Sierra Club files lawsuit against TVA over records

3:31 PM, Dec 2, 2012   |    comments
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Duane W. Gang, The Tennessean

The Sierra Club wants the Tennessee Valley Authority to release more documentation about planned upgrades to a coal-fired power plant in Gallatin and give the public more time to comment on the project.

The environmental nonprofit last month filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against TVA seeking the documents and launched an online ad campaign calling the power plant obsolete.

In its lawsuit, the Sierra Club seeks a preliminary injunction that would require TVA to provide the documents and reopen the public comment period that began in mid-October and was scheduled to end Nov. 16. The documents are needed, the environmental group says, for the public to give input on the project.

On Thursday, a federal judge denied the Sierra Club's request for a preliminary injunction and transferred the case to federal court in East Tennessee.

TVA had extended the public comment period on a draft environmental report by two weeks, from Nov. 16 to Nov. 30, before the Sierra Club filed its lawsuit, according to a Nov. 2 letter from TVA to the environmental group.

Environmental groups - including the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices, the Tennessee Clean Water Network, the Tennessee Environmental Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center - had requested the public comment period be extended by as much as 90 days.

In court records, TVA said it has provided the Sierra Club documents, including 827 electronic files on Nov. 5, and estimated that the remainder of the records in the request will total between 900 and 1,000 additional electronic files. But in its lawsuit, the Sierra Club argues that the records turned over by TVA were "generic and duplicative spreadsheets from a years-old system planning process" and that the utility has no provided records specific to the Gallatin project, such as on how TVA will handle toxic waste.

The upgrades at the Gallatin Fossil Plant will reduce harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions and are needed to help meet new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, TVA has said.

The pollution controls also will help TVA comply with an agreement to reduce emissions that it signed with the EPA, four states and a coalition of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.
Plant upgrades would be $1 billion

The upgrades are expected to cost $1 billion, and the Sierra Club argues that TVA should instead invest the money in energy efficiency programs. Reducing consumption could allow TVA to close down a coal-fired power plant such as the one in Gallatin, the environmental group says.

"TVA wants to spend more than $1 billion to keep an aging, obsolete coal plant running," said Louise Gorenflo, a volunteer with the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign in Tennessee.

"To add insult to injury, TVA officials are trying to limit public comment so they can plow forward with their expensive and dangerous plan. We're taking these steps now to ensure that TVA can't make billion-dollar decisions without public input."

The Sierra Club said it made its initial records requests in April and May.

In response, TVA's lawyers in court documents said the Sierra Club did not seek expedited processing on its records requests until Oct. 23, just 16 business days before filing its lawsuit. TVA said it is working to gather documents for the Sierra Club.

"In short, there is no evidence that TVA is not processing Sierra Club's FOIA request "as soon as practicable," TVA said in court records.

"We believe we have and will continue to follow the FOIA process in our communication with the Sierra Club on their requests," TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said by email Thursday.

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