Groups appeal water permit for TVA’s Gallatin coal plant

Community and environmental groups have appealed a water pollution permit issued to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for its Gallatin coal plant to prevent toxic discharges of heavy metals and other harmful waste byproducts of burning coal, Earthjustice said in a July 2 statement.

The plant’s polluted wastewaters are dumped into unlined ponds that allow pollution to continue to harm the environment, the statement said. 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, Earthjustice said. The groups are asking that Gallatin use better technology to protect fish and other aquatic life.

The appeal, filed July 2 with the Tennessee Water Quality Control Board, challenges the wastewater discharge permit from the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) based on its alleged failure to include any limits 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, had informed TDEC that these discharge limits were required, but TDEC has refused to set them, the statement said.

The groups also challenged 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the Clean Water Act requires coal plants to minimize harm to fish and other aquatic life, the Gallatin plant uses an outdated cooling system with water intake structures that suck enormous numbers of fish into the works of the coal plant and kills them, the groups said.

“Gallatin has polluted Tennessee’s water since the 1950s. 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.”

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

TVA investing heavily to clean up Gallatin emissions

Gallatin has four coal-fired units with a summer net capability of 976 MW. “Through 2011, TVA has spent about $5.4 billion on emissions controls at its fossil-fuel plants to help TVA produce power as cleanly as possible,” said TVA on the Gallatin section of its website. “In support of recent environmental agreements and its vision of being one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost and cleaner energy by 2020, TVA plans to install selective catalytic reduction systems to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions and scrubbers to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions on all four Gallatin units by Dec. 31, 2017.”

TVA said on the website that has already taken a number of steps to make Gallatin as clean as possible:

  • the plant is equipped with electrostatic precipitators that capture coal ash;
  • it uses low-sulfur blend coal to limit emissions of SO2; and
  • low-NOx burners limit the production of NOx.

Said the TVA website about the general issue of water discharges from its power plants: “Like all industries that operate on the Tennessee River, TVA must hold discharge permits under the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. Most of what is discharged into the river by TVA is water that has been heated during the process of generating electricity at coal-fired and nuclear plants. However, release of storm water, sewage and substances produced by activities such as coal and ash handling and equipment cooling is also subject to the rules of the permit system. All of TVA’s power generation operations hold discharge permits, as do some of its maintenance and power service shops. Each permit is very specific, and discharge limits are set at levels that protect life in the water and human health.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.