ABOVE: The Cumberland River surrounds the TVA Gallatin Fossil Plant. // SOUTHERN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW CENTER
Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) must excavate roughly 12 million cubic yards of coal ash from leaking, unlined waste pits at Gallatin Fossil Plant as part of a settlement announced Thursday of a lawsuit filed by the State of Tennessee in 2015.
“After a thorough review of the scientific evidence, and with the availability of an onsite lined landfill, TVA worked with [Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation] to determine that it is the best interest of our customers, the State of Tennessee, and most importantly, our neighbors in the Gallatin community to remove the ash from the existing wet impoundments,” Jeff Lyash, TVA’s President and CEO, said in a statement posted online Thursday morning.
“This is a great victory for clean water and for the health and well-being of all Tennesseans,” said Kathy Hawes, Executive Director of Tennessee Clean Water Network, which was granted permission to intervene in the lawsuit along with the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association.
The lawsuit alleged violations of state water quality laws related to groundwater pollution from the Gallatin plant. Arsenic and boron were just two of the contaminants found in Cumberland River water samples.
“For years, we’ve been working to hold TVA accountable and safeguard waters impacted by the Gallatin Plant,” Hawes said, referring to a November 2014 intent-to-sue notice sent to TVA by TCWN and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association for alleged water quality violations.
That notice prompted the State to sue TVA and seek a remedy via a lawsuit filed in state court. The result of over four years of litigation is the agreement by TVA to implement a 20-year plan to excavate the majority of the coal ash at the Gallatin site.
In addition to excavation of the large coal ash pit, the settlement requires TVA to remediate the polluted groundwater at the site and to complete an environmental study of a separate, but smaller coal ash pit onsite.
The TVA statement noted that there is roughly 13 million cubic yards of “coal combusion residual” material in the various impoundments at Gallatin, including ash that can be safely used in materials like concrete and roofing shingles. The total also includes about 2 million cubic yards of material at the smaller “Non-registered Site,” which is the oldest ash impoundment at Gallatin, and has mature vegetation. That site is subject to a separate order and may not be moved.
At present, it is estimated that the cost of removal could be approximately $650 million, depending on the disposition of the Non-registered Site and potential beneficial use, among other variables. TVA anticipated the costs associated with resolving this issue, which can be adequately covered by the existing rate structure and will be spread across the projected 20-year project timeframe.
Hawes credits the hard work of the attorneys at Southern Environmental Law Center for the settlement, which represented the environmental groups.
“This case has helped to protect the Cumberland River, a precious resource for drinking water and recreation in Middle Tennessee,” said Amanda Garcia, Managing Attorney for SELC’s Tennessee office.
As part of the terms of the agreement, TVA admits no liability.
“We will continue to work with TDEC and other regulators to determine site-specific solutions that are in the best interest of all those we serve, not just at Gallatin, but at all sites,” added Lyash. “Everyone in the Tennessee Valley has benefited from the electricity produced from coal for more than 70 years, and we must now appropriately manage the legacy of those benefits.”