Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.


Julie Teel, Staff Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity, (619) 224-3400
Dr. Hilary Lambert, (859) 421-3609
Preston Forsythe, (270) 476-8870

Suit Filed Over Paradise Coal-fired Plant in Kentucky
EPA’s Failure to Require Adequate Permit Places Health and Environment at Risk

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Center for Biological Diversity and residents of Kentucky filed suit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over the agency’s failure to address dangerous deficiencies in the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise coal-fired power plant operating permit.

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise power plant (“TVA Paradise”) is located on the Green River in Muhlenberg County, Western Kentucky, where the town of Paradise once stood. In 1967, the Tennessee Valley Authority tore down Paradise, later memorialized in John Prine’s folk song by the same name, to make room for the power plant.

TVA Paradise is now one of the largest sources of air pollution in the nation. The plant burns over 7 million tons of coal and emits thousands of tons of air pollutants each year that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified as hazardous to human health and the environment. The mixture of pollutants emitted from TVA Paradise contains sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter, toxic chemicals and other harmful compounds. These pollutants cause a variety of health problems including asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks, birth defects and decreased intelligence, and also contribute to climate change.

The federal Clean Air Act regulates emission of these substances from power plants by requiring these facilities to have a valid Clean Air Act Title V Operating Permit. While the Division for Air Quality of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet has issued an operating permit to TVA Paradise, the lawsuit alleges that TVA Paradise’s permit is deficient in many respects, including failing to require TVA Paradise to operate modern pollution control equipment year-round. The EPA, in turn, has violated the Clean Air Act by failing to modify, terminate or revoke the permit in light of these flaws.

“EPA now clearly acknowledges that pollution from coal-fired power plants can foul our air and cause a variety of serious illnesses such as asthma, heart attacks and cancer,” said Julie Teel, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The fact that EPA is still not taking corrective action with regard to TVA Paradise’s air pollution permit, which is years overdue, indicates something is seriously wrong with the moral compass EPA is using to set its priorities.”

In addition to health impacts, the suit emphasizes the risks TVA Paradise poses to Western Kentucky’s ecosystems, which include the most intricate cave and underground stream system in the world, unique sloughs and swamps, and aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. Dr. Hilary Lambert, a resident of Lexington, Kentucky and board member of Karst Environmental Education & Protection, explained that Mammoth Cave National Park, a World Heritage Site located downwind of the Paradise plant, receives the brunt of the airborne pollution: “The pollution gets trapped in the folds and hollows of the park's wooded landscape, helping to give Mammoth Cave National Park the dubious distinction of having the third worst air quality of any national park in the country.”

Dr. Lambert highlighted the risks to the park by noting that the air and water in the “Longest Cave” are in danger of degrading to the point where they will no longer be able to support the crayfish, sightless fish, tiny shrimp, and other unique life forms that inhabit the 365-mile-long cave's subterranean Logsdon-Hawkins Rivers. In Dr. Lambert’s view, “It is well past the time for someone to rein in the decades of arrogant behavior shown by the operators and owners of the Paradise coal-fired power plant, which daily darkens the skies of western Kentucky with its fallout.” She hopes the suit will lead to an effective EPA-led review of the permit and improved health for Kentucky residents and Mammoth Cave National Park, above and below ground.

Preston Forsythe, who lives near TVA Paradise, expressed similar disappointment that the EPA has so far ignored their pleas to bring the TVA Paradise permit in compliance with the law, but said “I can see TVA Paradise and its dark plume of pollutants from my home. I can no longer sit by while an agency that was created to protect us from precisely this kind of harm allows TVA Paradise to illegally pollute the air, ground and water where my family lives.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit conservation organization with more than 25,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and habitat.


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