TVA battles with Sierra Club over Gallatin coal plant documents

The Sierra Club, which will fight any action to extend the life of a coal-fired power plant, has gone to court against the Tennessee Valley Authority in an attempt to get documents related to planned emissions controls for the Gallatin coal plant.

On Nov. 15, the Sierra Club filed suit against TVA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, accusing the federal utility of refusing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents related to the Gallatin emissions projects.

“The information is directly relevant to evaluating and commenting upon TVA’s proposal to spend a billion dollars to extend the life of the fifty year old Gallatin Fossil Plant,” the lawsuit said. “The information is urgently needed in the immediate future. TVA’s announcement that it would extend the life of the plant was contained in an Environmental Assessment that TVA prepared pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act, in which TVA explained it would only accept public comment on its proposed decision until November 30, 2012. Moreover, TVA has announced that it intends to begin construction at Gallatin in February 2013.”

In April and May of this year, the Sierra Club said it filed three FOIA requests with TVA requesting information about TVA’s proposal to extend the life of Gallatin rather than retire the plant and replace it with cheaper, and cleaner, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“As TVA’s EA reveals, TVA’s plan to extend the life of the plant would require capturing heavy metals and other toxic pollutants that currently are released into the air without modern controls and instead store them in one or more massive 150-foot tall coal ash landfills,” the club added. “TVA proposes to build these landfills in what has been a state wildlife management area near Old Hickory Lake, an impoundment of the Cumberland River. As part of this project, it will also destroy a unique facility for breeding federally listed endangered species native to Tennessee for future repopulation of Tennessee rivers which served in part to offset TVA’s impacts on those species in other locations.”

The Sierra Club’s FOIA requests included:

  • records relating to the environmental impacts of the plant before and after TVA’s plan;
  • TVA’s plans to handle the new waste stream that the plant will be generating; and
  • the costs and environmental impacts of alternatives to TVA’s plan.

The Sierra Club said it intends to disseminate the information from TVA to Sierra Club members and to the public so that they can comment on TVA’s proposed action.

On Nov. 7, the Sierra Club said it received what TVA acknowledged was a partial response to its FOIA requests. “However, the response, which was largely composed of spreadsheets from an earlier general planning process that did not bear directly on Gallatin, left critically important categories – such as what air pollutant controls were considered, how reliable they are, and how the large new waste stream of toxic scrubber waster will be handled – completely unanswered.”

TVA: venue is wrong, club keeps shifting its requests

On Nov. 28, TVA filed a reply with the court covering the club’s request for a preliminary injunction and an expedited hearing. In part, TVA said this D.C. federal court lacks jurisdiction over the federal utility and that the TVA Act establishes the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama as the proper venue for federal lawsuits against it.

“With respect to its FOIA claims, Sierra Club skews the facts,” TVA added. “Sierra Club is correct that it requested twenty-one broad categories of documents concerning Gallatin in April 2012. Due to the sheer volume of this request, TVA put it on ‘Track Three’ and Sierra Club did not object to TVA’s determination. This slower track is allowed by the FOIA statute itself, and is embodied in TVA’s FOIA regulations. TVA’s regulations further plainly provide for 20-day processing only for requests placed on Track 1, and state that requests on Track 3 ‘will take the longest to process.’ Because the multi-tracking system explicitly allows for a slower response time on voluminous FOIA requests, it cannot, as Sierra Club claims, logically require TVA to produce the documents within 20 days.”

More importantly, TVA said it gave priority to certain of Sierra Club requests other than the Gallatin request, at Sierra Club’s own insistence. Sierra Club did not ask TVA to expedite the Gallatin request until Oct. 23, it noted.

“Even when Sierra Club requested expedited processing for the first time on October 23, it asked TVA to expedite both the IRP and the Gallatin Requests, in no particular order,” the utility added. “Honoring the Sierra Club’s requests, TVA produced the IRP documents first, on November 5, 2012. TVA is now working to respond to Sierra Club’s Gallatin request as soon as practicable. In short, the record demonstrates that TVA has exercised due diligence in responding to Sierra Club’s ever-changing FOIA requests. Indeed, Sierra Club’s alleged predicament is self-made, and directly results from its frequent changes of position on its multiple pending FOIA requests, both at the agency level and before this Court.”

The Nov. 28 TVA filing concluded: “Sierra Club should not be allowed to use its frequently-changing requests for priority to impede TVA’s timely consideration of emission controls and associated projects at the Gallatin plant, which are in the public interest and comply with the Consent Decree to which Sierra Club is a party. The Court should deny Sierra Club’s Motion.”

FGD and SCR on the utility’s wish list for Gallatin

TVA is looking at installing new flue gas desulfurization (FGD), selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and activated carbon injection (ACI) systems at the Gallatin coal plant in Sumner County, Tenn. These projects are needed in order to meet the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and to comply with the April 2011 Federal Facilities Compliance Agreement between the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and TVA.

Gallatin, known as GAF in the draft EA, would get a dry FGD system to control SO2, SCR for NOX emissions and ACI integrated with the dry FGD to reduce mercury emissions. It would also get a pulse jet fabric filter (baghouses or PJFF) to control particulate matter (PM) emissions.

Additional facilities required to support TVA’s proposed action include a new on-site dry coal combustion product landfill; electrical transmission lines, transformer yard, and switchyard upgrades; and ancillary facilities such as on-site haul roads.

Gallatin has four coal-fired units and combusts an average of 12,350 tons of coal per day. Units 1 and 2 each have nameplate ratings of 300 MW, and Units 3 and 4 each have nameplate ratings of 327.6 MW. TVA has already installed electrostatic precipitators at Gallatin to reduce PM emissions and low-NOX burners to reduce NOX. TVA also burns a low-sulfur blend coal, primarily from the Powder River Basin, to reduce SO2.

Sierra Club puts out ads pushing alternatives to Gallatin

In addition to this lawsuit, the Sierra Club said in a Nov. 28 statement that it has purchased significant online ad coverage on three local newspaper websites calling on TVA to prioritize clean energy solutions and not waste money on an aging coal plant.

“TVA wants to spend more than one billion dollars to keep an aging, obsolete coal plant running,” said Louise Gorenflo, lead volunteer with Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Tennessee. “To add insult to injury, TVA officials are trying to limit public comment so they can plow forward with their expensive and dangerous plan. We’re taking these steps now to ensure that TVA can’t make billion-dollar decisions without public input. TVA continues to act like an incandescent utility in a fluorescent world.”

“Now that TVA has announced that Bill Johnson, former CEO of Progress Energy, will take the helm in Tennessee, we hope to see a real change of attitude,” said Vanessa Pierce, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in the Eastern Region. “TVA has an obligation to its ratepayers and the people who live in the Tennessee Valley. Rate hike after rate hike – with no real investment in the clean energy future – is no longer acceptable. TVA has the opportunity to phase out an obsolete and polluting coal plant in favor of energy efficiency.”

Progress Energy, which was taken over earlier this year by Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK), had instituted during Johnson’s tenure an aggressive phase-out program for some of its coal-fired capacity in the Carolinas. TVA already plans to retire a number of its older coal-fired units over the next few years.

In August, the Sierra Club said it partnered with Synapse Energy Economics, a leading analysis firm, to release a report that it said demonstrates that TVA’s older coal plants, especially the Gallatin plant, are no longer economic to operate. According to the report, a modest energy efficiency savings program could reduce energy consumption enough to phase out Gallatin, saving money for TVA ratepayers over the long term.

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.