Mar. 6, 2007 – The nationâ€™s largest public power system could be held liable for violating the Clean Air Act due to a federal court ruling last week.
In 2004, Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association, and Our Childrenâ€™s Earth Foundation, sued the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), arguing the utility was illegally emitting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the air at its coal-fired power plant in Anderson County, Tennessee. The environmental groups are seeking civil penalties and an injunction forcing the TVA to adopt pollution controls and comply with the Clean Air Act.
On Friday, a US Court of Appeals reversed an earlier ruling that found the statute of limitations had expired on the plaintiffsâ€™ claim.
In the original complaint, the environmentalists alleged that in making a modification to its plant in 1988, the TVA did not obtain the requisite permit, perform air quality analysis or install the "best available control technology" as required by law.
The TVA argued that the statute of limitations of five years had passed and that the groups could not sue the Authority over its failure to obtain a permit in 1988. A lower court had agreed.
Sierra Club and co-plaintiffs appealed the ruling, arguing that the lawsuit should move forward because the TVA is committing ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act and a state plan to limit emissions. The appeals court agreed.
The appeals court, however, did not rule on whether TVA is liable for violating the Act, but merely reopened the case for further court proceedings.
Sierra Club, nonetheless, called the decision a "major victory."
"While a ruling on the merits remains up in the air, we have already achieved a tremendous victory with regard to the statute of limitations," Sierra Club spokesperson Ginny Cramer told The NewStandard. Cramer said a decision in their favor "would open numerous other facilities to similar lawsuits as the court ruled that not installing [pollution controls] represents an ongoing harm."
TVA spokesperson Barbara Martocci told TNS that "regardless of the outcome of this case, TVA is installing state-of-the-art sulfur-dioxide emissions-control equipment at Bull Run and is already operating state-of-the-art nitrogen-oxide reduction equipment at the plant."
The environmentalistsâ€™ lawsuit does not mark the only time the TVA has come under scrutiny for its environmental practices. As previously reported by TNS in January, the attorney general of North Carolina filed a lawsuit against the power provider, alleging that emissions from coal plants in neighboring states were adversely affecting residentsâ€™ health.