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TVA coal ash disposal plan 'fundamentally flawed,' environmental groups say

Acoalition of environmental advocacy groups issued a final plea to theTennessee Valley Authority,asking the utility to reverse what it says is a coal ash disposal "coverup plan" at several of its coal-fired power plants.

TheSouthern Environmental Law Center, or SELC, the Southern Alliance for CleanEnergy, the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and several othergroups submitted comments together in opposition to the TVA's recommendation ofclosure-in-place as its preferred method for disposing of coal ash byproductsat the sites of the plants. The coalition called therecommendation, and the final environmental impact statement, or EIS, issued bythe TVA "fundamentally flawed" and said the utility could not legallyissue a final decision based on its analysis.

Inits final EIS released in June, the TVA recommended a closure-in-place method for the sites. Themethod would involve covering up the unlined pits of coal ash by draining waterout of ponds at the TVA's Kingston, Bull Run, John Sevier and Allen plants inTennessee and at its Colbert and Widows Creek plants in Alabama.

Eliminatingwet storage at its coal plants will help the TVA comply with the U.S. EPA'srule on coalcombustion residuals, or CCRs, which set requirements for coal ash sites atactive power plants. The impetus for the EPA rule came from a coal ash spill at the TVA'sKingston plant in 2008.

Drinkingwater supplies for 3 million people in Tennessee and northern Alabama aredownstream from orclose to "leaking, unlined coal ash sites located on or in rivers that TVAproposes to cover up and let pollute rivers and groundwater indefinitely,"the SELC said.

TheSELC said the utility's plan is in "stark contrast" to actions byutilities in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia to move coal ash awayfrom waterways and into lined storage, which it called the safest method.

TheTVA, according to the commentssubmitted by the coalition July 8, did not provide site-specific analysis ofgroundwater and surface water impacts for the sites considered in the finalEIS, which the group called an alarming omission.

"The FEIS has only deepened our concern about potentialgroundwater and surface water impacts at these sites and the resulting risks topublic health and the environment," the coalition said. "In the FEIS,TVA admits for the first time that ash is submerged in groundwater at a minimumof seven of the ten impoundments considered in Part II, including impoundmentsat Bull Run, Kingston, Colbert and Widows Creek."

In April2015, the SELC filed a federal lawsuitagainst TVA on behalf of the Tennessee Clean Water Network and Tennessee ScenicRivers Association over alleged surface water pollution at the utility'sGallatin coal-fired power plant that the group believes was not addressed by astate lawsuit filed in January 2015. In January, the SELC alsosaid it would file a lawsuit against the utility on of the Tennessee chapter of theSierra Club over alleged violations at the utility's Cumberland plant.

"TVApromised to be a leader in coal ash safety following the Kingston disaster, yetwalking away from these sites — as other utilities do the right thing andcommit to clean up — breaks that promise," SELC Attorney Amanda Garciasaid in a statement on the final EIS.

However,TVA spokesman Scott Brooks disputed the group's claims. ?"Thereis no data offered by SELC, nor any in years of TVA monitoring, to supportclaims of impacts on drinking water," Brooks said in an email. "TVA'sanalyses in its CCR Impoundment Closure Environmental Impact Statement confirmEPA's determination that closing ash impoundments in place will reduce the riskof groundwater contamination and structural failures."

Brooksadded that the utility found that "digging up the coal ash and moving itto another location, which is SELC agenda, would cost billions of dollars morethan closing the impoundments in place" and have more impact on theenvironment. "SELC continues to advance its agenda withoutregard to cost or environmental impact," he added.

Brooksnoted that it will likely be several weeks before a final decision is madebecause the TVA wants to take time to consider all the comments submitted. Thecomment period closed July 9.