Tag Archives: Water

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.

Environmentalist lawsuit says chemicals polluting TN River

A nonprofit environmental organization has filed a federal lawsuit against two companies, along with three governmental entities, over the dumping of chemicals, reports the Decatur Daily.

Tennessee Riverkeeper Inc. filed the suit against 3M, BFI Waste Systems, the city of Decatur, Decatur Utilities and Morgan County because of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) being dumped in the Tennessee River and landfills, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges the dumping has contaminated groundwater, private water supplies, the river and its tributaries and wildlife, and public drinking water supplies.

The organization claims the dumping has created an “imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment,” Executive Director David Whiteside said in a statement.

The chemicals were used at 3M to make nonstick coatings until 2000, when the company voluntarily announced it would phase them out. Before then, 3M believed the chemicals were not hazardous, said the company’s attorney, Travis Carter, of Dallas.

The company no longer produces PFOS or PFOA in Decatur, so any presence of the chemicals is from prior manufacturing, Carter said.

3M said it has worked with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to reduce or eliminate the presence of the chemicals at the plant and in the Decatur area. Remediation began in 2006 and will continue through 2019, the company said.

However, the EPA and ADEM have not established regulations that prohibit the discharge of the chemicals, so 3M always has operated “legally and in compliance with regulations,” Carter said.

The attorney for the city and county, which jointly own the Morgan County Regional Landfill, said the entities also are working to reduce the amount of chemicals released into the environment through the landfill and the DU Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Attorney Barney Lovelace said the city and county also haven’t violated any regulations in the discharge of the chemicals.

Lovelace said his clients believe the cost of removing the chemicals from the environment should be placed on the companies that dumped the waste in the landfill and through DU’s wastewater plant.

3M said it has studied the effects of the chemicals in its own employees and found no adverse health effects from exposure.

Company to pay $50.8M to clean up Ocoee River contamination

News release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
ATLANTA — The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that OXY USA Inc., a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company, has agreed to clean up contaminated water and sediments in the Ocoee River and one of its watersheds at the Copper Basin Mining District Superfund Site in Polk County, Tennessee.

The settlement requires the company to spend an estimated $40 million to maintain and operate a water treatment system, prevent access by the public to contaminated water, and monitor contamination in the Ocoee River.

In addition, OXY USA Inc. will reimburse EPA approximately $10.8 million toward costs incurred in its past cleanup actions at the site. The company will also reimburse EPA and the State of Tennessee for costs incurred by those agencies in overseeing the work required by the settlement.

“This settlement is the product of excellent cooperation between private parties, and the state and federal government to find a long term solution to cleaning up the contamination at the Copper Basin site,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement will yield lasting benefits for water quality in this Ocoee River watershed.”
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TDEC, environmentalists oppose bill revising stormwater rules

Despite opposition from Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, a bill to change state rules on regulating stormwater drainage has won Senate approval and appears poised for House passage as well.

The bill (SB1830) is being pushed by the Home Builders Association of Tennessee. It would effectively loosen the rules for issuance of water quality permits to developers and is sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Curtis Halford, R-Dyer, and Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Steve Southerland, R-Morristown. Basically, it declares that state standards on stormwater runoff can be no stricter than federal standards.

A key effect would be elimination of the so-called “1-inch rule” that’s now in effect across the state, mandating that the permit applicant assure that up to 1 inch of rainfall be absorbed within the development property without any runoff.

Current state standards are based on a 2010 Environmental Protection Agency rule that has since been changed, at least in part thanks to action by homebuilders at the national level, according to Robert Martineau, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
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Enforcement of TN water pollution rules declining?

An environmental group is questioning why the Haslam administration’s water quality enforcement against polluters appears to be disappearing down a drain, reports the Times-Free Press.

The Tennessee Clean Water Network said its study shows water quality enforcement orders by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation against water polluters dropped from 219 in 2007 to just 15 during 2015.

That’s a 93 percent drop the group warned. And it impacts protection of state waterways “that are the source of drinking water for millions of Tennesseans.”

…TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau said the environmental group is looking solely at penalties collected as enforcement action.

“There’s an array of what we take as enforcement actions, from the reading of the report they send in with what your discharge levels, to inspections, to all the way up to what we call formal enforcement actions that are orders or civil judicial actions,” he said. “Those are all tools in the tool box.

“If we do an inspection and identify a problem and within a few days the source comes back into compliance, that’s our goal, it’s compliance,” the commissioner said. “Enforcement actions usually mean that somebody hasn’t, after reasonable efforts to try to comply, they just haven’t gotten their facilities corrected, then we take a more formal action with what they call enforcement action.”

Asked if critics might call that regulation light, Martineau said, “Again, it’s a matter of perspective. We get a lot of people telling us that every time we issue a penalty we’re over-enforcing and we’re putting people out of business. Our goal is compliance.”

He said the state’s compliance rates “are extremely high, higher than they’ve ever been.”

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Expensive lawyers line up in TN vs. MS lawsuit

Both the state of Tennessee and the city of Memphis have retained expensive private law firms to fight a $615 million lawsuit filed by the state of Mississippi over underground water rights, reports the Commercial Appeal. Mississippi has a famous law firm that won’t be paid anything – unless it wins.

The 22 percent rate increase that will add an average of $3.31 a month to the water bills of Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division customers beginning in January was needed in part to pay for rising legal costs associated with the lawsuit filed against MLGW, the city of Memphis and state of Tennessee, officials say.

…The mounting legal expenses reflect the high-stakes nature of the water lawsuit, in which Mississippi claims MLGW, the city and Tennessee have “forcibly” taken its water through excessive pumping from an aquifer underlying both states. The Supreme Court in June granted Mississippi’s request to file the suit, and since then it has appointed a Special Master, Eugene Siler Jr., a former judge on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, to oversee the case.

The utility and city have hired Memphis’ largest law firm, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, to defend against the suit. “It’s a serious case. It’s dangerous, and we’re certainly going to treat it that way,” said David Bearman, one of the attorneys handling the case for the firm.

…The state has retained lawyers with the Washington firm of Kellogg Huber, described by the website Above the Law as an “uber-elite, D.C.-based litigation boutique” whose ranks include 17 former Supreme Court clerks, six former assistant U.S. attorneys and several others who served in high-ranking White House and Justice Department positions. The firm specializes in complex trial and appellate cases and typically represents Fortune 100 companies, large banks, hedge funds, high-tech firms and states and government entities.

…But while MLGW ratepayers and Tennessee taxpayers ante up large sums for defense, Mississippi taxpayers won’t be paying anything for their state to bring the suit. The plaintiffs are led by renowned Lexington, Mississippi, lawyer Don Barrett, who has won landmark settlements against tobacco companies, automobile makers, pharmaceutical firms, tire companies, insurance firms and others.

“We’re doing this (water lawsuit) on a contingency. We lose, we won’t be paid anything. We win, we might get paid a lot,” Barrett said Friday.

“The state of Mississippi preferred to do it this way, and so did we. … We’re seasoned, experienced lawyers, and we’re going to win this case.”

Barrett said his firm has invested more than $1 million in preparing the water lawsuit. In previous cases, he represented the attorneys general of about a dozen states in litigation that forced Big Tobacco firms to repay those states for millions of dollars they’d spent in cigarette-related health costs.

TN moving to use $30.4M in unspent fed water funds

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee environmental officials say they’ve taken steps to utilize millions of dollars of unspent funds from a federal aid program for improving the nation’s drinking water systems.

A review by The Associated Press shows project delays, poor management by some states and structural problems have contributed to nearly $1.1 billion in congressional appropriations sitting unspent in Drinking Water State Revolving Fund accounts as of Aug. 1.

The backlog is smaller than it once was, but federal data show that many states are not on track to meet a goal set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which wants any money dating back to 2013 to be spent by next year.

Tennessee received $194.2 million in federal funding as of fiscal 2015 from the federal fund, according to the AP review. Of that total, $30.4 million remained unspent.

However, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesman Eric Ward said after several discussions with EPA personnel, TDEC has implemented a new “spending strategy” that he says has resulted in “significant improvements in the pace of spending.”

“Although we have more work to accomplish, we are continuing to improve our position with this … strategy and anticipate additional significant reductions to unliquidated obligations in the coming year,” Ward said.

SCOTUS clears way for MS lawsuit against TN, Memphis over use of water aquifer

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted Mississippi’s request to file a new lawsuit claiming Memphis is stealing its water, reports the Commercial Appeal. The move keeps alive a legal battle now in its 11th year.

Four years after denying a similar request, the court approved the state’s motion for leave to file a bill of complaint. The ruling gives defendants 30 days to file an answer.

In a 300-plus-page motion filed with the court last year, Mississippi had asked permission to file a new complaint seeking at least $615 million in damages. The proposed complaint names Memphis, the city-owned Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division and the state of Tennessee as defendants.

The legal battle centers on MLGW’s pumping of at least 140 million gallons of water daily from a high-quality aquifer known alternately as the Memphis Sand and Sparta Sand. Mississippi’s proposed complaint says Memphis’ wells have created “cones of depression” in the water table that suck water across state lines into Tennessee.

Through that process, the city has “forcibly” taken an estimated 252 billion gallons of Mississippi’s water since 1985, the state says.

The case dates back to 2005, when Mississippi Atty. Gen. Jim Hood filed suit against Memphis and MLGW in federal court in Oxford, Mississippi. That complaint sought up to $1.3 billion in damages and could have required the city to draw water from the Mississippi River. In February 2008, U.S. Dist. Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled that his court lacked jurisdiction because the state of Tennessee must be brought in as a “necessary and indispensable” party. In a dispute between states, the arbiter must be the Supreme Court, he said.

Davidson’s ruling was upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And in January 2010, the Supreme Court, without comment, denied Mississippi’s motion to overturn an appellate court’s ruling and rejected the state’s motion to file a new suit.

The new filing adds Tennessee as a defendant.

…David Bearman, an attorney representing Memphis and MLGW, said the ruling doesn’t mean Mississippi will ultimately prevail in the legal battle. “I would say we’re disappointed that Mississippi is being allowed to file its complaint, but we still feel like we’ve got a very strong case,” he said.

Environmental group lists Harpeth, Holston Rivers as endangered

Tennessee’s Harpeth and Holston Rivers are listed among the nation’s most endangered streams by an environmental group, reports The Tennessean.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a tipping point,” Erin McCombs of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit American Rivers said in a statement.

The Harpeth, which runs through downtown Franklin, and the Holston River in East Tennessee were both ranked (numbers nine and three, respectively) in the organization’s annual report, making Tennessee the only state to have two of its waterways listed.

That, McCombs said Monday, is “rare, but not unprecedented,” adding that the report “highlights that Tennessee has a real opportunity to do the right thing.”

The report says that as Franklin continues to grow, the Harpeth — beloved by local paddlers and anglers — faces rising threats in the form of sewage pollution from the city’s treatment plant and drinking water withdrawals that are too much for the river’s ecosystem to handle.

Franklin, an American Rivers news release said, is one of the most rapidly developing cities in the nation, compounding the Harpeth’s pollution risk.

…But Franklin officials take issue with the Harpeth’s inclusion on the list, saying that the city’s $2 million Integrated Water Resources Plan shows that the city has a sophisticated road map for ensuring the river’s health.

…(T)he American Rivers report says East Tennessee’s Holston River is being polluted by a U.S. Army-run ammunition plant that has been contaminating the water with “toxic chemical pollution for years.”

A “highly explosive chemical” known as RDX has been found in the river, the report says, which supplies drinking water for tens of thousands of residents.

“It’s critical that the state takes its enforcement responsibilities seriously and protects our clean drinking water from polluters,” said Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network.

The network has filed a federal lawsuit over alleged Clean Water Act permit violations.

And state regulators, the report says, have “done little to stop the RDX discharges.”

TDEC spokeswoman Kelly Brockman wrote in an email late Monday that the agency hadn’t had a chance to review the report…In any case, Brockman wrote, “it is important that we write permits based on data and science, in a transparent process and in accordance with our authority under the law.”

“This is true for the Harpeth and Holston Rivers, and all Tennessee waters.”

TN Clean Water Network prepares lawsuit over Holston River pollution

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Clean Water Network says it is prepared to sue a Kingsport ammunition plant over its continued pollution of local drinking water.

BAE Systems Ordnance Systems Inc. operates the Holston Army Ammunition Plant for the U.S. Army. Wastewater from the plant is discharged into the Holston River, about 10 miles upstream of a drinking water intake for the First Utility District of Hawkins County.

According to a notice of intent to sue filed Monday, the state told BAE in 2007 that it had to reduce the amount of the explosive RDX that it was releasing into the river to no greater than 12.2 pounds per day, based on a monthly average.

That limit was designed to bring the level of RDX in local drinking water to 2 parts per billion or less. That’s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency health advisory limit for RDX, which the EPA says is a possible human carcinogen.

Despite having five years to comply with the new limits, the plant was releasing more RDX in 2012 than in 2007. Furthermore, the plant continues to significantly violate daily limits, the notice says. In June 2013, for example, the plant released 843 percent more RDX than was permitted.

And the RDX is getting past the filters at the First Utility District of Hawkins County. According to TDEC, sampling of the finished drinking water there earlier this year found levels of RDX up to three times higher than the 2 parts per billion EPA advisory limit.

Messages left with BAE officials on Monday were not immediately returned.

Despite BAE’s ongoing and constant violations of its permit, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has not issued an enforcement order or any fines.

The situation caused one TDEC employee to refuse to continue working on the permit. In July, Environmental Protection Specialist Julie Harse sent a letter to the director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources in which Harse cited “the lack of an enforcement order combined with the fact that I know that the membrane plant is not removing the RDX” as the reason for ending her involvement.

She also referenced her obligation as a professional engineer “to protect the safety, health and welfare of the public.”

While TDEC has not issued an enforcement order, the agency did sign a compliance agreement in August with BAE and the Army.

The agreement calls for “best efforts” to address the continued RDX violations and mentions possible penalties, saying that TDEC “may seek a court order” to impose them.

It is unclear why TDEC chose to negotiate a compliance agreement rather than issue an enforcement order, and a spokeswoman for the agency declined to answer that question on Monday. Instead, she referred to an emailed statement from the agency regarding the notice of intent to sue.

It states, in part, “we do think it is important to note that the Compliance Agreement TDEC entered into with the Army and BAE is a fully enforceable document that includes $654,000 in contingent penalties should the Army miss compliance deadlines. … Additionally, the compliance agreement calls for BAE to provide $100,000 in monetary assistance to First Utility District of Hawkins County for costs related to RDX monitoring.”

The Tennessee Clean Water Network attorney Stephanie Matheny, said she has never seen TDEC issue a compliance agreement before and criticized it as having no teeth.

“They just made it up,” she said.

Of the agreement’s “best efforts” language, the notice states, “the Permit already imposes a mandatory, non-negotiable requirement to actually comply with the RDX loading limit as of May 2012, not merely to try to comply.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Army said he could not comment until officials there had received a copy of the notice of intent to sue.