Tag Archives: coal

TVA closing coal ash ponds, leaving ash in place

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — TVA is closing and capping 10 coal ash ponds at power plants in Tennessee and Alabama, against the urging of environmentalists who want the ash dug up and removed.

TVA issued its decision on Friday, affirming plans to keep the coal ash at six fossil plants where the ash was dumped over the past half century. TVA said the best, fastest and cheapest method of cleaning up the ponds is to close them and put a cap on the wastes to prevent leakage.

“We believe that TVA’s coal combustion residuals’ management activities are not harming human health or the environment,” John McCormick, TVA vice president of safety, river management and environment, said in a statement Friday. “We also found that digging up the coal ash and moving it someplace else has more potential environmental and safety impacts than closure-in-place and adds significantly more time and costs for our ratepayers.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also signed off on TVA’s plan. Continue reading

TVA agrees to reduce coal plants’ water pollution

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.

Feds move to ban mountaintop removal in part of TN

The federal government is moving closer to granting Tennessee’s request to ban mountaintop mining in parts of the Cumberland Mountains, which was filed years ago under former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.

Further from the News Sentinel:

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released draft documents on Thursday that would designate portions of East Tennessee’s mountain ridges as unsuitable for surface coal mining.

Specifically, the draft proposal and draft Environmental Impact Statement would place 67,000 acres in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tract Conservation Easement off-limits to surface mining.

Re-mining would be allowed in certain areas once mining companies obtain all the necessary permits and authorizations.

“We took Tennessee’s request to act on this matter very seriously,” said Glenda Owens, the agency’s deputy director. “Our staff rigorously evaluated Tennessee’s petition and the impacts of mining in the requested area.”

A final decision won’t be made until after a 45-day public comment period that will end next Jan. 25, the agency said in a news release.

Mountaintop removal is a form of surface mining in which the top of a mountain is blasted away so workers can access coal seams. The rubble is then dumped into adjacent valleys. The process allows coal companies to economically access seams otherwise too small to mine near the tops of ridges.

In 2010, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen petitioned the federal government to ban mountaintop mining in the North Cumberland Plateau. The affected land is in Scott, Morgan, Anderson and Campbell counties, all of which is included in wildlife management areas that make up the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.

Note: A news release is below.
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TDEC sends TVA an order on coal ash cleanup

News release from Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued a Commissioner’s Order today to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) directing the investigation, assessment and remediation of all coal ash disposal sites across Tennessee. This Order follows the federal coal combustion residual (CCR) rule, and not only ensures the state is kept abreast of TVA’s progress in complying with the federal rule, but also goes beyond what the federal rule requires.

The Order is intended to establish a transparent, comprehensive process for the investigation, assessment, and remediation of coal combustion residual disposal sites at TVA’s coal-fired power plants in Tennessee. The Order also establishes the process through which TDEC will oversee TVA’s implementation of the federal CCR rule to insure coordination and compliance with Tennessee laws and regulations that govern the management and disposal of CCR.

“Our goal in issuing this Order is to ensure that historical coal ash disposal sites are addressed in a manner that is fully protective of both the public health and the environment, as well as meeting state and federal requirements,” said TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. “The Order addresses all CCR disposal areas in the state, even those not under the jurisdiction of the federal rule.”

Significantly, the Order goes far beyond the requirements of the federal CCR rule by requiring TVA to study and appropriately address all “CCR disposal areas” including all permitted landfills, all “non-registered” landfills (landfills that existed before they were subject to regulation), and all current and former surface water impoundments that contain CCR.

The Order also requires TVA to provide public notice and an opportunity to comment on each Environmental Investigation Plan and each Corrective Action/Risk Assessment Plan at its sites across Tennessee.

“The public participation component is key,” said TDEC Deputy Commissioner Shari Meghreblian. “Allowing the public input into the site investigation, assessment and remediation process is important to the quality of the final outcome at each site.”

TVA must pay all costs associated with the TDEC’s oversight of the implementation of the order. If TVA does not meet the requirements of this order, TVA is subject to pay penalties of $5,000 per noncompliance and $1,000 for each day until the noncompliance is remedied. The order also reserves the right to further assess TVA additional civil penalties or damages incurred by the State. The right to order further investigation, remedial action, and/or monitoring and maintenance is also specifically reserved.

U.S. House votes to let state regulate coal ash waste

By Matthew Daly, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Defying a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House on Wednesday approved a bill granting states authority to regulate waste generated from coal burned for electricity.

The bill, approved 258-166, would largely bypass a federal rule issued last year by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The rule set the first national standards for so-called coal ash, treating it more like household garbage than a hazardous material.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., said it was needed because the EPA rule leaves open the possibility that coal ash could be designated as hazardous, creating uncertainty for industry.

The White House said in its veto threat that the House bill would undermine public health and environmental protections provided by the EPA rule. The 2008 failure of a coal ash containment site in Tennessee, and a massive spill last year in North Carolina serve as “stark reminders” of the need for safe disposal and management of coal ash, the White House said.
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TVA to auction properties bought in Kingston coal ash cleanup

Sixty two properties that TVA bought during its cleanup of the Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill will be auctioned off in July, reports the News Sentinel.

The properties include 19 waterfront properties — four with water-view homes. There are 39 vacant parcels and 23 parcels with homes. The properties, all on Emory River Road in Harriman, will be auctioned on site at 11 a.m. July 25, rain or shine. J.P. King Auction Co., which is handling the sale, will post details of the properties online at www.jpking.com in June.

The properties are not among those TVA bought that were damaged by the spill, TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said.

“When we were doing so much of the heavy equipment work in the early stages of the clean up, we realized the noise and lighting that was necessary was going to make this area an extremely difficult place to live,” Hopson said.

So, TVA offered Emory River Road residents an option to sell their homes. It was a voluntary program, Hopson said.

“Not everyone decided to sell, and there are still 13 homes that remain private residences,” he said.

On Dec. 22, 2008, a holding cell at the Kingston plant collapsed and released 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash sludge in the Emory River and across the surrounding countryside. TVA is finishing up a yearslong recovery effort that has included returning the Emory River and other waterways to pre-spill conditions, reforesting, stabilizing shorelines, adding wetlands and wildlife habitats, and taking other measures.

TVA closing coal-fired plant four years early

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — The Tennessee Valley Authority will retire a coal-burning power plant in Stevenson about four years ahead of schedule to avoid having to comply with new coal ash regulations.

The utility’s board of directors voted on Thursday to close the final boiler unit at the Widows Creek plant by October, when new federal regulations for storing the coal ash waste come into effect.

Chief Operating Officer Chip Pardee said the new regulations will require significant reporting and be more costly than current rules.

TVA retired the plant’s other seven units between 2012 and 2014. TVA had previously planned to idle the final unit in 2019.

Pardee said closing and deconstructing the plant will provide continued work for some of the 90 employees there.

New push for state takeover of coal regulation gains steam

A renewed push to have state government take over regulation of Tennessee coal mining after 31 years of federal oversight has won approval in state House and Senate committees where similar legislation died last year.

The bill sponsored by Republicans with coal mines operating in their district, Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro and Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman, advanced last week with the sponsors assuring colleagues that the transition from federal to state oversight can be accomplished with no new cost to Tennessee taxpayers.

Environmentalists are skeptical of that contention and many oppose the bill in general, arguing the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is not prepared to replace the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the change will lead to less effective protection from coal mine pollution.

The bill, HB833, was approved 8-1 by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week and by an apparently unanimous voice vote in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Federal law requires that states regulating coal abide by federal environmental standards and, in general, the proposal puts into state law all relevant provisions of federal law.

That should eliminate concerns for any lessening of environmental protections, according to proponents. It does not, say opponents.
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Judge gives go-ahead to TN coal mining lawsuit

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A federal judge in Knoxville says environmental groups can go forward with a lawsuit claiming two East Tennessee surface mines threaten endangered fish.

The suit claims federal agencies did not use the most up-to-date science when issuing mining permits at Zeb Mountain and Davis Creek. It claims runoff from the mines is high in dissolved salts, making nearby streams too salty for the blackside dace and Cumberland darter.

The federal agencies wanted the lawsuit dismissed. Among other things, they noted that National Coal LLC has ceased mining at Zeb Mountain.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Reeves said the case can move forward. She said the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement has jurisdiction at Zeb Mountain until reclamation is complete and can still order changes there.

TDEC sues TVA over Gallatin coal ash storage

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state agency charged with protecting the environment is suing the Tennessee Valley Authority over its coal-burning power plant in Gallatin.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, claims unlined storage ponds used to dispose of coal ash are leaking contaminants into local groundwater.

The lawsuit asks the Davidson County Chancery Court to issue a permanent injunction that requires TVA to comply with laws governing solid waste disposal and water quality. It also seeks civil penalties of up to $17,000 per day for violations. Those penalties could be issued retroactively for violations that stretch back years.

TVA said in a statement that it welcomes the state’s assistance in managing its ash disposal. It notes that the problems cited in the lawsuit came from TVA’s own monitoring data. The utility also downplays the importance of at least one leaky pond, saying, “TVA studies, prepared at the direction of TDEC, conclude this poses little if any risk of health or environmental impacts.”

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the first time issued national standards on coal ash disposal. Environmentalists had hoped it would be classified as hazardous, but the rules treat it more like household garbage.

The TDEC lawsuit was prompted by environmental groups that in November threatened to sue if the state agency declined to act, claiming that the coal ash ponds were seeping toxic chemicals into the Cumberland River, a drinking source for millions.

Stephanie Durman Matheny is an attorney for the Tennessee Clean Water Network, one of the groups that threatened the citizens’ lawsuit. In a statement released Wednesday, Matheny said TDEC’s lawsuit appears to address the most serious coal ash problems at the Gallatin ponds.

“While we appreciate the state taking this action today, ultimately it will be the environmental results that count,” she said.
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