Environmental groups sue to block TVA gas plant

Lawsuit says utility failed to adequately evaluate options at aging Cumberland Fossil Plant

Warnings are posted in Dickson County near Tennessee Gas Pipeline property. / Tennessee Lookout Photo by John Partipilo

A trio of environmental groups has filed suit against the Tennessee Valley Authority, claiming the utility violated federal law by failing to properly evaluate the environmental and financial impacts of a proposed new gas-fired plant in Cumberland City, Tennessee.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in a Nashville federal court, also claims TVA quietly inked a deal with an international pipeline company to supply the gas-fired plant, even as it publicly went through the motions of seeking input on alternative sources of power to replace the Cumberland Fossil Plant.

"Tennessee Valley Authority decided to build a new gas-fired power plant in Middle Tennessee without fairly evaluating the significant impacts its decision will have on the climate, the environment and power customers, and without fairly evaluating carbon-free energy alternatives," the lawsuit says.

(READ MORE: TVA's new board urged to reconsider move to gas after EPA declines to challenge Cumberland Fossil Plant plans)


The groups are seeking an immediate halt to construction on the gas plant and an order forcing the utility to revise the existing environmental impact study used as the basis for moving forward with the gas-fired plant.

"Our country's largest utility has gamed the system to fast-track dirty energy projects, and that's why we're going to court to stop it," Gaby Sarri-Tobar, a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, said a statement. "TVA needs to be held accountable for its reckless pursuit of a new fossil gas plant in the midst of the climate emergency."

The center was joined by the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices in filing suit. The groups are represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Scott Brooks, a TVA spokesperson, said the agency was aware of the lawsuit but had not yet been served.

"TVA takes our environmental compliance obligations seriously, and the Cumberland Fossil Plant Retirement Environmental Impact Statement fully complied with all NEPA requirements," Brooks said via email Thursday.

(READ MORE: TVA to replace its biggest coal plant with natural gas generation)

The groups' claims rest on the National Environmental Policy Act, which mandates that federal agencies like TVA undergo a detailed review of potential adverse environmental impacts of any project -- and evaluate reasonable alternatives before making a final decision.

TVA announced its decision in May 2021 to retire the last units at the Cumberland Fossil plant, a 50-year-old coal facility about 60 miles northwest of Nashville. By December 2022, TVA had completed its draft environmental review required under the federal act, including a review of three possible replacements: a gas-fired plant, a solar facility with battery storage or a series of small-scale combustion-turbine gas plants on multiple properties.

(READ MORE: TVA study recommends shutting down Cumberland coal plant, adding natural gas generation)

Unbeknownst to the public, the lawsuit said, TVA entered into a contract with Tennessee Gas Pipeline in August 2021 to supply gas to a future gas-powered plant -- a contract that would commit TVA to a gas-fired plant even as it asked the public to weigh in on all three alternatives.

The lawsuit also questioned the quality of TVA's environmental review. It contends the review failed to take multiple factors into account, among them: the climate-warming impacts of the gas plant's emissions, a thorough vetting of the benefits of alternative power generation, costs associated with bringing emissions in line with U.S. climate objectives and the recently enacted Inflation Reduction Act, which is poised to provide billions of dollars in incentives for clean energy initiatives.

Read more at TennesseeLookout.com.