There was a court victory late last week that garnered little media attention but which could prove quite beneficial to helping clear the air over national parks, particularly in the eastern half of the country.
The ruling, handed down from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District, held that a lower court was wrong when it tossed out a challenge to how the Tennessee Valley Authority was addressing pollution from its power plants.
While TVA lawyers had argued that the statute of limitations had run on claims brought by the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, and the Our Children's Earth foundation, the higher court disagreed and directed the lower court to reexamine the case.
"This precedent-setting case is a warning to TVA and other polluters nationwide," said NPCA Counsel Libby Fayad. "Clean up your old, dirty power plants or you will face lawsuits from many, many citizens who have been harmed by the pollution being emitted from your coal-fired power plants."
Pollution from coal-fired power plants is a big source of smog, haze, and particulate pollution in parks such as Great Smoky, Shenandoah, and Mammoth Cave, just to name three. According to NPCA:
* Although coal-fired power plants emit more than 90 percent of the air pollution produced by the U.S. electric industry, they generate over slightly more than 50 percent of the nation's electricity. They emit 64 percent of the nation's sulfur dioxide, 23 percent of the nitrogen oxides, 33 percent of the mercury, and 35 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution.
* The contribution of coal-fired power plants is especially disproportionate in the eastern half of the country, where the plants emit 78 percent of the sulfur dioxides and 39 percent of the nitrogen dioxides.
* More than 17,000 older industry sources operate with pollution controls much weaker than those required at modern facilities. Outdated coal-fired power plants emit pollution at six to twelve times the rate of upgraded and newer facilities.
In the case at hand, NPCA and its co-plaintiffs had argued that each day that TVA operated its plants without required state and federal permits constituted a new violation of the Clean Air Act.
"This decision makes it impossible for old, dirty power plants to hide behind the statute of limitations to avoid responsibilities under the Clean Air Act," says Don Barger, the NPCA's Southeast regional director. "This decision also means that cleaning up one out-of-compliance plant can't produce 'credits' that allow another plant to burn dirty."