The Environmental Journal of Southern Appalachia

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TVA‘s Cumberland power plantThe Tennessee Valley Authority’s Cumberland Fossil Plant in Stewart County, Tennessee is leaking boron at 22 times safe levels, as well as unsafe levels of arsenic, cobalt, lithium and molybdenum, according to a recent report prepared by environmental groups using TVA’s own data. Tennessee Valley Authority

Report: TVA’s Allen Fossil Plant in Memphis ranks No. 10 in most contaminated U.S. sites

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash dumps in Memphis rank among the worst in the nation for contamination of groundwater with cancer-causing toxins, according to a new report that relied on the power provider’s own records.

TVA’s coal ash dumps at the now-defunct Allen Fossil Plant rank as the 10th worst contaminated sites in the country in a report released earlier this month that examined groundwater monitoring data from coal-fired plant operators, including TVA.

TVA’s own monitoring data shows its Memphis dumps are leaking arsenic at levels nearly 300 times safe drinking water limits. Unsafe levels of boron, lead and molybdenum are also being recorded there.

The report, prepared and published by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) and Earthjustice, shows that coal ash dumps at every TVA coal-fired facility across Tennessee are leaking dangerous contaminants at unsafe levels, including arsenic, cobalt, lithium, molybedenum, boron, lead and sulfate, into groundwater.

Published in News
Friday, 04 November 2022 17:00

Still no reckoning for coal-ash polluters

1024px Kingston plant spill swanpond tn2A TVA ash pond at Watts Bar ruptured with disastrous consequences in December 2008.  Wikipedia 

Report contends coal plant operators are shirking responsibilities on ash cleanup

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout

NASHVILLE — In the wake of major coal ash spills from power plant containment ponds in Tennessee and into the Dan River along the North Carolina and Virginia border, the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2015 laid out the first federal rules for managing the ash, one of the nation’s largest waste streams, and the toxins it contains.  

But more than seven years later, few utilities and other owners responsible for the often unlined pits where billions of tons of ash leach heavy metals and other toxins into groundwater are planning comprehensive cleanups, per a report released this month by a pair of environmental groups. 

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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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TVA 1 2048x1365A hopper car on a train filled with coal to be delivered to a TVA coal-fired plant. John Partipilo/Tennessee Lookout

Climate bill designates TVA as a potential recipient of clean energy investments and loans

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

KNOXVILLE  Clean-energy advocates are urging the Tennessee Valley Authority to use funds provided through the Inflation Reduction Act to deliver environmentally friendly energy to Tennessee customers. 

The massive bill Congress passed Friday includes $370 billion for clean energy investments and listed TVA as an entity that is eligible to take advantage of clean energy credits and loans to significantly reduce the cost of energy-efficient infrastructure. 

On Aug. 12, the Clean Up TVA Coalition, including the Sierra Club, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Appalachian Voices, urged TVA to take advantage of the legislation and make funds available to its affiliated local power companies, which can then offer energy-efficient options for customers.

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5 July 2022 US Significant Climate Events Map

Record-setting bill will fund extensive efforts to address climate change, but the sausage-making deal is decried by some as a ‘suicide pact’

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate, along party lines, passed a sweeping energy, health care, climate and tax package Sunday afternoon, following an overnight marathon of votes that resulted in just a handful of notable changes to the legislation.

The 755-page bill was passed after Vice President Kamala Harris broke a 50-50 tie in the evenly divided Senate. It now heads to the House, where Democratic leaders have announced they will take it up on Friday.

At last, we have arrived,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.  Democratic senators broke out into applause as Harris announced passage of the bill, expected to total more than $700 billion.

Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he dedicated the measure to young Americans who have pushed and protested for the Senate to take action on climate change. 

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pipelineThis pumping station in Dickson County was the site of a 1992 gas line rupture. John Partipilo/Tennessee Lookout

Bill eliminating local oversight of fossil-fuel infrastructure passes state Senate at behest of fuel companies, now on to House

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

UPDATE: The state House approved the bill March 29 with moderating amendments sought by local governments and environmental and social justice advocates.

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Senate passed a controversial pipeline preemption bill on Thursday in spite of concerns about the effect oil and gas pipelines could have on personal property and drinking water.

Before passage, Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, sponsor of SB2077, amended the bill to allow for wellhead protections and to align with its House counterpart. Critics still contended that with local governments lacking the ability to regulate fossil fuel infrastructure, communities could do little to protect themselves from unwanted pipelines. 

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GOP-led Legislature aims to ban local decisions on fossil-fuel infrastructure

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

Per updated TL reporting, this bill was deferred to March 15 for committee consideration.

Memphis activist Justin Pearson spent years trying to pass legislation to protect his city’s natural drinking water, but a bill being fast tracked through the state Legislature is threatening his efforts.  

Last week, environmental activists learned that Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, and Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, are seeking to pass a bill aimed at removing local government control over land use zoning for fossil fuel infrastructure. 

Both the Tennessee State House and Senate Commerce Committees will vote on HB2246 and SB2077 on Tuesday, and if the bill passes, it could be on the Legislature floor by Thursday. 

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DSCF8531 scaledMarvin Bullock, president of the Sparta-White County Chamber of Commerce, opposes deforestation efforts in the Bridgestone-Firestone Centennial Wilderness Area to create quail habitat. John Partipillo/Courtesy of Tennessee Lookout

Oak Ridge Rep. John Ragan joins bipartisan pushback against state plans to raze forest for quail habitat

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

SPARTA — For decades, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has kept the profits from the sale of timber and other natural resources on publicly owned lands, folding the payments from logging companies into the agency’s annual operating budget.

bipartisan bill introduced in the Tennessee Legislature this week seeks to bring that practice to an end. The measure, introduced by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, and Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, would require TWRA officials to transfer all proceeds from the sale of the state’s natural resources into Tennessee’s general fund — the process typically followed by other Tennessee agencies that generate income.

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Citizens and scientists weigh in on controversial TWRA logging plan

For months, Tennessee Lookout has bird-dogged a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency proposal to clear at least 1,000 acres of hardwood forest in the Bridgestone Centennial Wildlife Reserve in White County to create habitat for dwindling bobwhite quail

Hellbender Press has published most of the stories, with much appreciation to Tennessee Lookout. Most recently, the online news outlet reported that legal hurdles had been cleared to allow TWRA to proceed, at least for now, with its game-bird reintroduction plans at the expense of acres of approximately 65-year-old hardwood forest. 

Though it was not Hellbender’s original reporting, on our end the social media response to the articles has been thoughtful and reasoned — with, of course, occasional disagreements among commenters. With permission from the posters, I’ve compiled an edited and abridged recitation of some comments, which were too good to languish in the social media ether.

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Citing a dearth of grocery stores and healthy food options, Memphis officials mull action 

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout.

“In the poorest Memphis neighborhoods, gas stations serve as the nearest and sometimes the only store with groceries for nearby communities, albeit ones offering unhealthy fast and convenience foods. The University of Memphis noted that the city’s overall poverty rate is 21.7 percent, and rates are even higher among communities of color and among children, with a child poverty rate of 35 percent.”

In some areas of Memphis, there are more gas stations than grocery stores. While a citywide moratorium placed a hold on new gas stations, businesses are still seeking permission from City Council to open against the wishes of local communities.

In March, City Council voted in favor of halting permitting of any new gas stations. Businesses now need to go through the Land Use Control Board of Memphis and Shelby County for permission, and their request would need final approval from City Council. 

“It seemed like every week we were passing an ordinance to allow two or three more service stations and we didn’t  feel like we had a handle on it. We felt like that needed to calm down,” said Councilman Jeff Warren.

At an October meeting, council members debated whether Broad Avenue needed another gas station (and convenience store). Hundreds of residents in the nearby neighborhoods signed a petition urging council members to vote against allowing another gas station in their community. 

“We do not want nor need a gas station at this site. That would make four gas stations within a mile radius. . .I fully expect you to listen to the money, rather than the neighbors,” said one resident.

Council members concluded the meeting without making a decision, opting to delay the vote for a month, but the response from local residents was clear: there were more than enough gas stations in communities needing other types of stores. 

“Who in their right mind would add a fourth gas station on a street that’s a mile long?” said another resident.

Over the span of 20 to 30 years, Memphis officials permitted gas station after gas station to open throughout the city to the point that “there’s 10 times more per population than Nashville has,” said Warren. 

Gas service stations are a lucrative business. According to Forbes, the market relies on minimizing the distance that consumers have to travel, and competition means that at any given intersection, gas stations are often located on each corner. 

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Duck RiverMarshall CoThis biologically rich stretch of the Duck River could soon be the site of a large municipal water intake facility.

Duck River targeted by thirsty, growing municipalities in Nashville area

This story was originally published by Tennessee Lookout

Marshall County, located outside what was once considered the boundary edge of growing suburbs circling Nashville, has seen explosive growth of its own in recent years — call it the Williamson County overflow effect, says County Mayor Mike Keny.

Drawn by more affordable housing, jobs and the rural character of the county — about an hour from Nashville in the “heart of the Southern Automotive Corridor” (as local economic development officials call it) — the influx of residents, and some relocating business and industry, has brought new urgency to a long-standing reality.

The county doesn’t have its own water supply. For decades, it has had to pay wholesale for drinking water from the cities of Murfreesboro and Lewisburg. That supply is no longer adequate.

A new proposal by county officials calls for building a water treatment facility along the banks of the Duck River in northern Marshall County capable of siphoning up to 6 million gallons of water per day; establish a reliable local water supply for decades to come.

The need for Marshall County,  to have its own water supply, which it has never had, is becoming more urgent with an influx of new residents. But environmental activists say the nearby Duck River, which is biologically diverse, may not be the best option.  
Published in Water