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For Immediate Release, November 20, 2008

Contact: Melissa Thrailkill, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 313   

Suit Filed Challenging Coal-fired Power Plant in Kentucky
EPA's Failure to Act Leaves Inadequate Permit in Place,
Risking Health and Environment

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and two Kentucky residents filed suit today against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the agency’s failure to rule on a petition challenging the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Paradise coal-fired power plant operating permit. The petition seeks to overturn the plant’s permit due to deficiencies that will contribute to global warming and human health risks.

The Authority’s Paradise power plant, TVA Paradise, is located on the Green River in Muhlenberg County in western Kentucky, where the town Paradise once stood. In 1967, the Authority tore down Paradise to make room for the power plant. John Prine later memorialized the town’s demolition in his folk song, “ Paradise.”

TVA Paradise is one of the nation’s largest sources of air pollution. The plant burns more than 7 million tons of coal and emits thousands of tons of air pollutants each year – pollutants that the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has determined are hazardous to human health and the environment. The harmful pollutants spewed from the stacks of TVA Paradise include sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, particulate matter and other toxic chemicals. The plant also heavily contributes to greenhouse gas pollution, emitting more than 14 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2007. These pollutants lead to a variety of health problems, including asthma, bronchitis, heart attacks, birth defects, decreased intelligence, and smog. An overarching concern is that the plant will contribute significantly to climate change along with other troubling impacts on the environment.

The federal Clean Air Act regulates emissions of pollutants from power plants by requiring that facilities like TVA Paradise possess a valid permit. A state agency, the Division for Air Quality of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, approved an operating permit for TVA Paradise and submitted it to the EPA for review in 2007. The permit failed to comply with the mandates and requirements of the Clean Air Act by, for example, not requiring the plant to operate modern pollution-control equipment year-round. Because the EPA did not object to the deficient permit, the plaintiffs petitioned the EPA last December to object to TVA Paradise’s permit. The Act permits the public to file such petitions if the agency fails to object to a permit itself. The EPA must grant or deny the petition within 60 days of its submittal. But the EPA failed to act on the plaintiffs’ petition within this timeframe, allowing TVA Paradise to continue to operate with a permit that lacks adequate and required safeguards to protect Kentucky’s air and its citizens’ health.

“The EPA is well aware that coal-fired power plants emit pollutants that dirty our air, cause a variety of serious health problems and contribute significantly to the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and global warming,” said Melissa Thrailkill, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Clean Air Act provides EPA with the means to protect the public from these harmful effects and indeed requires it to do so. Yet, in the case of TVA Paradise, the EPA has failed the public by flouting its duty to enforce one of the nation’s most important environmental laws. Meanwhile, the coal-fired power plant continues to choke our air.”

Not only is TVA Paradise one of the largest sources of pollution in the nation, its location poses particular risks to western Kentucky’s ecosystem. Just downwind of the Paradise plant is Mammoth Cave National Park, a World Heritage Site protecting one of the world’s longest known underground cave system and home to unique aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, including 70 threatened or endangered species. Hilary Lambert, a resident of Lexington, Ky., longtime cave conservationist, and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, explains how the 52,000-acre park 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.”

The other resident and plaintiff in the suit, Preston Forsythe, who lives near TVA Paradise, said he is disappointed that the EPA has so far ignored the plaintiffs’ pleas to bring the TVA Paradise permit in compliance with the law. “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 plaintiffs in this suit are represented by the law firm of Garvey McNeil & McGillivray, S.C.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to protecting endangered species and wild places.

The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest environmental grassroots organization. Its members and supporters are more than 1.3 million of your friends and neighbors. Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet. 


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