The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

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ELOlogoELO is a student-run organization at the University of Tennessee College of Law. It is not directly affiliated with the University of Tennesse or any particular non-profit organization. It is dedicated to providing students and attorneys with learning opportunities and leadership experiences.

Networking environmental leaders across Appalachia and the State of Tennessee

Knoxville — APIEL is a relative newcomer to the small circle of inclusive U.S. public interest environmental law conferences. Because it is organized by law school student volunteers, APIEL is affordable to attend for students as well as citizens from all walks of life.

APIEL is much loved and considered essential by regional nonprofit leaders and activists. It is also highly acclaimed by seasoned environmental lawyers. With just 12 conferences under its belt, APIEL has risen to rank among leading peer conferences with a much longer track record, such as the  Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the University of Oregon School of Law (39 events), the Red Clay Conference at the University of Georgia School of Law (34) and the Public Interest Environmental Conference (PIEC) at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law (28).

Published in News
Thursday, 22 September 2022 12:23

Enviros to TVA: Retire the fossil-fuel pacifier

Cumberland FPTVA’s Cumberland Fossil Plant near Clarksville is the subject of a suit filed by environmental groups, including Appalachian Voices and Southern Environmental Law Center.  Tennessee Valley Authority

SELC, others file suit in hopes of dissuading TVA from future fossil options

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

CLARKSVILLE — On behalf of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices, the Southern Environmental Law Center asked TVA to prepare a supplemental environmental statement to address concerns with TVA’s draft environmental impact statement, which details the agency’s plans to retire the Cumberland Fossil Plant.

The Cumberland Fossil Plant, about 22 miles southwest of Clarksville, is TVA’s largest coal-fired power station and was built between 1968 and 1973. TVA plans to retire each unit of the two-unit, coal-fired steam-generation plant separately: one unit no later than 2030, and the second unit no later than 2033. But the plant will need to be replaced, and TVA is currently considering three alternatives to fossil fuel, including natural gas and solar energy, according to its draft EIS.

(Tennessee Valley Authority already plans to close down the Knoxville-area Bull Run fossil plant in Claxton next year).

Published in News

TVA 4 Cumberland FP

Supreme Court air-pollution ruling calls into stark context all that must be done

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

KNOXVILLE — The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling limiting the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions that cause climate change has renewed the spotlight on the Tennessee Valley Authority, the nation’s largest public utility and Tennessee’s primary source of electricity.

The case involved EPA efforts to implement a key provision of the Clean Air Act in a challenge brought by 15 Republican-led states. That provision, which never went into effect, would have required existing power plants to shift from dirty sources of energy — such as coal — to cleaner sources, including solar and wind, as part of an urgent effort to reduce global warming.

Published in News

heat photoThomas Fraser/Hellbender Press

TVA sets record power day for June as region swelters and common sense degrades

This story was originally published by Hard Knox Wire.

KNOXVILLE — City residents this week joined scores of others around the world — from the Southwest United States to the Indian subcontinent — sweltering through late spring with eyes toward a summer that portends to be very hot.

Whether directly attributed to climate change or not, the heat waves are causing untold misery in locations across the Northern Hemisphere, straining power grids to the brink and causing a sharp rise in heat-related illnesses. 

Knoxville Utilities Board asked this week that consumers curtail their electricity use by setting their thermostats a little higher and holding off until night on energy-sucking tasks like doing laundry or running the dishwasher. That request was met in many cases with derision and unsubstantiated claims that charging electric vehicles had overburdened energy infrastructure.

So exactly how hot is it in East Tennessee and how bad is it going to get?

Published in News

Editors note: SACE executive director Stephen Smith is on the board of Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press operates under the FGS nonprofit umbrella.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) released its fourth annual “Energy Efficiency in the Southeast” report, which tracks recent policy developments and performance trends in electric utility efficiency from 2020.

It continues to highlight that despite being a proven low-cost clean energy resource with enormous potential to reduce carbon emissions and customers’ energy burden, Southeastern utilities continue to underinvest in energy efficiency.

As a result, households in many Southeastern states have some of the highest electricity usage and monthly energy bills in the nation. Some states and utilities are making progress, and it’s not too late for local policymakers to take advantage of untapped efficiency savings to help reach crucial decarbonization goals.

Published in Feedbag
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:
Published in Voices
Tuesday, 21 December 2021 14:43

SACE works to keep us all warm this winter

This is a submission from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

After public advocacy from Knoxville community members, the KUB board passed a resolution that will deliver $5 million for emergency bill assistance to benefit those most in need, and an additional $1 million for weatherization to improve the comfort of people’s homes while lowering their bills by increasing energy efficiency. These funds are part of a pandemic relief credit from TVA.

KUB staff proposed a resolution in October that would have allocated $1.3 million of the total $7.3 million TVA pandemic recovery credit toward payment of debt owed by KUB customers, and the remaining $6 million would be distributed as a monthly bill credit for all residential and small business KUB customers. This would have resulted in an average savings of $17 over 12 months, or about $1.40 per month for all KUB customers, regardless of their level of need for pandemic relief. 

Knoxville Water and Energy for All (KWEA), a coalition which SACE is a part of, circulated a petition asking that KUB instead forgive all debt owed by KUB customers, and then use the remaining funds to assist households who were struggling to pay their KUB bills. KWEA delivered nearly 200 petition signatures, and the KUB board asked that the resolution be amended. 

As a result of our coalition’s advocacy, the KUB board allocated not only the originally proposed $1.3 million for debt relief, but also the remaining $6 million for customers in need. 

While KUB did not pledge to forgive all debt, this is certainly a major win for the community.

The KUB Board’s decision to reallocate funds demonstrates the power of our community speaking up to advocate for ourselves and our neighbors. 

Published in Feedbag

 

Hard Knox Wire: Failure to disclose financial conflicts could put TVA manager in prison

A former senior project manager at the Tennessee Valley Authority could spend up to five years in federal prison after he admitted to falsifying financial disclosure reports over several years.

TVA is the largest public electricity provider in the nation and is in the midst of a fraught effort to lessen its dependence on fossil fuels and reduce its carbon output.

James Christopher “Chris” Jenkins, 60, of Chattanooga, entered a guilty plea on Friday to one count of making a false official statement, according to a spokesperson from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Hard Knox Wire reported.

He was accused of failing to disclose personal financial information during a conflict of interest probe, among other charges. 

 He faces a maximum prison sentence of five years plus up to three years of supervised release and $250,000 in fines when he’s sentenced in March by U.S. District Court Judge Travis R. McDonough. 

FBI Special Agent in Charge Joe Carrico said the case was an example of the bureau’s commitment to fighting corruption. 

“There is zero tolerance for those who exploit their official position for personal gain. It erodes public confidence and undermines the Rule of Law,” Carrico said. “We want the people we serve to know the FBI along with our law enforcement partners will hold those accountable who betray the public's trust.”

Published in Feedbag

kingstonThe Kingston Fossil Plant in Kingston, Tennessee is shown in this file image from the Tennessee Valley Authority.

TVA denies lobbying or cronyism, cites need for “expertise and analysis”

Editor's Note: This report is a collaboration between Hellbender Press and Hard Knox Wire.

A coalition of environmental groups who joined forces to stop the Tennessee Valley Authority from using ratepayer money to fund trade groups who lobby against the Clean Air Act and other environmental protections filed a federal lawsuit against the utility.

The environmentalists claim the practice potentially raises conflicts of interest and throws into doubt TVA’s willingness to comply with clean air laws even as the utility retires its coal plants in order to transition to a mix of fossil gas and nuclear power.

The 20-page lawsuit was filed Sept. 9 in federal court in Knoxville by a half-dozen groups, including the Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The groups aren’t seeking monetary damages other than court costs and legal fees.

TVA has invested millions of dollars in measurable air quality improvements as it prepares to divest from coal as a main electricity source. Nevertheless, TVA paid membership dues to interest groups such as Edison Electric Institute (which is headquartered five blocks from the U.S. Capitol) and Energy and Wildlife Action Coalition, according to the plaintiff’s suit.

“TVA has not been officially served with the lawsuit, so it would be inappropriate to comment on its specifics,” TVA spokesman Jim Hopson said early Thursday.

“As the nation’s largest public power provider and a federal agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority needs to demonstrate leadership by halting the financing of groups propping up the fossil fuel economy,” said Howard Crystal, legal director at CBD’s Energy Justice program. “Instead it funds these groups to do its dirty work while it moves forward with building new fossil gas plants. TVA can and must do better.” 

TVA contends it merely wants to get input from multiple stakeholders with multiple perspectives.

“As a federal agency, TVA is prohibited from participating in lobbying activities, and the TVA Board has directed that any dues, membership fees, or financial contributions paid to external organizations not be used for purposes inconsistent with TVA’s statutory mission or legal obligations.   
“Like other major utilities, TVA’s membership in a diverse array of external organizations allows TVA access to specialized expertise and analysis that directly benefits all of our customers at a cost significantly lower than if TVA were to undertake such work alone.”

Maggie Shober, director of utility reform at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said TVA has a special responsibility to support environmental protections.

“TVA is unique in the power industry in that environmental stewardship and economic development are codified in the agency’s founding mission,” she said. “It is imperative that the largest public power utility operate with accountability and transparency, stop funding anti-environment and anti-green jobs work, and invest in clean energy that will support the health of the Valley and the people who depend on it.”

Daniel Tait, chief operating officer of plaintiff Energy Alabama, said: “TVA has forced its customers to make political speech by taking money from their utility bills and using it for anti-clean energy advocacy. We have repeatedly called on the TVA inspector general to investigate this misuse of customer funds but after hearing and seeing nothing, we felt compelled to act.”

The path to the lawsuit began when the groups used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that TVA paid $200,000 in 2018 to the Utility Water Act Group, which lobbies against parts of the Clean Water Act. They also learned the utility was paying $500,000 a year to join the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents all private, investor-owned utility companies in the country.

Published in News

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Hard Knox Wire: A brief history of Ktown's worst natural disasters

The Covid-19 pandemic currently could go down in history as Knoxville's worst hard time (to borrow a phrase from Timothy Egan), but a litany of natural disasters preceded the international outbreak of respiratory disease that killed 629 people in Knox County as of Sept. 8, according to the Knox County Health Department. Only half of the county's residents have been vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, and more than 10 percent of the population has been infected with Covid-19, which can carry life-long health implications.

Hard Knox Wire has a great rundown of the Covid crisis and other natural disasters that the city and region have faced in its ongoing Knoxville history series. They include the far-flung effects of the New Madrid earthquake; periodic flooding that devastated downtown and outlying areas before TVA dammed the Tennessee River; a Cocke County plane crash that killed all aboard, including noteworthy Knoxvillians; and, perhaps, appropo, the smallpox and cholera breakouts that struck the city in the 1800s.

History is a great teacher, and thanks to JJ Stambaugh of Hard Knox Wire and Jack Neely of the Knoxville History Project for keeping us on our toes in regard to the past. 

 

Published in Feedbag
Friday, 20 August 2021 17:17

State’s fight against Asian carp scales up

WATE: Commercial fishing pulls out 10 million pounds of exotic carp from Tennessee River system

If you never thought there’d be an Asian carp commercial fishery in Tennessee waters, you were wrong.

Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency’s Asian Carp Harvest Incentive Program has yielded 10 million pounds of the exotic fish since 2018, the bulk caught downstream on the Tennessee River system at Kentucky and Barkly reservoirs. The fish has been spotted as far upstream as Knox and Anderson counties.

The Tennessee Valley Authority and TWRA are experimenting with acoustic barriers to prevent further upstream spread of the fish, which compete with native fish for food and habitat.

“There are four types of Asian carp: bighead, silver, black and grass,” WATE reported. “Experts say the species threatens to disrupt aquatic ecosystems and starve out native species due to their ability to out-compete native species for food like plankton.”

So what do fishermen do with 10 million pounds of carp?

It can be sold to wholesalers for distribution abroad and also makes for really good fertilizer.

Published in Feedbag

Looking for something to do after work? Want to be part of a rising movement urging TVA to move away from fossil fuels in the face of the global climate crisis? Support transparency from the largest public utility in the country?

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices, Center for Biological Diversity, the Sunrise Movement, Sierra Club, and other local organizations are hosting a clean-energy rally from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. today (Aug. 18) on Market Square near TVA’s headquarters in downtown Knoxville.

TVA hasn’t had a public listening session in over a year, according to rally organizers. Rally participants will demand that TVA: 

— Restore public listening and input sessions;

— Commit to 100 percent clean energy by 2030;

— Not build new fossil gas plants;

— Protect coal ash workers, and; 

— Dispose of coal ash properly with public health and safety as the utmost priority. 

The rally will feature songs from local musicians, a reading of demands for TVA, speakers discussing pressing issues for TVA and our region, and a short march around Market Square. 

Masks and social distancing are encouraged. For those unable to attend in person, a virtual option is available at Tennessee Valley Energy Democracy Movement Facebook page

 

Published in Event Archive

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.

Published in Voices

TVA's 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spillRemember TVA’s 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill

The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to retire the Kingston plant and its four other remaining coal-fired power plants by 2035.

But it is seriously considering replacing them with large fossil gas power plants and new gas pipelines!

Natural gas is cleaner than coal, but is yet another fossil fuel source that releases carbon dioxide. Such a replacement would be contrary to the national and global consensus that we must reduce the use of fossil fuels quickly to constrain the runaway climate crisis as much as we can.

A plan based on emerging technologies for increased energy efficiency combined with distributed use of renewable energies and energy storage can increase community resilience; create more good, long-term jobs; diversify local business opportunities; and provide immediate public health benefits.

TVA accepts public comments electronically through the end of July 15, 2021. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to tell TVA that customers don’t want to pay for a yesteryear “solution” that does not really address the clear and present dangers to humanity. The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has made it easy for you:  

Submit your comment to TVA by tapping or clicking this link NOW:  

Tell TVA, No New Fossil Gas Plants + Pipelines  

You can also email TVA directly attn: Chevales Williams, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Source: TVA — Kingston Fossil Plant Retirement 

 

Published in Action Alert Archive

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) recently announced plans to retire its five remaining coal-fired power plants by 2035.

However, it is seriously considering replacing them with large fossil gas power plants and new gas pipelines!

That’s like “two steps forward, one step back.”

TVA could take many more steps forward by prioritizing clean energy.

TVA’s new gas plan is not final, and the time to influence our public utility is now!

Click here to tell TVA, No new fossil gas plants!

Comment deadline is June 10

Published in Event Archive

Associated Press: Activists say TVA spent ratepayer money to sue over pollution restrictions

A coalition of environmental groups alleges the Tennessee Valley Authority provided millions of dollars in dues to a trade group resistant to air-pollution control measures.

TVA officials say the utility's membership in the Utility Air Regulatory Group was a way to help it navigate the complexities of federal pollution regulations, but documents obtained by the clean-air coalition via a Freedom of Information Act request show the now-disbanded trade group spent $3.5 million on legal fees between 2015 and July 2018. TVA CEO Jeff Lyash told Congress in 2019 the utility had paid UARG $7.3 million since 2001.

The committee that approved the legal expenses was co-chaired at the time by a senior TVA manager, and in lawsuits, "the UARG frequently argued against tighter air pollution and climate regulations," according to the AP.

The Knoxville-based Southern Alliance for Clean Energy was among the environmental groups calling for a review of TVA's relationship with the UARG and other trade groups.

(SACE executive director Stephen Smith is a member of the board of Foundation for Global Sustainability. Hellbender Press is a self-supporting project of FGS). 

Published in Feedbag

 

“Our intelligence and flexibility as a society will be tested as the financial and industrial giants all figure out what they’re going to do.”

The Tennessee Valley Authority intends to phase out its aging fleet of coal plants by 2035, potentially replacing the age-old carbon-rich power source with increased use of natural gas and refreshed, concentrated supplies of nuclear energy as the vast utility moves to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan emerged Wednesday, about a month after the Biden administration called on the U.S. power sector to eliminate pollutants linked to climate change by 2035.

The Tennessee Valley Authority is the largest public provider of electricity in the United States. It provides wholesale power to every major municipal provider in Tennessee, as well as other metropolitan areas and smaller utility districts and cooperatives within its seven-state service area.

Published in Air
News Sentinel: Biden poised to name four new TVA board members

Georgiana Vines has a good overview of the changing of the guard at TVA as Biden takes the reins on the giant public utility. 

Environmental groups are hopeful that new appointees could steer TVA toward more sustainable energy sources and put a focus on the role of power production in climate change.

Published in Feedbag

solar on a hillsidea7ed9a9435304bf48f15e8223272129a 

Last year, Knoxville Utilities Board committed to supplying 20 percent of its electricity through solar generation by 2023, through Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Green Invest program. By 2023, KUB will provide 502 megawatts annually of new-to-the-grid solar power to its customers. This represents the equivalent of enough energy to power 83,000 homes. The $1.63 million cost will be paid by a credit provided by TVA as part of its 20-year partnership agreement with KUB.

The announcement was celebrated by solar energy advocates, including the Tennessee Solar Energy Industries Association, but some environmental watchdogs maintain there are issues with the contracts that local power companies had to enter into with TVA to participate in Green Invest.

Published in Air

Color photograph shows the grassy herbaceous ground cover and the trees planted in straight rows; This walnut orchard was planted by the Tennessee Valley Authority as part of its early mission to promote the growth of economically useful trees in the Tennessee Valley.   Courtesy UT Tree Improvement Program

Part I of this three-part series examines how the development of civilizations and rapid population growth gave rise to forest tree domestication. Parts II and III will discuss the role that the University of Tennessee’s Tree Improvement Program has played in forest sustainability by contributing to the productivity and health of Tennessee’s present and future forests.

Wood and lumber figured prominently in ancient civilizations, ranging from everyday use for warmth, cooking, and shelter to specialty uses like veneers for furniture and construction with scented woods. 

No matter what continent or hemisphere, as human civilizations evolved from collections of nomad hunter-gatherers to the steel, brick, glass, and mortar cities of today, the impact on forested land proportionally increased. As villages became towns and, eventually, cities, forests were harvested in an ever-increasing radius around the population centers. Wild animals and plants were also harvested in the same manner, drastically altering ecosystems and causing massive erosion.

Nations that quickly exhausted the best trees in their limited forested lands, like ancient Egypt and Greece, met wood demands for construction or specialty products by importing wood from other nations. The then-rich forests of Lebanon and Cyprus were harvested to export timber to countries suffering from a timber famine.  

Published in Voices