The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

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Handout from TVA Listening Session Aug. 30 2022Scott Banbury with the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club said a handout provided at TVA’s Aug. 30 listening session stated recordings of the meeting were not allowed; a TVA spokesperson said recordings are, in fact, allowed. Flyer provided by Scott Banbury

Is TVA trying to gag its critics?

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

KNOXVILLE — While the Tennessee Valley Authority, a utility company that provides power to millions in Tennessee and other states, allows for public input into decisions, the process isn’t simple or transparent, say some regular attendees.

Take, for instance, a recent public listening session: representatives of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club say they were told they could not record the session despite a spokesman for TVA saying the opposite.

According to TVA spokesperson Scott Brooks, attendees are always allowed to record public meetings, provided they don’t cause a disturbance, but minutes before the session, members of the Tennessee chapter of the Sierra Club were prohibited from doing so.

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An empty Circle Park as trees bloom on April 02, 2020. Photo by Steven Bridges/University of TennesseeAn empty Circle Park is seen in April. The park is adjacent to the UT School of Journalism and Electronic Media. Steven Bridges/University of Tennessee

Everybody has a story about the natural environment. Look around, and into yourself.

University of Tennessee journalism professor Mark Littmann asks students in his environmental writing class every semester to write short sketches about environmental issues they may observe during any given day. Such an assignment requires an almost poetical approach. Here's a sampling from spring semester.

A reef of bones

Huge schools of rainbow-colored fish weave through the brightly colored corals as Sir David Attenborough describes a day in the life of a fish on the television screen. A little girl is mesmerized; this is no Disney fantasy but real life. The nature shows on Animal Planet capture her imagination and soon mornings and afternoons are spent watching big cats and meerkats navigate the wild spaces they call home. She finds an instant favorite in the book “The Rainbow Fish” and celebrates turning four with a sparkly rainbow fish cake, hand decorated with sprees for rainbow scales. She insists someday she will swim among the fish in their magical undersea world. 

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Will West LongCherokee tribal council member, historian and ethnographer Will West Long holds a traditional Cherokee mask, which he often recreated. He was an active chronicler of Cherokee custom, heritage and tradition and died in 1947 on the Qualla Reservation in Swain County, North Carolina. WikiCommons

As plans gel for massive new developments, has the Eastern Band lost its ancient way?

SEVIERVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Transportation is eyeing a second interchange for exit 407 at Highway 66 along Interstate I-40 in Sevier County. 

Exit 407, already one of the most congested interchanges in Southern Appalachia, accesses the main highway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the nation. The park reported a record 14 million visitors in 2021.

The exit also serves crowds flocking to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.

But the new interchange would primarily serve a 200-acre development to be called Exit 407: The Gateway to Adventure.   

Scheduled to open spring 2023, and fully operational in 2024, it’s expected to attract 6.7 million people annually. The first phase includes a theme park and a 74,000-square-foot convenience store with 120 gas pumps, making it the world’s largest such store.

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Editor’s note: As reported in Hellbender Press, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management (OREM) was reprimanded by the Southern Environmental Law Center for neglecting its duty to follow guidelines and proper procedures mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Of immediate concern was OREM’s pretext and information — or specifically lack of pertinent information — released ahead of the public meeting on May 17, 2022 about its project for a new “Environmental Management Disposal Facility” (EMDF).

With regard to NEPA compliance, Oak Ridge Operations has been the black sheep in DOE’s stable because it never prepared the required site-wide environmental impact statement (EIS) for the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR). At said public meeting, Virginia Dale, Corporate Fellow Emeritus of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, commented on another tangent of shortcomings — not spelled out by Federal law — but matters of common sense, competent decision making and good community spirit.


Public comments by Dr. Dale

My name is Virginia Dale. My family roots in Tennessee go back to 1798. I’ve lived in Oak Ridge more than 3 decades. I have a PhD in environmental sciences and my comments come from my perspective as a citizen, scientist, and most importantly a grandmother who wants all of our children to live in a safe environment.

It is absolutely necessary that the contaminated legacy buildings on the Oak Ridge Reservation be cleaned up.

My concern is that the clean up occurs in a proper and timely fashion.

I am a co-principal investigator on a project supported by the National Science Foundation to identify best practices for stakeholder engagement in environmental decision making. Since our team has learned that appropriate engagement results in better decision making, I evaluated how well those 6 best practices apply to DOE’s decisions regarding the EMDF.

  1. The full diversity of interested stakeholders be identified and engaged — DOE:  C

    1. I know of no effort to specifically engage either the people who live in west Oak Ridge nor those in Lenoir City, who are closest to Bear Creek and the streams into which it flows and who are most likely to access and even fish in the contaminated waters. Many of those people are Hispanic and primarily speak Spanish; yet none of the posted signs are in Spanish.
    2. I was so glad to see the Fact Sheets in Spanish
    3. However, EPA has made a specific effort to reach out to the community in Scarboro, which has been discriminated against in the past, but that community is not at high risk with the proposed landfill.
  2. The values of the ecosystem should be identified for all stakeholders — DOE:  F

    1. I am not aware of any effort to document who uses the contaminated waters of Bear Creek or Poplar Creek into which it flows, or how they use it.
    2. The use of an established forest for the site does not consider its value as a habitat for many organisms even though the ORR has diversity on a per area basis that is similar to the Smokies.
      1. The proposed new landfill site is in an area of the ORR that the OREM End Use Working Group designated to be kept uncontaminated, while other areas were stipulated to be permanently sacrificed to contamination.
      2. This site has shallow and upwelling groundwater (hydrology unsuitable for waste disposal), is in a watershed that has been relatively unaffected by past federal nuclear activities, and supports mature forest and wetlands.
  3. Listening deeply takes time and attention — DOE: F

    1. Careful listen requires answering all questions, making sure the nuances are understood, and using communication tools appropriate for the audience.
    2. Questions asked 4 years ago have still not been answered.
  4. Trust should be established, which requires upfront transparency as to timeframe, process, and results as well as the costs and benefits of potential outcomes — DOE: F

    1. The video “20 years of success” is misleading because
      1. The site filled up too fast
      2. Spills occurred
        1. The landfill has had a series of overflow events that basically dumped untreated effluent into Bear Creek.
        2. That overflow water averaged more than double allowed concentration of uranium in drinking water.
    2. Although DOE has been asked, they have not provided
      1. Costs of off-site transport vs onsite storage — nor the number of employees and type of jobs engaged in each alternative. I expect that offsite transport would require more analysts to document the material while the on-site option would require more truck drivers.
      2. Waste acceptance criteria have never been provided (the Fact Sheet on Waste Acceptance Criteria says what will not be included — not what will be or what the criteria are for acceptance). The Waste Acceptance Compliance Plan is still in development.
    3. While a field demonstration has been proposed, it seems that some aspect of this demo could have been started in the time since 2018 when questions were formally asked.
    4. DOE’s “Site Groundwater Characterization” fact sheet figure on page 2 is highly misleading, for it does not show the waste (of 75') to scale with the rest of the layers (which total 26').
  5. Being flexible requires that as new information becomes available that changes are made in the analysis and process — DOE: F

    1. Even with record rainfall in the intervening 4 years since the last review, no new analyses have been provided that assess how the landfill will operate under increased rain.
  6. Accountability by all parties is necessary. This means that all question or concerns be addressed in a timely fashion — DOE: F

    1. Data, models and their assumptions should be made available.
    2. Questions should be answered — yet queries raised 4 years ago have never been addressed.

Overall DOE get a D- in effective engagement of the community. While effective stakeholder engagement is a time-consuming and ongoing process, the total time and effort involved is reduced with early communication and clear engagement. Furthermore, better decisions are made if good practices for engagement in decision making are followed.

So I ask DOE once again, please provide information on

  • The basis for choosing the site
  • The Waste acceptance criteria details
  • All models and their assumptions
  • Model projections of landfill conditions under increased rain
  • Costs of off-site vs on-site long-term storage of toxic wastes

Finally (and most importantly, I ask that a plan for complete clean up of the ORR be provided (as required by law) instead of providing information piece by piece. Only by taking a holistic look at hazardous waste disposal can the public have confidence that DOE will fulfill its obligation to clean up the Oak Ridge Reservation.

Thank you!


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency censured DOE in a 50-page document for large numbers of omissions, ambiguities, mistakes and non-compliance with terms of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) in its EMDF Draft Record of Decision.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), likewise, had much to fault in DOE’s plan. TDEC doubts that the plan can satisfy the requirements of the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act and of Tennessee’s water quality antidegradation rules, particularly with regard to preventing further mercury pollution.

Knox News summarized the troubled history of the controversial project in advance of the public meeting: Manhattan Project radiation lingers in Oak Ridge. Critics want more info on a new landfill.

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Dear Commissioner {last-name}:

We implore you to vote against the request to strip the Agricultural zoning from the core area of the historic Twin Springs Farm in Dry Hollow.
(11-B-21-SP & 11-F-21-RZ   Request of Thunder Mountain Properties, LLC for rezoning from A (Agricultural) ... Property located at 8802 Sevierville Pike and 0 Dry Hollow Road.)

This property is an integral part of a forgotten Knox County heritage area that has unique historical, cultural, economic and ecological values.

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kingstonThe Tennessee Valley Authority's fossil plant at Kingston. TVA

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy: TVA is not coming clean in Congressional inquiries

KNOXVILLE — On Jan. 13, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) requesting information regarding business practices that appear inconsistent with TVA’s statutory requirement to provide low-cost power to residents of the Tennessee Valley.
TVA’s response to the committee’s 16 questions dodges some of the committee members’ key concerns and provides misleading information on several issues, including:
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Menacing military buildup on Ukraine borders and Orwellian denials could snuff peaceful scientific cooperation

OAK RIDGE — I went to Russia in 2000 on one of the most extraordinary trips of my life. It was a long time ago, and a generation has passed, but I was left with many enduring and positive impressions of the country and its people.

The newspaper I worked for, The Daily Times in Maryville, paid for my trip to Moscow, then to Siberia, (and back again, to my surprise) to cover a contingent of Blount County politicos/bureaucrats and Oak Ridge DOE types visiting a far eastern Russian town, Zheleznogorsk, that had long been home to both nuclear and chemical weapons processing facilities.
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From plastic pollution to extreme weather and the extinction crisis, the year ahead promises tough fights, enormous challenges and critical opportunities

This story was originally published by The Revelator.

A new year brings with it new opportunities — and more of the same environmental threats from the previous 12 months.

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David Zinn Sprig Life emergingThis photograph of ephemeral chalk street art by David Zinn is symbolic for life reemerging after a catastrophe (of being paved over) or for people coming out from lockdown.
In 2022 the Living Sustainably Program of the Foundation for Global Sustainability
will launch a pilot project to engage citizen volunteers
in grassroots initiatives for community resilience, sustainability and global solidarity.


At this time a year ago, we were hopeful 2021 would bring an end to the pandemic.

The final week of 2020 saw the counts of new cases decline markedly in the United States and worldwide. Except for scientists and medical professionals, few understood yet the risks posed by variants of the virus that causes COVID-19. It wasn’t until May 2021 that the World Health Organization (WHO) started naming major variants for Greek letters.

Not every change brought about by the pandemic had purely negative consequences

Learning from what is going wrong may help us avoid deleterious outcomes of other global crises.

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As Hellbender Press reported in April, the Tennessee Valley Authority plans to phase out its use of coal. And as we mentioned in an action alert, TVA is conducting a scoping process pertaining to the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for retirement and replacement of the Kingston Fossil Plant. TVA is preparing similar EIS for its other remaining coal-fired power plants as well.

Although TVA lists "construction and operation of solar and storage facilities" in these scoping documents as an alternative for replacement of coal as the power source, it has made no secret of its belief that construction of gas-powered combustion turbines (CT) and natural gas pipelines to feed them will be the best solution to replace the outdated generation capacity.

Unlike other power utilities, TVA has been making it more difficult, financially unattractive or impossible for distributed renewable energy, storage and even efficiency projects to get realized, according to proponents of renewables and some of TVA’s local power distribution partners. TVA also reneged on its agreement with other utilities to make large amounts of wind power available to the Southeastern United States through the Plains & Eastern Clean Line high-voltage direct-current power line project.

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