Jan. 2, 2007 – Decades after President Rooseveltâ€™s New Deal created the Tennessee Valley Authority to create jobs in one of the countryâ€™s poorest regions, it is the nationâ€™s largest public power system. With its coal-burning, nuclear, hydroelectric, solar and wind plants providing electricity to 8.5 million people in parts of seven southeastern states, the TVA provides 57,000 jobs.
According to public-health advocates and the attorney general of North Carolina, however, TVA is a major source of ecological destruction and health problems in the valley it was created to aid.
Though there are no TVA coal plants in North Carolina, state officials say that TVA emissions wafting into their state from plants in Kentucky, Alabama and Tennessee are a public nuisance and "contribute significantly to adverse effects on the health and welfare of citizens of the state, damage to North Carolinaâ€™s natural resources and economy, and harm to state finances."
The lawsuit, which is expected to go to trial in spring 2007, alleges that pollution from the plants causes premature deaths and cardiovascular diseases and aggravates respiratory illnesses.
"Pollution doesnâ€™t respect state boundaries, of course, so folks in North Carolina like me are bearing the burden of TVA pollution," Michael Shore, a North Carolina-based analyst for the national organization Environmental Defense, told The NewStandard.
The attorney generalâ€™s lawsuit also alleges that TVA contributes to acid pollution in lakes, ponds and forests, and that haze from its plants reduces visibility in state parks, disrupting tourism.
North Carolina officials want to force the TVA plants to meet emissions standards similar to those in place in North Carolina under the North Carolina Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002. Under the Smokestacks Act, North Carolina plants must meet a combined total emissions cap of 56,000 tons of nitrogen oxide by 2009 and 130,000 tons of sulfur dioxide by 2013.
In 2005, according to information on the TVAâ€™s website, TVA plants emitted 191,000 tons of nitrogen oxide and 460,000 tons of sulfur dioxide collectively.
TVA officials counter that they have reduced sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions significantly in recent years and are continuing to install pollution-control technology in their plants. TVA says it has invested $4.6 billion to significantly reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions.
There are a total of 59 generating units at TVAâ€™s eleven coal-burning plants. Seven of the TVA plants have pollution-control "scrubbers" on some units, with scrubbers under construction on units at three more of the plants. The TVA says that once the construction is completed in 2010, more than half their coal will be "scrubbed."
The TVA says 60 percent of its coal-burning units also have selective catalytic reduction systems (SCRs) in place, which reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and mercury.
"We donâ€™t feel the lawsuit is necessary since we are doing now what Attorney General Cooper would like us to do," TVA spokesperson Barbara Martocci told TNS.
Martocci said she could not give specific numbers as to how the TVA would be meeting the standards in the Clean Smokestacks Act.
The attorney generalâ€™s office and clean air advocates say litigation and a binding decision are necessary to force the TVA to meet stricter emissions standards.
"The proof is in the pudding, when we actually see them do it," said Valerie True, spokesperson for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a regional nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting global warming and promoting clean energy sources.
Regional environmental and clean-air groups would like to see TVA close some of its oldest coal-burning plants altogether and increase investment in renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Currently the coal-burning plants make up 60 percent of TVAâ€™s electricity output, according to its website.
"The next great challenge â€“ in addition to these public health pollutants â€“ is global warming," said Shore. "In addition to having these pollution controls, we need better energy efficiency and investment in renewable energy, which will not only reduce global warming pollution but help the economy and create jobs."