Environmentalists sue TVA over Gallatin coal plant scrubber project

Conservation groups said April 25 that they have filed a legal challenge against the Tennessee Valley Authority on the grounds that it violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it finalized its plan to spend more than $1bn to retrofit scrubbers and other air controls on the coal-fired Gallatin power plant.

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 lawsuit. Gallatin is more than 50 years old and is one of the largest sources of air and water pollution in the state of Tennessee, the groups claimed. If TVA’s plans move forward, the coal-fired power plant will continue to pollute for decades to come, they added.

“In its haste to spend more than $1 billion 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 “clearcut” a forested “wildlife management area” on Old Hickory Lake, replacing it with 100-foot tall landfills of hazardous coal ash, the groups said.

“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 Southern Environmental Law Center and Earthjustice filed the groups’ complaint at the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. “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,” the groups said.

TVA said April 1 that it is moving ahead with the $1bn installation of new emission controls at Gallatin. Gallatin is a 1,900-MW (nameplate) power station built near the Cumberland River. Gallatin includes both natural gas and coal power units. More than 1,200 MW of the generating capacity comes from four coal units built in the mid-to-late 1950s.

TVA said April 1 that site work is underway for the project, which includes installation of new scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) equipment. The SO2 scrubbers are expected to reduce SO2 emissions by 95% and the new SCRs should reduce NOx emissions by more than 90%. In addition to the SCR and dry scrubbers, baghouses and a coal combustion residue landfill are also part of the package.

Just a few weeks earlier, TVA had issued a final environmental assessment on the project and found that it would have no significant impact. The Southern Environmental Law Center and other citizen groups had questioned the financial and ecological wisdom of the project throughout the environmental review process.

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.