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Fore Immediate Release, December 20, 2012


Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681
John McFadden, Tennessee Environmental Council, (615) 330-5364
Jenna Garland, Sierra Club, (404) 607-1262 x 222
Charlie Wilkerson, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association, (615) 351-0586
Mary Mastin, Tennessee Environmental Council, (931)-268-2938

Tennessee Valley Authority to Be Sued Over Plans to Close Endangered Species Breeding Facility to Make Room for Coal Equipment, Waste

NASHVILLE, Tenn.— A coalition of environmental groups today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for forcing the closure of a rearing facility for endangered fish and mussels at the Gallatin Fossil Plant for a controversial construction project. The project would shutter the Cumberland River Aquatic Center to make room for coal combustion equipment and a series of 15-story-tall coal-ash dumps. The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Tennessee Environmental Council and Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association jointly filed the notice under the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s just ludicrous that the Tennessee Valley Authority’s shutting down one of the most successful endangered mussel hatcheries in the country to make room for coal ash and equipment — and without any regard for the law,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Wood stork
Pink mucket mussels photo courtesy Craig Stihler USFWS. Photos are available for media use.

The Cumberland River Aquatic Center is critically important to preserving endangered freshwater mussels, which serve an important role in protecting water quality throughout Tennessee and the Southeast. Nearly $800,000 of public funds has been spent to build the center’s conservation program, but TVA has unilaterally ordered the center to close to make way for its broader plans to spend more than $1 billion to overhaul the obsolete and polluting Gallatin Fossil Plant. TVA is required to support the center’s operations in order to compensate for damage its dam systems do to endangered wildlife throughout Tennessee. With the breeding facility closed, that damage will continue unabated while TVA continues to pollute.

“It’s bad enough that the TVA plans to continue to burn coal, putting our health and climate in danger; now it’s busy hammering nails into the coffin of the region’s endangered fish and mussels. It’s adding insult to injury,” said John McFadden, executive director of the Tennessee Environmental Council.

TVA, a federal corporation, announced its plans to shutter the aquatic center last month in an “Environmental Assessment” document required to install air-pollution-control equipment at the coal-fired power plant. The corporation ordered the aquatic center to be dismantled without undertaking public review and without consulting with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effects on endangered species, both of which are required by law. The closure of the facility also directly harms endangered mussels, in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

“At a time when other major electricity providers are moving into the future with cleaner, more efficient options, TVA is taking a major step backwards by doubling down on a plant that’s over 50 years old. TVA customers will foot the bill for this outrageously expensive plan that locks Tennessee into an outdated and destructive energy system for decades to come,” said Louise Gorenflo, lead volunteer for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Tennessee.

Independent economists have criticized TVA’s plans for ignoring lower-cost options that could preserve the aquatic center while also meeting customers’ energy needs. The coalition is calling on the corporation to save the hatchery and transition the plant away from burning fossil fuels. Upgrades on the plant’s pollution equipment would cost more than $1 billion; the groups are urging TVA to spend the money on energy efficiency and clean-energy alternatives instead of extending the life of the old coal-fired power plant.

The Cumberland River Aquatic Center has been remarkably effective at rearing endangered mussels; last year alone the facility produced 18,000. It is the most productive hatchery in the country for rearing the endangered pink mucket mussel, and also rears lake sturgeon and alligator gar.

“Freshwater mussels are amazing animals that serve as barometers of stream health and water quality. They are a critical part of our river ecosystem, and the impact of shutting down the Cumberland River Aquatic Center would be immeasurable,” said
Charlie Wilkerson, president of the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association.

More species of freshwater mussels are found in the American Southeast than anywhere else in the world, but 75 percent of the region’s mussels are now at risk of extinction. Freshwater mussels are the most imperiled group of animals in the United States, with 35 species already having been declared extinct. Once widely used to make buttons and jewelry, mussel shells, like trees, accumulate growth rings that can be used to determine their age. Freshwater mussels can live for centuries, making them among the longest-lived invertebrates.

“Tennessee’s freshwater mussels have beautiful shells, beautiful names, and play a crucial role in the natural and cultural heritage of the region. We should do everything we can to help save them from going extinct,” said Curry.

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