botanical, fish, wildlife, historic or cultural values of selected rivers or river segments in the state, and to promote river safety and improve paddling skills.

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