Conservation groups have filed a legal challenge to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on the grounds that TVA violated the National Environmental Policy Act when the federal power company finalized its plan to spend more than one billion dollars to retrofit the Gallatin Fossil Plant, a coal-fired power plant near Nashville. The Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, Tennessee Environmental Council, Sierra Club, and Center for Biological Diversity are represented by Earthjustice and Southern Environmental Law Center in the suit. The Gallatin Fossil Plant is more than fifty years old and is one of the largest sources of air and water pollution in the state. If TVA’s plans move forward, the coal-fired power plant will continue to pollute for decades to come.
Gallatin Fossil Plant. (TVA)
“In its haste to spend more than one billion dollars of customer money to prop up an obsolete coal plant, TVA violated the law,” said Louise Gorenflo, Beyond Coal chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. “There is too much at stake for the Sierra Club and our partners to sit back and do nothing. The health and wellbeing of Tennessee’s families, environment, and economy are at risk. That’s why it is so important that TVA follow the law when making such important decisions.”
To build the project, TVA would clear cut a forested Wildlife Management Area on Old Hickory Lake, replacing it with hundred-foot tall landfills of hazardous coal ash. TVA’s plans will require the popular Cumberland River Aquatic Center to relocate; the Center is one of the world’s most successful hatcheries of endangered freshwater mussels. Finally, by choosing to invest in an aging coal facility, TVA will increase costs for consumers over decades.
“Before filing today’s challenge, these groups have used every other available option to urge TVA to comply with its legal obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act,” said Nathan Moore, an attorney with Southern Environmental Law Center’s Tennessee office. “From formal written comments, to letters to TVA’s staff and board, to a public appeal at TVA’s March board meeting, these groups have pressed TVA to take a hard look at the environmental and economic consequences of this proposal before making a costly decision that poses significant threats to the health and welfare of Tennesseans.”
The conservation groups involved in the suit have repeatedly called on TVA to switch to cleaner power sources, including energy efficiency, rather than sinking a billion dollars into its plan, but TVA refused to analyze other options and failed to include the public in its decision-making process. The lawsuit charges that TVA’s failure to consider other options and involve the public violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the nation’s bedrock environmental law.
"The decision to spend more than a billion dollars on a coal plant is a lost opportunity to invest in the clean energy solutions of the future,” said Abigail Dillen, an attorney with Earthjustice, co-counsel on the case. “There is a choice here between helping and harming the environment, and TVA is making that choice without the benefit of meaningful environmental analysis. This case is about ensuring better decision making that takes advantage of lower cost, healthier alternatives to coal."
TVA has chosen to pursue its plans to spend more than $1 billion in spite of clear public opposition to the plan. Public Policy Polling conducted a poll of 600 Tennessee voters in February that found 73% of voters surveyed preferred TVA investing in an energy efficiency program to meet customers’ energy needs, rather than spending more than one billion dollars to keep the Gallatin coal plant running past its prime. In addition, thousands of Tennesseans signed petitions and hundreds of Nashville area residents attended the People’s Public Hearing in February, calling on TVA to reconsider its decision. TVA did not hold a public meeting to gather input from Tennessee residents and TVA ratepayers.
“My concerns are if there’s “No Significant Impact” from the TVA Coal Plant retrofit, then why is the Wildlife Management Area being closed to store waste? With TVA embracing renewable energy, why are we spending a billion dollars to refit an outdated, fossil fuel plant when this money could be spent on up-to-date technology that leaves minimal impact on our environment?” asked Charlie Wilkerson, president of the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association.
“Tennessee is home to more kinds of freshwater fish and mussels than almost anywhere in the world. TVA’s reckless decision to continue to burn coal puts these endangered species and the health of human communities at risk,” said Tierra Curry, conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Our natural resources form the backbone of Tennessee’s economy, quality of life, and heritage. We must work to ensure that decisions concerning the future of Tennessee citizens are not made lightly.” said Kelly Poole, an attorney with the Tennessee Environmental Council.
The Southern Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice filed the groups’ complaint in the federal district court in Nashville on Thursday morning. If the complaint is successful, TVA must finally fairly weigh the options before it rather than plowing ahead with its massive investment in the fifty four year-old Gallatin plant.