Enviro group may sue TVA over clean water issues at Cumberland coal plant

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) said Jan. 14 that on behalf of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, it that day filed a notice of intent to sue the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) in federal court over alleged violations of the Clean Water Act at TVA’s Cumberland Fossil Plant.

TVA’s own studies show that over forty years of coal ash waste stored in unlined pits is illegally contaminating groundwater, Wells Creek, and the Cumberland River with harmful pollutants, the center said. 

TVA is already a defendant in two lawsuits over alleged contamination of the Cumberland River and Old Hickory Lake with coal ash pollution from the Gallatin power plant upstream of Nashville. Last April, SELC filed suit in federal court against TVA on behalf of Tennessee Clean Water Network and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association. These environmental groups are also participating in the lawsuit the state of Tennessee filed against TVA in state court in January 2015 for alleged coal ash pollution from the Gallatin plant. 

TVA’s own reports indicate that it knowingly stored 40 years of toxic coal ash waste at the Cumberland plant in bedrock known to be fractured and unpredictable and without any type of protective lining, the center said. The utility has years of sampling data that shows that the groundwater beneath the coal ash ponds is polluted with metals in amounts detrimental to living things, and that the contaminated groundwater is connected to Wells Creek and the Cumberland River, it added. TVA documents admit that these violations should have triggered the state environmental agency to initiate corrective measures. However, to date TVA has taken no action to clean up the contaminated groundwater at the Cumberland plant, and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has not filed any action in court to compel the clean-up, the center said. 

“We are doubling down to put an end to decades of coal ash pollution in the Cumberland River since state regulators are not acting to protect people or environment of Tennessee,” said Beth Alexander, Senior Attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center. “TVA needs to move all of its coal ash throughout the state to dry, lined storage away from waterways.”

Notable is that TVA is currently taking comment until Feb. 24 on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that addresses the closure of coal combustion residual (CCR) impoundments at its coal-fired power plants. CCRs are byproducts produced from the combustion of coal or the control of combustion emissions and include fly ash, bottom ash, and other materials. The purpose of this EIS is to address the potential impacts of closing CCR impoundments across the TVA system and to assist TVA in complying with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s CCR Rule. The draft EIS programmatically considers the impacts of the two primary closure methods: closure-in-place; and closure-by-removal.

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.