Environmental group sues TVA for information on natural gas expansion plans

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed a lawsuit against the Tennessee Valley Authority after public records requests for contracts with methane gas companies were met with heavily redacted documents.

In 2019, TVA – which generates electricity for nearly 10 million people in the Southeast – announced possible plans to retire several coal-fired power plants throughout Tennessee, including Kingston and Cumberland City, and replace them. by alternative energy infrastructures.

Despite those promises, TVA now plans to invest more than $3.5 billion in new gas-fired power plants, including contracts with two pipeline companies owned by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

(READ MORE: TVA takes steps to shut down its largest coal-fired power plant)

Attorneys at the legal center requested information about those contracts under the Freedom of Information Act and received heavily redacted documents, according to environmental group attorney George Nolan.

“TVA signed these binding contracts, but they’re telling people they haven’t decided,” he said.

And with the redacted documents, the legal center is unable to determine the obligations that TVA will have towards these companies, which will ultimately fall on TVA’s customers.

“The public and taxpayers have a right to know what these contracts say,” Nolan 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 mix of renewables while actively making pledges of net carbon emissions. zero carbon by 2050.

(READ MORE: TVA proposes to build new gas-fired power plants on closed coal sites)

TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said TVA was unable to comment on the lawsuit itself, but federal law allows them to protect confidential business information.

Brooks also reiterated that TVA has not made any final decision on the future of the Cumberland or Kingston plants.

The Cumberland Fossil Generating Station is near Clarksville and is TVA’s largest coal-fired steam generating plant, while the Kingston Fossil Generating Station is on the Clinch River near Kingston.

The Kingston plant was at the center of a coal ash spill in 2008 after a levee burst, dumping more than a billion gallons of potentially toxic coal ash into the Emory River.

Of the workers who cleaned up the spill, 36 died of brain cancer, lung cancer and other illnesses. More than 200 clean-up workers and family members later sued the TVA contractor for failing to provide protective equipment and protect workers from coal ash that could have led to their illness.

TVA completed the Kingston Ash Recovery Project in 2015.

Over the next few months, TVA will conduct environmental studies of potential impacts under the National Environmental Policy Act, which states that TVA is obligated to allow the public to comment on concerns about factories.

“We will be looking for media outlets to help publicize the next step in the process for Cumberland and Kingston,” Brooks said.

TVA isn’t supposed to make a decision until an environmental review is complete, Nolan said, and TVA should seriously reconsider entering into binding fossil fuel deals as countries seek to fight climate change. climatic.

(READ MORE: TVA plans to phase out coal power by 2035 as utilities shift to more gas, nuclear and renewables)

“We fear that a decision to replace these plants with methane gas plants will lock TVA into polluting fossil fuels for decades to come, and that is the wrong choice given that renewables are clean and cheaper,” Nolan said.

Learn more at TennesseeLookout.com.

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