The Tennessee Valley Authority may have no choice but to move a mountain of coal ash by its power plant in Gallatin. A federal judge ruled against the utility Friday, ordering TVA to excavate the decades of waste and move it to a more appropriate site.
Judge Waverly Crenshaw said in his order that it's difficult to imagine why anyone would build an unlined ash waste pond by a river, especially when the terrain is porous, like it is in Gallatin. Even though that was a decision made by TVA decades ago, Crenshaw says the consequences continue — risking leakage into the neighboring Cumberland River.
"TVA will be ordered to excavate the coal ash waste impounded at the Gallatin Plant and remove it to an appropriate lined site that does not pose a substantial risk of discharges into the waters of the United States. In light of the substantial costs TVA is likely to incur in remediating its ash pond disposal areas, the Court declines to assess penalties on top of its injunctive relief."
In a statement, TVA says it's reviewing the order to determine its next step. At this point, the court hasn't found adverse health and environmental impacts. And TVA has already committed to modernizing its ash storage across the system.
Environmental groups are hailing the decision as a victory. Conservation organizations have been concerned since the massive 2008 ash spill at TVA's coal plant in Kingston.
"Like at Kingston, it was necessary to take TVA to court to force it to take responsibility for its coal ash pollution," says attorney Beth Alexander of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “TVA will be required to do the right thing again, this time at Gallatin.”
Citing the high costs of moving the ash, Crenshaw declined to charge any penalties.