Tennessee Gives Free Pass to Dirty TVA Coal Plant

Environmental groups take legal action to protect clean water


Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice, (212) 791-1881, ext. 8221


Renée Victoria Hoyos, Tennessee Clean Water Network, (865) 522-7007, ext. 100


Josh Galperin, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, (865) 637-6055, ext. 23


Axel C. Ringe, TN Chapter Sierra Club, (865) 397-1840


Abel Russ, Environmental Integrity Project, (202) 263-4453


Michelle Haynes, (615) 452-7500

Community and environmental groups appealed a pollution permit issued to Tennessee Valley Authority ("TVA") for its Gallatin coal-fired power plant to prevent toxic discharges of heavy metals and other harmful waste byproducts of burning coal. The plant’s polluted wastewaters are dumped into unlined ponds that allow pollution to continue to harm the environment.

Gallatin Fossil Plant. (TVA)

In addition to the toxic discharges, Gallatin’s water cooling intake system routinely kills tens of thousands of fish and other aquatic life that become trapped in the structures every year. The group is asking that Gallatin use better technology to protect fish and other aquatic life.

The appeal, filed with the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board, challenges the wastewater discharge permit from the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) based on its failure to include any limits at all on the discharge of toxic metals. EPA, which has recognized that coal plants are among the top dischargers of toxics in the nation, had informed TDEC that these discharge limits were required, but TDEC has refused to set them.

“The water quality of the lake affects me on a daily basis, so I am outraged that the TDEC would allow this plant to discharge toxic pollutants into Old Hickory Lake,” said Michelle Haines, who lives on Old Hickory Lake, adjacent to the Gallatin plant. “I am deeply concerned about myself, my family, our animals, and my community’s health and safety.”

The groups also challenges TDEC’s refusal to impose any permit conditions designed to protect fish. While the Clean Water Act requires coal plants to minimize harm to fish and other aquatic life, the Gallatin Fossil Plant uses an outdated cooling system with water intake structures that suck enormous numbers of fish into the works of the coal plant and kills them.

“Gallatin has polluted Tennessee’s water since the 1950’s. In all that time, TDEC has never seen fit to require modern pollution controls,” said Josh Galperin, with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “While the best way for TVA to stop this pollution is to retire the Gallatin plant and move away from burning dirty coal, they are unfortunately poised to spend nearly $1 billion to extend Gallatin’s life and actually increase the water pollution in this process. TDEC must act expeditiously to enforce strict pollution limits on the toxics this old coal plant dumps into the Cumberland River every day.”

The Tennessee Valley Authority (“TVA”) historically has operated some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants in the country. After years of litigation, TVA recently 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.

“TVA has been polluting water in Tennessee for too long.” said Renée Victoria Hoyos, Executive Director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network. “We need limits on the amount of heavy metals and other pollutants that this old coal plant can dump into the Cumberland River every day. TDEC can set these limits if they want to and we are asking that they do.”

Almost four years ago, its Kingston Fossil Plant spilled over one billion gallons of toxic coal ash, killing nearby fish and wildlife and causing a mudflow wave of water and ash that covered 12 homes. Cleanup of that spill continues today. Weeks later, TVA’s Widows Creek Plant spilled over 10,000 tons of waste into in the Tennessee River in Alabama.

“Even TVA has promised that it is going to stop using these dangerous impoundments for their ash and wastewater, but TDEC has given them a permit that lets them go on with business as usual for another five years,” said Axel C. Ringe, Vice Conservation Chair of the Tennessee Chapter Sierra Club.

“TVA is doing nothing to reduce pollution and nothing to stop daily fish kills, and TDEC giving that do-nothing program its stamp of approval,” said Earthjustice attorney Abigail Dillen. “If TVA wants to keep operating this old plant into the 21st century, it needs to invest in 21st pollution controls.”

Earthjustice represents the Tennessee Clean Water Network, the Sierra Club and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy in the case.

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