The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

Ben Pounds

TVA’s Bull Run Fossil Plant — then and nowBull Run Fossil Plant in Claxton, Tennessee, was originally commissioned 55 years ago but TVA is now soliciting public input on the best way to shut down operations. Tennessee Valley Authority

TVA solicits public input following release of environmental assessment for Bull Run Fossil Plant decommission

CLAXTON — Tennessee Valley Authority plans to close its Bull Run Fossil Plant (BRF) in Anderson County, but it’s still looking for public input on what comes next.

“As a large, inflexible coal unit with medium operating costs and a high forced outage rate, BRF does not fit current and likely future portfolio needs,” the federal utility said in a draft Environmental Assessment.

TVA is looking at three different options for the future of the structures still standing on the site by the Clinch River near Oak Ridge: taking down all structures; taking down some of them; or leaving everything standing. A recent report lays out the environmental consequences of each of these actions. The report, in draft form, is against that third choice, listing it as only an option for the sake of comparison.

“If the facility is left in the “as-is” condition, it likely would present a higher risk than Alternatives A or B for the potential to contaminate soil and groundwater as systems and structures degrade. As such, this alternative is not a reasonable alternative,” the draft states.

TVA stated its considering removing “all or most of the buildings and structures” on a 250-acre area. After closing the plant, but before any demolitions, TVA will begin by removing components that may be used at other TVA sites, draining of oil and fluids from equipment, taking ash out of the boilers, removing information technology assets, removing plant records and other tasks.

The Bull Run Environmental Assessment is 170 pages long and available for public review. It doesn’t directly tackle the coal ash storage conundrum that has grabbed the attention of politicians, nearby residents and environmental activists, because that issue involves separate regulations. 

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CLAXTON  Even though TVA is about to retire Bull Run Fossil Plant, water pollution issues related to it are still up for debate.

A water discharge permit hearing took place Thursday, Jan. 12 at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation building, 761 Emory Valley Road in Oak Ridge. 

If you missed the meeting, you can still provide comments by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. through Thursday, Jan. 26

The permit would, if approved, allow releases of “cooling water, process wastewater and storm water runoff” from Bull Run Fossil Plant into the Clinch River and operation of a cooling water intake system. Environmental groups have concerns. 

Tennessee Valley Authority plans to retire Bull Run Fossil plant by 2023. Over several years and at meetings, both connected to TVA and organized by activist groups, citizens have voiced concerns about water quality issues due to the continued coal ash waste TVA stores on the site. In advance of this meeting, representatives of the Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, Appalachian Voices, Statewide Coalition for Community eMpowerment and Center for Biological Diversity all signed a letter asking for TDEC to set standards for water pollution from coal ash based on available technology.

This story will be updated.

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UT forestry efforts benefit whiskey and ecological chasers

KNOXVILLE — Volunteers, distilleries and two universities came together this fall to collect white oak acorns to ensure the survival of the species for commercial and ecological purposes.

It was a key part of a conservation effort started by distilleries worried about the future of oak barrels and casks used to age whiskey and bourbon.

It’s about more than that though, as white oaks have many uses not just for people but for an estimated 2,000 other species, including bats, birds, turkeys, deer, rabbits and hundreds of butterflies and moths. But because the trees are slow to grow, they may be at risk, especially as the region grapples with the uncertain outcomes of climate change.

Bog TturtleThis baby bog turtle may be the face of a new generation of bog turtles raised by Zoo Knoxville for a return to the wild.  Zoo Knoxville

Bog turtles raised for resurrection at Zoo Knoxville’s ARC

KNOXVILLE — Zoo visitors might overlook the collection of critters behind a small, unremarkable window. But amid the showier gila monster, reticulated python, king cobra and Cuban crocodiles, there’s a regional species on the brink of extinction that’s worth a closer look.

Behind the glass, tiny juvenile bog turtles poke their heads out from underneath sphagnum moss at Zoo Knoxville’s Clayton Family Amphibian Reptile Conservatory (ARC).They are mostly brown, with splashes of gold on their heads. When they mature, they will move to the Bern Tryon Turtle Propagation Bog just outside. Eventually, the zoo will release the heartiest of the bunch. This process, called head-starting, involves raising the turtles from eggs and feeding them well in captivity so they’ll be bigger and have a better chance to survive after returning to the wild.

IMG 3985Kat Johnson meets a butterfly during a recent event at the University of Tennessee Arboretum in Oak Ridge. Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

UT Arboretum event reminds us to love and care for the butterflies among us

OAK RIDGE — With an orange flutter, a cluster of painted lady butterflies took to the sky.

It was a timed release, coming toward the end of the seventh annual University of Tennessee Arboretum’s Butterfly Festival last month. 

Earlier, other live painted lady butterflies were available to watch in mesh tents. Visitors got a chance to touch Madagascar hissing cockroaches and look at preserved insect collections with butterflies and other creatures from around the world. Children ran around the event with butterfly face paint, butterfly masks and butterfly wings. But the event was also a chance to buy butterfly-friendly plants and learn about butterflies and their relationships with other species. 

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Wither wisteria: ‘People care about our land’

IMG 4106Anne Child removes invasive exotic plants during a recent Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning event to mark National Public Lands Day at TVA’s Worthington Cemetery in Oak Ridge. Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Citizens pay it back on Public Lands Day in Oak Ridge, Smokies and beyond

OAK RIDGE — Rain drizzled as volunteers dug and clipped plants in woods around an old cemetery turned science lab.

It was a Public Lands Day event at Tennessee Valley Authority Worthington Cemetery Ecological Study area in Oak Ridge near Melton Hill Lake. Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, an environmental organization based in Oak Ridge, led the Sept. 24 work party in support of American public lands.

Other events were held throughout the country to mark the date (including Great Smoky Mountains National Park), which has proven itself to be the most productive day of the year for citizen sweat equity in public lands.

Food policy councilKnoxville city public information specialist Paige Travis; senior Knoxville-Knox County planner Jessie Hillman; Nourish Knoxville Executive Director Charlotte Tolley; and Food Policy Council advisor Vivian Williams (from left) share a laugh during a celebration of the FPC’s 40th anniversary.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Beardsley Farm and others provided vital food essentials during the pandemic and are better prepared for the future

KNOXVILLE — Disparate groups banded together as one during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure all Knox County citizens had reliable sources of food in the midst of disaster. 

They told their stories at the Knoxville-Knox County Food Policy Council 40th Anniversary Celebration on Sept. 21 at the Community Action Committee (CAC) Beardsley Community Farm.

University of Tennessee students formed the Food Policy Advisory Council in 1982.

The oldest municipal food policy council in the United States

The anniversary program included remarks and proclamations from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon, Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs, and state officials. Individual achievements on food-related issues were also honored. 

IMG 3876Gerry Moll is seen in the native garden of his home in the 4th and Gill neighborhood of Knoxville.  Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

People are restoring native plants on their properties. You should, too.

‘There are a lot of messes out there and this is something that you can do right at home that has a positive effect.’

KNOXVILLE — If you want to help native wildlife and attract it to your yard, plant some native plants and kick back on your porch and watch them grow. That’s a good place to start.

That’s the message from Native Plant Rescue Squad founders Gerry Moll and Joy Grissom.

People walking by Moll’s garden in the Fourth and Gill neighborhood off Broadway just north of the city center will see tall plants; not hedges or other foreign plants, but various short trees and native flowers. It looks like an explosion of growth on both sides of the sidewalk, but it’s not chaos.

IMG 3713Spark CleanTech Accelerator participants join Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon during an Aug. 31 awards ceremony. Ben Pounds/Hellbender Press

Knoxville celebrates sustainable technology startups from across the country

KNOXVILLE — Leaders of start-up green businesses specializing in services and products ranging from carbon reduction to cleaning products and piping wrapped up some warp-speed lessons Aug. 31.

At the conclusion of the three-month Spark CleanTech Accelerator the leaders of environmentally sustainable businesses from across the country took home some awards and got a strategic pep talk from Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon.

“I’m very committed to all things green and sustainable,” she said. “Orange and green are complementary colors." She spoke of making Knoxville a “clean tech hub,” not just for Tennessee but internationally. She envisioned “a cleaner Knoxville and a cleaner world.”

big cameraDonna Moore and Anna Lawrence are pictured at a Big Camera! event in May at Ijams Nature Center in South Knoxville. Ben Pounds/Hellbender PressLessons in early and enduring photo techniques are an organic way to spread the arts and cultivate love of nature

KNOXVILLE — Donna Moore and Anna Lawrence showed people how to take photos with the sun.

The method, demonstrated this spring at Ijams Nature Center, involved putting one or more leaves on photo paper and spraying it with two sprays. One spray contained lemon and water. The other contained water with vinegar.

Children then placed these leaves on wet photo paper in the sun. The sun’s light gives a permanent impression of the leaf on the paper.

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