Saying that an agency’s decision of whether to prepare an environmental impact statement is entitled to “substantial deference,” a federal judge on Aug. 1 dismissed an environmental group lawsuit over the Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision to install new air emissions controls on its coal-fired Gallatin power plant.
This civil action, brought in April 2013, was before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee on cross motions for summary judgment. The judge on Aug. 1 rejected the summary judgment motion of plaintiffs that included the Tennessee Environmental Council, and accepted the summary judgment motion of TVA.
The lawsuit had in part accused TVA of not preparing a full environmental impact statement on the Gallatin air emissions project decision, with the agency instead opting for a more truncated environmental assessment process. Gallatin has four coal units with a combined capacity of 976 MW (net). The new air controls are to be completed by the end of 2017.
To comply with a consent decree with various parties and new regulations promulgated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, TVA has elected to reduce emissions at the Gallatin plant in Sumner County, Tenn., by installing emission controls, avoiding a potential shutdown of the plant. In August 2011, the TVA Board of Directors approved the installation of dry scrubbers, baghouses, a selective catalytic reduction system, and associated equipment at Gallatin with a budget of up to $1.1bn.
Before entering into the consent decree, TVA generated an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and an associated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the IRP. The IRP “sought to further diversify TVA’s generation resources by expanding energy efficiency and demand side options, pursuing cost effective renewable energy, increasing the contribution of nuclear and natural gas generation and reducing its reliance on generation from older, coal-fired power plants.”
The IRP and associated EIS, however, did not make facility-specific decisions, and provided that specific environmental reviews would be conducted before final implementation decisions were made. Based on the goals identified in the IRP, the federal utility analyzed the Gallatin Life Extension Project in an Environmental Assessment (EA) that was released in October 2012. In March 2013, the utility released a final EA, triggering the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs asserted that defendant violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by: (1) predetermining the NEPA result; (2) committing resources before completing the NEPA process; (3) failing to prepare an EIS for the Gallatin Project; (4) failing to consider a legitimate no-action alternative; (5) failing to examine reasonable alternatives to the Gallatin Project; (6) improperly segmenting its analysis of the project; and (7) failing to allow for public comment.
The judge rejected all of these arguments. On the reasonable alternatives argument, Judge Thomas Varlan ruled: “In sum, considering all the evidence and evaluating each motion on its own merits, the Court cannot find that defendant failed to consider all the reasonable alternatives or that defendant’s rejection of alternatives it deemed unreasonable rendered its decision arbitrary or capricious.”
On the public comment issue, he ruled: “After reviewing public comments, defendant published a 172-page final EA in March 2013. The final EA comprehensively addressed the key issues raised in the public comments. As such, the Court cannot find that defendant failed to sufficiently involve the public as required by NEPA.”