An environmental group has delivered a letter of intent to the Tennessee Valley Authority, notifying the multi-state utility it plans to file suit over coal ash storage in Colbert County.
The Southern Environmental Law Center contends coal ash storage at TVA’s Colbert Steam Plant has polluted Cane Creek, groundwater near the site and the Tennessee River.
“We want them to clean up the coal ash ponds and remediate the contamination,” said Keith Johnston, a Birmingham lawyer who works for the Southern Environmental Law Center.
In a news release, the law center said TVA is in violation of the Clean Water Act because of what it describes as persistent, ongoing problems with coal ash stored in unlined ponds at the plant.
“The only acceptable remedy is for TVA to stop this unpermitted discharge and to start storing all coal ash safely away from our waterways,” Johnston said in the release.
David Whiteside, of Tennessee Riverkeeper, said the seepage water from the ponds contains arsenic and toxic metals that are known carcinogens that affect the health of the river and the people who use it.
TVA acknowledged it received the letter of intent, but had little to say about it.
“I can tell you that our attorneys received the notice of intent (Tuesday) afternoon, and it will take time to review the documents,” TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said. “That’s all we can say for now.”
TVA has 60 days to respond to the letter of intent. At that point, Johnston said, the lawsuit can move forward in federal court.
The law center contends contamination is coming from two storage ponds that cover 127 acres. The center states the ponds are unlined, allowing seepage into groundwater. At one site, the center contends sampling showed arsenic levels more than 50 times Alabama’s maximum contaminant level.
Donna Lisenby, coal campaign manager for Waterkeeper Alliance, said in the news release the Colbert Steam Plant, built in the 1950s, is unique.
“Two things make Colbert unique and distinguish it from hundreds of other coals ash ponds around the country,” she said. “The first is that the water tests result from Colbert’s unpermitted discharges have some of the highest levels of arsenic, lead, selenium, cadmium, chromium, boron, iron, manganese and molybdenum that we have seen anywhere in the Southeast.
“The second is that TVA stored more than a million tons of coal waste in unlined ponds that were constructed on top of and adjacent to sink holes,” Lisenby said.
Independent samplings and TVA records were used to assemble the potential lawsuit, Johnston said.
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a nonprofit corporation.
It represents a variety of regional environmental groups in the Colbert case, including Shoals Environmental Alliance, Tennessee Riverkeeper, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Waterkeeper Alliance.
TVA officials have said they are re-evaluating all of their coal plants to determine their futures.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.