Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 15, 2023


Rachel Chu, Southern Environmental Law Center, (843) 619-4617,
Gaby Sarri-Tobar, Center for Biological Diversity, (240) 594-7271,
Morgan Caplan, Sierra Club,

Lawsuit Challenges TVA’s Backroom Deal, Flimsy Environmental Analysis

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— The Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and the Center for Biological Diversity, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed a lawsuit this week against the Tennessee Valley Authority over the federal utility’s plans to replace a coal plant with a new gas-fired power plant in Cumberland City, Tennessee.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville, says TVA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by prematurely committing to the gas plant, failing to fully study cleaner alternatives, and failing to assess the climate harm and economic impact of the proposal.

“Tennessee Valley ratepayers have been asking for more renewable energy and energy efficiency from TVA, and the market along with private energy providers have been moving forward with a clean energy transition,” said Amy Kelly, Sierra Club’s senior campaign representative for the Tennessee Valley Region. “We know that renewables with battery storage and robust energy efficiency continue to beat out fossil fuels in cost around the country, so a federal agency should be held accountable when it fails to meet the most basic requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.”

The Cumberland gas plant would pump out an estimated 2.8 million tons of climate-warming pollution each year for decades to come. This will worsen the climate crisis, which is already causing rising temperatures, increased flooding and wildfires, and more extreme storms in the Tennessee Valley and beyond. TVA’s use of fossil fuels would also saddle its 10 million customers with paying volatile fuel prices for decades, risking higher monthly power bills for families across the region.

“TVA made an early deal with an international corporation and then produced a faulty study of alternatives that was designed to favor that backroom agreement,” said Brianna Knisley, Tennessee campaign manager at Appalachian Voices. “After a summer of exceptionally high electricity bills in 2022 and rolling blackouts that winter, both largely caused by TVA's volatile gas fleet, communities in the Valley deserve fair consideration of reliable, affordable and emissions-free alternatives for replacing the capacity at Cumberland. Federal law also requires it.”

The groups say TVA had a legal obligation to assess climate and environmental harms before spending billions to replace a coal-fired plant with a gas plant, but the agency signed a contract with a pipeline company before completing the required review. After committing to the plant, TVA downplayed the harms and costs of the planned gas plant, the lawsuit says.

“Instead of studying the environmental and financial impacts of its decision, the Tennessee Valley Authority relied on flawed reasoning and faulty assumptions to downplay the effects of its planned gas plant,” said Amanda Garcia, director of SELC’s Tennessee Office. “We cannot stand by as TVA attempts to avoid its responsibilities in order to push through a dirty gas plant that will worsen the impacts of the climate crisis and handcuff customers to paying volatile fossil fuel prices for decades.”

TVA did not include the costs of greenhouse gas mitigation measures in its analysis, controls which will be necessary to bring the plant into compliance with federal orders calling for a carbon pollution-free energy grid by 2035.

“Our country’s largest public utility has gamed the system to fast-track dirty energy projects and that’s why we’re going to court to stop it,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, a campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity’s energy justice program. “TVA needs to be held accountable for its reckless pursuit of a new fossil gas plant in the midst of the climate emergency. The utility’s 10 million customers deserve a future free of unaffordable energy, rising pollution and deadly climate-fueled disasters. To get there, TVA must honestly study the benefits of distributed, renewable energy.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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