TVA, Sierra Club dispute over Gallatin sent to Tennessee court

Saying pretty much that by law it’s not his problem, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 29 ordered that a legal dispute between the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Sierra Club be transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

The Sierra Club had filed suit on Nov. 15 against TVA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, claiming that the federal utility had largely failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for documents related to plans to add SO2 scrubbers and other emissions controls on the coal-fired Gallatin power plant. The Sierra Club said TVA should be looking at other alternatives to extending the life of an old coal plant, like energy efficiency initiatives.

TVA had argued that the D.C. court was not the proper venue for this action and that it was doing the best it could to respond the Sierra Club’s ever-shifting FOIA requests.

In his Nov. 29 decision, Chief Judge Royce Lamberth agreed that this case belonged in another court, but not the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, where Gallatin is located. The Sierra Club had said the Middle District court was the best alternate court to handle this case. Lamberth said he couldn’t act on the club’s request for a preliminary injunction in this case because he lacked jurisdiction.

“This Court concludes that § 552(a)(4)(B) does not allow the Sierra Club to pursue their FOIA claim against the TVA in this Court,” the judge wrote. “Because neither the provision’s plain language nor its legislative history provide conclusive evidence as to what Congress intended on this issue, the Court falls back on the presumption that a court’s process is only valid within its district.”

As for which court this case should be heard in, the judge wrote: “While the TVA Act provides that it ‘shall be held to be an inhabitant and resident of the northern judicial district of Alabama within the meaning of the laws of the United States relating to the venue of civil suits,’ 16 U.S.C. § 831g(a), the Sixth Circuit has found that this does not prohibit venue in the Eastern District of Tennessee. According to TVA’s Vice President of Human Resources, ‘TVA’s Freedom of Information Officer works in TVA’s corporate headquarters in Knoxville, Tennessee’ and ‘[t]he majority of personnel whose work involves environmental compliance and the installation of pollution controls are based in TVA’s office in Chattanooga, Tennessee.’ Accordingly, the Court finds that transfer to the Eastern District of Tennessee is appropriate.”

TVA is looking at installing new flue gas desulfurization (FGD), selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and activated carbon injection (ACI) systems at the Gallatin, located 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 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.

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.