Environmentalists threaten to sue over Gallatin plant

Posted in: Ground Water News, US Water News, Water Contamination, Water dispute
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(Photo credit: Larry McCormack / File / THE TENNESSEAN )

Article courtesy of Stacey Barchenger, sbarchenger@tennessean.com | November 10, 2014 | The Tennessean | Shared as educational material

Conservation groups have filed initial paperwork to sue the Tennessee Valley Authority, contending that harmful pollutants have been seeping from 55-year-old coal ash storage ponds at the Gallatin power plant and into drinking water.

The groups say that TVA violated the Clean Water Act by allowing pollutants such as arsenic and cadmium into the Cumberland River and other surface and groundwater sources near the coal-fired power plant.

“The contamination levels in the groundwater that TVA has been sampling are striking, many times above drinking water standards,” said Anne Davis, managing attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Nashville office. “And it’s been going on for a long time.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center on Monday notified TVA, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its intent to sue on behalf of the Tennessee Clean Water Network and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association.

Davis said the action gives TVA 60 days to fix the problems or for TDEC or EPA to take enforcement action. If there are no fixes, the lawsuit will proceed.

Scott Brooks, a spokesman for TVA, said he could not discuss specifics of pending lawsuits. He did highlight TVA’s plans to convert storage of coal ash from wet to dry storage, a far safer way to handle the material. Coal ash is the byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity.

“Environmental stewardship is one of TVA’s top priorities,” he said by email. “In addition to this ash conversion process, we are investing $1 billion to install clean air technology at Gallatin.”

TVA is amid a five-year effort to significantly cut mercury, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions. Those pollutants can cause respiratory and other health problems.

The improvements come after TVA, a federal agency, agreed to resolve longstanding disputes over the pollution emitted by its plants. TVA entered into an agreement with the EPA, four states and three environmental groups to lower its emissions to meet new requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.

The Gallatin plant burns 13,000 tons of coal a day and produces enough electricity to power the equivalent of 300,000 homes.

Despite those efforts, conservation groups say TVA has not done enough to curb pollutants. They have now threatened legal action.

“Even though the EPA made it clear that the Gallatin plant poses a hazard to the surrounding communities, TVA has not yet acted to make the fixes the agency recommended, leaving us all at risk,” Davis said. “We know these coal ash pits are leaking harmful toxins into our water. It can’t go on another day.”

Reach Stacey Barchenger at 615-726-8968 and on Twitter @sbarchenger.

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