Press release from Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
Knoxville, Tenn. (July 27, 2016) – The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Earthjustice, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club recently reached a settlement agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to better protect Tennesseans from toxic metals and other pollutants in water discharges from TVA’s Gallatin, Bull Run and Kingston coal plants.
After fighting the issue for more than six years, TDEC and TVA finally agreed to reduce the pollutants in water discharged under the three plants’ Clean Water Act operating permits issued by TDEC. Under the settlement agreement, TVA must incorporate new federal guidelines for the discharge of toxic pollutants like arsenic and selenium and submit updated permit applications for Gallatin, Bull Run and Kingston to TDEC by November 2, 2016. By including these updated public health requirements in the operating permits for these three coal plants, TVA will reduce the amount of toxic pollution it dumps in our waterways by over 90 percent for most significant pollutants.
TVA’s practice, like many other major utilities in the Southeast, has been to adopt the minimum requirements for wastewater discharge for their coal plants. TVA has largely failed to update its operating permits despite industry innovation that has made it cheaper for coal plants to reduce the amount of toxins it discharges into our rivers and streams.
The settlement agreement is a critical piece in protecting our health and our environment in Tennessee, especially because all three of the coal plants will be operating into the foreseeable future. TVA does not maintain good water monitoring records, but based on the most recent information we could find, these three coal plants discharged over 1,300 pounds of selenium, which is highly toxic to fish, and over 1,700 pounds of arsenic, a potent carcinogen and neurotoxin, in 2015. Under the new permits required by the agreement, the selenium discharges will fall by 97 percent, and the arsenic discharges will fall by 94 percent.
“SACE has a long history of engaging with TVA and believes TVA has dragged its feet on this issue, to the detriment of our health and our rivers,” said Dr. Stephen A. Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “By ensuring that both TVA and TDEC move quickly to incorporate the most protective pollution standards, our communities and waterways will be healthier and TVA will be held accountable for the impacts its coal plants have on our lives.”
“This is a good result for every Tennessean; all of whom deserve clean, safe water to drink and recreate in,” said Jonathan Levenshus, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Tennessee. “TVA’s new water discharge permits at coal plants will have to include EPA’s new Effluent Limitation Guidelines —which provide strong, efficient protections for our water, environment and public health—and our state’s regulator will no longer be able to delay action, letting the old permits continue without a fair review.”
“We took on this fight over six years ago, and it has been an uphill battle all the way,” said Abel Russ, attorney for Environmental Integrity Project. “But we hung in there, and the things we have been asking for are now required by law, so TVA must – finally – start to take environmental stewardship seriously.”
“It is past time for these three dinosaur coal plants to modernize,” said Earthjustice attorney Mary Whittle. “These new, stronger permit requirements are critical to protecting the Cumberland, Clinch, and Emory Rivers and to protecting the people of Tennessee who depend on these rivers for drinking water and recreation.”
“After years of negotiations with TVA, these new discharge standards will improve water quality in Tennessee,” said Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network. “As these waters are the source of drinking water for millions of citizens in the Volunteer state, meeting these new standards can’t come soon enough.”
These conservation groups will continue to track this issue and ensure that the final permits approved by TDEC have the most protective pollution limits in order to keep our waters and our communities safe and healthy.