Coal ash ponds at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal-fired Gallatin Fossil Plant have been leaking harmful pollutants into the Cumberland River and surrounding groundwater for decades in violation of the Clean Water Act, charged conservation groups in a legal notice filed Nov. 10.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association and the Tennessee Clean Water Network sent the notice of a planned lawsuit to TVA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation under the Clean Water Act where they intend to stop the release of coal ash pollutants, such as arsenic and cadmium, into the Cumberland River and other surface and groundwater sites near the Gallatin plant in middle Tennessee.
The groups contend that Gallatin’s coal ash ponds located adjacent to the Cumberland River hold over fifty-five years of coal ash waste in unlined, unprotected pits. The coal ash ponds at Gallatin have already been called a “significant hazard” by the EPA, indicating that a dam failure would cause economic loss, environmental damage, or other concerns, the groups said. Moreover, in 2013, EPA found that some of the earthen dams at the Gallatin Plant were only in “fair” condition and in need of improvement.
“TVA has known for years that the coal ash ponds at Gallatin are leaking into our rivers and our groundwater,” said Stephanie Durman Matheny, Attorney at Tennessee Clean Water Network. “You would imagine that in the wake of the Kingston spill — which TVA is still cleaning up six years later — it would make sure another disaster on that scale would never happen again. Unfortunately, Gallatin’s leaking coal ash ponds are proof that TVA hasn’t learned its lesson, and we’re the ones who will pay the price if another disaster happens.”
Nearly every major river in the Southeast has coal ash ponds from power plants on its banks, and the SELC said it is partnering with conservation groups throughout the region to protect communities and the environment from the dangers of coal ash pollution. Following lawsuits by the Southern Environmental Law Center, two of the utilities in the Carolinas — South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper — are removing coal ash from unlined pits near rivers in South Carolina to safer, dry, lined storage facilities away from rivers and lakes. In addition, SELC currently represents dozens of groups in ten different state and federal lawsuits to clean up at all 14 of Duke Energy’s leaking coal ash sites throughout North Carolina.