Southern Environmental Law Center slams TVA with suit
The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Norris Dam in Anderson County (Photo: TVA website)
The Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority after its public records requests for contracts with methane-gas companies were met with heavily redacted records.
In 2019, TVA, which produces electricity for nearly 10 million people across the Southeast, announced their plans to possibly retire several coal-fired plants throughout Tennessee – including Kingston and Cumberland City – and replace them with alternative energy infrastructure.
But despite those promises, TVA now plans to invest more than 3.5 billion in new gas-burning electric plants, including contracts with two pipeline companies owned by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.
SELC attorneys requested information about those contracts under the Freedom of Information Act but were instead delivered heavily redacted documents, according to SELC attorney George Nolan.
“TVA has signed these binding contracts but it’s telling people that it hasn’t decided,” he said.
And with the documents redacted, SELC is unable to determine the obligations that TVA will have to these companies, which will ultimately fall to TVA’s customers.
“The public and ratepayers have a right to know what these contracts say,” he added.
TVA has not made a final decision on whether the plants will be retired, but officials have also discussed replacing the plants with natural gas and a combination of renewable energy while actively making promises toward net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks said TVA is unable to comment on the lawsuit itself, but that federal law allows them to protect confidential business information.
Brooks also reiterated that TVA has made no final decisions on the future of the Cumberland or Kingston Fossil Plants.
The Cumberland Fossil Plant is located near Clarksville and is TVA’s largest coal-fired steam-generating plant while the Kingston Fossil Plant is located on the Clinch River near Kingston.
The Kingston plant was at the center of a 2008 coal ash spill after a dike ruptured, pouring more than a billion gallons of potentially toxic coal ash into the Emory River. Of the workers that cleaned up the spill, 36 have died of brain cancer, lung cancer and other diseases. More than 200 cleanup workers and family members later sued TVA’s contractor for failure to provide protective equipment and protect workers from coal ash that may have led to their illnesses.
TVA finished the Kingston Ash Recovery Project in 2015.
In the coming months, TVA will be conducting environmental studies and potential impacts as part of the National Environmental Policy Act, which states that TVA is obligated to allow public comment on concerns about the plants.
“As for the NEPA process, we’ll be looking for news outlets to help get the word out about the next step in the process for Cumberland and Kingston,” said Brooks.
TVA is not supposed to make a decision until an environmental review has completed, said Nolan, and TVA should seriously reconsider entering binding agreements to fossil fuels as countries seek to combat climate change.
“We’re concerned that a decision to replace those plants with methane-gas plants would lock TVA into polluting fossil fuels for decades to come, and that’s the wrong choice considering renewable energy is clean and less expensive,” Nolan said.
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