Press Release | January 14, 2016

TVA may face a third lawsuit over toxic coal ash leaking into Cumberland River

Conservation groups file a notice of intent to sue TVA for violations at Cumberland Fossil Plant

Nashville, TN—Today the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), on behalf of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, filed a notice of intent to sue Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in federal court over violations of the Clean Water Act at TVA’s Cumberland Fossil Plant. TVA’s own studies show that over forty years of coal ash waste stored in unlined pits is illegally contaminating groundwater, Wells Creek, and the Cumberland River with harmful pollutants. 

TVA is already a defendant in two lawsuits over the contamination of the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake with toxic coal ash pollution from the Gallatin power plant upstream of Nashville. Last April, SELC filed suit in federal court against TVA on behalf of Tennessee Clean Water Network and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association. These environmental groups are also participating in the lawsuit the state of Tennessee filed against TVA in state court in January 2015 for coal ash pollution from the Gallatin power plant in violation of Tennessee laws. 

TVA’s own reports indicate that it knowingly stored 40 years of toxic coal ash waste at the Cumberland power plant in bedrock known to be fractured and unpredictable and without any type of protective lining.  The utility has years of sampling data that shows that the groundwater beneath the coal ash ponds is polluted with metals in amounts detrimental to living things, and that the contaminated groundwater is connected to Wells Creek and the Cumberland River.  TVA documents admit that these violations should have triggered the state environmental agency to initiate corrective measures. However, to date TVA has taken no action to clean up the contaminated groundwater at the Cumberland plant, and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has not filed any action in court to compel the clean-up. 

“We are doubling down to put an end to decades of coal ash pollution in the Cumberland River since state regulators are not acting to protect people or environment of Tennessee,” said Beth Alexander, Senior Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center. “TVA needs to move all of its coal ash throughout the state to dry, lined storage away from waterways.” 

“Both TVA and TDEC have known about the problem for years and have failed to act,” said Scott Banbury, Conservation Program Coordinator for the Sierra Club's Tennessee Chapter. “The time is now to protect the Cumberland River for all of us who depend on it for drinking water and enjoy it for recreation.”


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.

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