A trio of environmental groups said today they plan to sue the Tennessee Valley Authority to stop the release of coal ash pollutants into the Cumberland River from the Gallatin Fossil Plant near Nashville.
The Southern Environmental Law Center, representing the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, and the Tennessee Clean Water Network , sent notice today to TVA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation of their intentions to bring suit under the Clean Water Act to stop the release of arsenic, cadmium and other coal ash contaminants from the Gallatin plant.
The groups contend that the 55-year-old coal plant has improperly stored coal ash in unlined, unprotected ponds.
"TVA has known for years that the coal ash ponds at Gallatin are leaking into our rivers and our groundwater," said Stephanie Durman Matheny, an attorney at Tennessee Clean Water Network. "You would imagine that in the wake of the Kingston spill-which TVA is still cleaning up six years later-it would make sure another disaster on that scale would never happen again. Unfortunately, Gallatin's leaking coal ash ponds are proof that TVA hasn't learned its lesson, and we're the ones who will pay the price if another disaster happens."
Charlie Wilkerson, president of Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, said the Gallatin coal ash ponds hold more than 2 billion gallons of pollutants, "meaning a disaster there has the potential to dwarf the Kingston coal ash spill."
TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said today that the utility will respond to any litigation in the courts. But he noted that TVA is moving to replace the coal ash ponds at Gallatin by 2016 as part of an TVA-wide effort to move to dry storage of coal ash.
"We are working with TDEC on this approach," Brooks said. "Existing ash ponds will ten be dried out, covered and closed."
TVA also is spending more than $1 billion to install scrubbers and selective catalytic control (SCR) devices at Gallatin to limit air pollution from the plant.
The coal ash ponds at Gallatin have already been called a "significant hazard" by the EPA. In 2013, EPA found that some of the earthen dams at the Gallatin Plant were only in "fair" condition and in need of improvement.