Protecting Waterways from TVA's Gallatin Coal Plant

In a case with widespread national implications, Earthjustice is seeking to stop toxic discharges of heavy metals and other harmful waste products from the unlined ash ponds at the Gallatin coal plant into local waterways. Additionally, Earthjustice is challenging Gallatin to update its water-cooling intake system, which kills tens of thousands of fish every year.

Case Overview

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) historically has operated some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. After years of litigation, TVA entered into a settlement that requires installation of modern air pollution controls, but the utility has not yet addressed its major water pollution and waste problems.

In 2008, its Kingston Fossil Plant spilled more than one billion gallons of toxic coal ash, killing nearby fish and wildlife and causing a mudflow wave of water and ash that buried 12 homes. Cleanup of that spill continued more than five years after the spill. Weeks after the Kingston spill, TVA’s Widows Creek Plant spilled over 10,000 tons of waste into the Tennessee River in Alabama.

Its Gallatin coal plant is a similar disaster in waiting. The plant’s cooling apparatus kills tens of thousands of fish and other aquatic life every year. Additionally, the plant is dumping toxic wastewater—full of chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems—into unlined ponds. The ponds do not provide effective treatment for the toxic metals that are dissolved in the wastewater and are at risk both for leeching into groundwater reserves and for spilling into the local environment.

Earthjustice is appealing the plant’s wastewater discharge permit, which was issued by the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC), based on its failure to include any limits at all on the discharge of toxic metals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which has recognized that coal plants are among the top dischargers of toxics in the nation, informed TDEC that these discharge limits were required, but TDEC has refused to set them.

The TVA Gallatin Fossil Plant.
The TVA Gallatin Fossil Plant. The plant’s polluted wastewaters are dumped into unlined ponds that allow pollution to continue to harm the environment. (Tennessee Valley Authority Photo)

Case Updates

December 20, 2013 Press Release

On 5th Anniversary of Coal Ash Spill, TVA Quietly Abandons A Promise

Plans to convert to safer coal ash disposal at all TVA power plants now seemingly in limbo

July 2, 2012 Press Release

Tennessee Gives Free Pass to Dirty TVA Coal Plant

Environmental groups take legal action to protect clean water

July 2, 2012 document

Gallatin/TVA Appeal Petition