- Associated Press - Thursday, July 10, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - A group of landowners and a Kentucky coal industry group want a federal judge to halt plans to shut down two coal-fired units at a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant that is switching to natural gas.

The Kentucky Coal Association argued in a lawsuit filed Thursday that the TVA did not follow proper federal procedure and its own rules in deciding to close the units at the Paradise Fossil Plant in western Kentucky. The TVA announced last year that it would build a new natural gas-burning facility at the Muhlenberg County site, as well as keep a third coal-fired unit in operation.

The lawsuit highlights a battle between coal and natural gas in a state where coal is integral to the economy and fuels about 90 percent of the electricity generation. Tougher environmental regulations and cheaper natural gas prices in recent years have prompted utilities in Kentucky and other states to move to cleaner-burning gas.

But in doing so, the lawsuit said the TVA did not perform a proper environmental impact statement before deciding to move ahead with the $1 billion project. The TVA determined there would be no significant impact to the environment, bypassing the need for the environmental study, the suit said.

Scott Brooks, a TVA spokesman, said Thursday in an email that TVA believes it “fully complied with our obligations on the Paradise decision.” Brooks said the decision was made after all options were considered and included an extended public comment period.

“The TVA board based its decision on what is best for the nine million consumers in the TVA service area,” Brooks said.

The coal association said landowners around the plant would be affected by a gas line installation running to the new facility. The lawsuit includes five plaintiffs who said they were contacted in June by a natural gas company seeking access their lands to run a 24-inch pipeline.

Bill Bissett, president of the coal association, said in a release that TVA rushed the decision, which is “unfair to Kentucky companies who provide coal to Paradise as well as the many Kentuckians who depend upon TVA for reliable electricity.” Bissett said TVA’s decision to shut down the two coal units, which date back to the 1960s, would also hurt coal production in the mines that feed the Paradise units.

The TVA, the nation’s largest public utility, made the decision in August to switch to a natural gas facility at Paradise to meet stricter federal air emission guidelines, rather than upgrade the two old coal units with new emission controls. The two coal units together generate about 1,400 megawatts of electricity, or enough power for more than 500,000 homes.

The coal association is asking a judge to declare that the TVA has violated the National Environmental Policy Act and TVA’s own guidelines, and set aside TVA’s declaration that the environmental impact statement required by federal law is unnecessary.

The suit was filed Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Owensboro. The other plaintiffs are James Rogers III, Talmage Rogers, Pat Early, Kristine Early and Kevin Lawrence.

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