TVA Permit to Dump Liquid Waste from Air Scrubbers Appealed

NASHVILLE, Tennessee, November 22, 2009 (ENS) – Three environmental groups are appealing a permit just issued by the state of Tennessee that allows the Tennessee Valley Authority, to discharge mercury, selenium and other chemicals from its Kingston coal-burning power plant into the Clinch River.

The Clinch is one of two rivers that was polluted last December 22 when a coal ash impoundment dam broke at the Kingston plant, spilling one billion gallons of coal ash sludge. The power plant is located just above where the Clinch River drains into the Tennessee River southwest of Oak Ridge.

Last month, the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation gave TVA a permit to discharge polluted wastewater from a new flue gas desulfurization, FDG, system.

TVA has installed the system at Kingston to reduce the sulfur dioxides emitted from the plant by more than 95 percent. The system is now being tested and is expected to start operating within the next few weeks.

Earthjustice, the Environmental Integrity Project, and the Sierra Club filed an appeal of the water discharge permit on November 12, saying TVA is sacrificing water quality in a bid to clean up air emissions.

TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant on the Clinch River (Photo by G. O’Graffer)

In their appeal, the groups say, “While the operation of this FDG ‘scrubber’ system will dramatically reduce emissions of harmful pollutants into the air, it will create an entirely new liquid waste stream that will exacerbate acute water pollution problems.”

The groups warn that the Kingston plant will discharge one million gallons of polluted wastewater daily into the Clinch River arm of the Watts Bar Reservoir.

“The Clean Water Act requires TDEC to eliminate toxic discharges from the Kingston plant,” said attorney Lisa Widawsky with the Environmental Integrity Project. “Instead, incredibly, TDEC is authorizing new discharges of toxic heavy metals – to the tune of one million gallons a day – into the same river devastated by the Kingston coal ash spill.”

The permit does not contain any limits for metals, total dissolved solids, or sulfates in the discharged wastewater.

In their appeal the groups state, “In allowing TVA to freely discharge mercury and other toxic pollutants into the Clinch River, TDEC is violating the Clean Water Act and ignoring pressing threats to drinking water supplies, fisheries, and aquatic life in the Clinch River, the Tennessee River, and all streams within and around the Watts Bar Reservoir.”

The groups argue that water pollution nationwide is increasing as a result of air emissions reductions.

“Coal-fired power plants around the country are installing scrubbers without proper controls to limit water pollution because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has failed to set national standards governing wastewater discharges from scrubber systems,” the groups said in a joint statement.

The groups cite a new EPA report on wastewater from coal-fired power plants that states, “The primary routes by which coal combustion wastewater impacts the environment are through discharges to surface waters, leaching to ground water, and by surface impoundments and constructed wetlands acting as attractive nuisances that increase wildlife exposure to the pollutants contained in the systems.”

Under the Clean Water Act, the groups argue, TVA should be required to help restore water quality and at a minimum to install the best available treatment technology for its wastewater. Instead, TVA is dumping essentially untreated wastewater into the Clinch River.

“We know that coal waste is becoming increasingly toxic,” said Lyndsay Moseley, a Tennessee native and Beyond Coal Campaign Representative with the Sierra Club. “We need strong regulations to protect communities – to keep toxic coal waste out of our waters, and ensure it is disposed of properly.”

“More than a third of all power plants have eliminated toxic discharges by installing zero discharge systems,” said Widawsky, “and TDEC must require the same at Kingston.”

The nation’s largest public power provider, TVA powers large industries and 158 power distributors that serve approximately nine million consumers in seven southeastern states.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.