Environmental groups sue TVA, claiming toxic pollution seeping into Cumberland River

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Two Tennessee environmental groups claim toxic pollution from a coal-burning power plant is seeping into the Cumberland River and state regulators are not doing enough to stop it.

The allegations are part of a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court in Nashville against the Tennessee Valley Authority.

The Tennessee Clean Water Network and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association first threatened to sue in November, claiming state regulators have known about problems at the 1950s-era Gallatin Fossil Plant for years.

In response, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation sued TVA in state court in January. That complaint claims coal-ash storage ponds at the Gallatin plant are leaking contaminants into local groundwater.

The new lawsuit claims TDEC's January suit does not address all of the problems at the plant, including multiple permit violations and toxic seepage into Sinking Creek and the Cumberland River, a drinking source for millions of people.

It also suggests that TDEC Commissioner Robert Martineau might have a conflict of interest. The suit states that Martineau previously represented TVA as legal counsel. It also quotes from a televised interview in which Martineau stated that TVA would "rather be dealing with us than a federal judge."

TDEC spokeswoman Kelly Brockman said in an email that the agency would not comment on the new lawsuit. Referring to TDEC's actions in the earlier lawsuit, she said: "The State believes its enforcement action against TVA is appropriate. ... We have been, and continue to be focused on correcting the issues at hand via state court and protecting the environment for Tennesseans."

In an emailed statement, TVA disputed the idea that the plant about 45 minutes northeast of Nashville is contaminating drinking water. The utility says it has conducted numerous studies of the site and found no harm to the environment.

"These studies concluded that any groundwater impacts are limited to within Gallatin plant site boundaries and not affecting drinking water in any way," the statement reads.

The utility also says that it is in the process of converting all of its wet coal-ash storage to dry storage at a cost of about $1.5 billion. That decision came in the aftermath of the 2008 coal ash disaster at TVA's Kingston Fossil Plant, where more than 5 million cubic yards of sludge spilled into the Emory and Clinch rivers and destroyed homes in a nearby waterfront community.

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