Court orders TVA to reduce emissions at 4 coal plants

The Tennessee Valley Authority must meet tougher pollution control standards at four coal-fired power plants in Tennessee and Alabama to shield North Carolina from the plants' windblown emissions, a federal judge ruled yesterday.

The decision by Judge Lacy Thornburg of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina upholds claims by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) that TVA's emissions threaten North Carolinians with health problems and billions in economic liabilities.

An accompanying judgment places TVA on a tight schedule to install and operate year-round controls for sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) at its Bull Run, Kingston and John Sevier plants in Tennessee and its Widows Creek Fossil Plant in northeast Alabama.

Thornburg denied North Carolina's request that the court force TVA to install additional pollution controls at seven other power plants that are at greater distances from the Tennessee-North Carolina line.

In a statement, Cooper said he was pleased that the court ordered TVA to address emissions from plants closest to North Carolina, noting that the decision should "help our air, our health, and our travel and tourism economy."


Thornburg gave TVA just 10 days to meet the first compliance deadline, for Bull Run's unit 1 generator, for which the utility must meet a NOx emissions rate of no more than 0.08 tons per million British thermal units (2,295 tons per year) and an SO2 emissions rate of no greater than 0.15 tons per million Btus (4,341 tons per year). TVA said it had already installed and is operating the pollution controls needed to meet the tougher standards at Bull Run.

Similar pollution-control upgrades are either planned or under construction at the two other Tennessee plants, TVA said. Nevertheless, Thornburg's order requires that installation and operation of SO2 scrubbers be completed at the Kingston plant by Dec. 31, 2010, while the utility must install and operate both scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) controls for NOx by Dec. 31, 2011, at its John Sevier plant.

In Alabama, TVA must install a full suite of scrubbers and SCR units on its Widows Creek plant to control for the two pollutants by Dec. 31, 2013.

John Moulton, a TVA spokesman, said officials are reviewing Thornburg’s decision and have made no decision about whether to pursue an appeal. "We're continuing to review it and see exactly what is in there,” he said.

Moulton confirmed, however, that a new SO2 scrubber at Bull Run Unit 1 began operating last month, while work continues toward meeting 2010 and 2012 target dates for completion of the Kingston and John Sevier pollution control upgrades.

He said the Widows Creek plant in Alabama has older SO2 scrubbers on two units, but TVA had not planned to install scrubbers on the remaining six units. He said he did not know how yesterday’s decision would affect the utility’s long-term plans for Widows Creek.

While acknowledging in court that its power plant emissions did drift across state lines, TVA argued that any adverse health and environmental effects in North Carolina were likely caused by the state's own electric utilities, other industrial emissions sources and even private sources such as cars and trucks.

TVA had also argued that it had a responsibility to meet growing electric power demand in its seven-state service territory, and that operation of the plants was necessary to fulfill that obligation. Moreover, TVA said it was already working toward lowering emissions and that the imposition of expensive new pollution controls would place an additional burden on ratepayers.

But Thornburg found that North Carolina "has presented sufficient evidence that untreated air pollution from the three power plants in eastern Tennessee ... unreasonably interferes with the rights of North Carolina citizens," and that "the vast extent of the harms caused ... by these plants outweighs any utility that may exist from leaving their pollution untreated."

At Widows Creek, the judge ruled that "TVA's failure to speedily install readily available pollution control technology is not, and has not been, reasonable conduct under the circumstances."

Click here to read Thornburg's memorandum of opinion.

Click here to review the judgment, including timetables and emissions limits for TVA's plants.

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