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EPA landmark clean air act settlement with TVA to modernise coal-fired power plants and promote clean energy investments

World Coal,

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced a settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to resolve alleged Clean Air Act violations at 11 of its coal-fired plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. The settlement will require TVA to invest a TVA estimated US$3 – 5 billion on new and upgraded state-of-the-art pollution controls that will prevent approximately 1200 – 3000 premature deaths, 2000 heart attacks and 21,000 cases of asthma attacks each year, resulting in up to US$27 billion in annual health benefits. TVA will also invest US$350 million on clean energy projects that will reduce pollution, save energy and protect public health and the environment.

"This agreement will save lives and prevent billions of dollars in health costs. Modernising these plants and encouraging clean energy innovation means better health protections and greater economic opportunities for the people living near TVA facilities,” said EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “Investments in pollution control equipment will keep hundreds of thousands of tonnes of harmful pollutants out of the air we breathe and help create green job opportunities that will reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency."

Once fully implemented, the pollution controls and other required actions will address 92% of TVA’s coal-fired power plant capacity, reducing emissions of NOx by 69% and sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 67% from TVA’s 2008 emissions levels. The settlement will also significantly reduce particulate matter and CO2 emissions. Uncontrolled releases of harmful air pollution like SO2 from power plants can affect breathing and aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, especially in sensitive populations like children and the elderly.

Communities near TVA’s facilities will directly benefit from US$350 million in environmental projects designed to reduce harmful air pollution and promote energy efficiency. These investments will advance environmental justice by reducing pollution in overburdened communities and reducing energy costs for low-income communities. TVA is required to spend US$240 million on energy efficiency initiatives including a “Smart Energy Communities” project that will focus on energy efficiency in low-income communities. TVA will retrofit low-income housing with the most cost-effective energy efficiency technologies – reducing air pollution, energy use and saving residents money. TVA will also spend US$40 million to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through renewable projects such as hybrid electric charging stations and US$8 million for a clean diesel and electric vehicle project for public transportation systems. 

TVA will also provide US$1 million to the National Park Service and the National Forest Service to improve, protect or rehabilitate forest and park lands that have been impacted by emissions from TVA’s plants, including Mammoth Cave National Park and Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

TVA is an independent, corporate agency of the US created as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933, and is headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee. TVA operates 59 coal-fired boilers at 11 plants in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee and operates other energy production facilities, including hydroelectric plants. TVA also provides wholesale power to 155 municipal and cooperative power distributors and direct service to 56 large industrial and government customers, supplying power to around 9 million people across Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee and small portions of Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia.

The settlement also requires TVA to pay a civil penalty of US$10 million, with Alabama and Kentucky receiving $500,000 each and Tennessee receiving $1 million. The states of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, and three non-governmental organisations, the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation, have been involved in development of this settlement and are signatories to a companion consent decree that will be lodged in federal district court in the Eastern District of Tennessee.

This is the 22nd Clean Air Act New Source Review settlement in the coal-fired power plants sector. Reducing air pollution from the largest sources of emissions, including coal-fired power plants, is one of EPA’s National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011-2013. The initiative continues EPA’s focus on improving compliance with the new source review provisions of the Clean Air Act among industries that have the potential to cause significant amounts of air pollution.

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