EPA to TVA: Review is Inadequate, More Transparency Needed

EPA states that TVA's environmental review of replacing the Kingston coal plant with new fossil gas pipeline and power plants is inadequate, and a supplemental review with more transparency is needed.

Maggie Shober | March 28, 2024 | Fossil Gas, Tennessee, Utilities

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says TVA’s environmental review of its replacement of the Kingston coal plant has “serious deficiencies,” and thus “does not satisfy the requirements of NEPA and its implementing regulations.” Due to these shortcomings, EPA requests that TVA issue another environmental review:

“Our review has determined that the Final EIS fails to address numerous EPA concerns identified with the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and the lack of transparency prevents us from understanding TVA’s treatment of several important issues. Thus, the Final EIS is inadequate. The EPA requests that Tennessee Valley Authority prepare a supplemental EIS in accordance with 40 CFR 1502.9(d).” ~EPA letter to TVA on March 25, 2024


As a federal agency, TVA must perform an environmental review of all major decisions as dictated by the 1970s-era National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). One key aspect of NEPA reviews is the ability of the EPA to review, and comment on if necessary, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) performed by a fellow federal agency. TVA uses its NEPA process as a stand-in for true stakeholder input, public engagement, and transparency, as we have pointed out previously. And TVA’s final EIS on its replacement of Kingston coal plant has serious flaws, including relying on outdated information.

TVA’s Coal Retirement Plans

The TVA Board of Directors has committed to retiring all of TVA’s remaining coal plants, which are some of the oldest in the country, by 2035, including the 9 coal units at the Kingston site in east Tennessee. This decision is based on TVA’s own analysis showing that keeping these plants online is uneconomic and a risk to reliability of the system.

Under NEPA, the last step before a federal entity can make a decision is a final EIS. In February, TVA released its final EIS recommending replacing Kingston with 1,500 MW of new fossil gas power plants and a new 122-mile fossil gas pipeline, as well as 100 MW of batteries and 3-4 MW of solar. EPA has now reviewed that FEIS and released their comments.

“Our concerns continue to be substantial”

On March 25, EPA sent TVA a letter citing several deficiencies in its final EIS, which EPA had brought up to TVA previously in this process, and requesting that TVA issue a supplemental EIS before making a final decision. EPA’s response makes clear that we at SACE are not the only ones concerned about transparency around TVA’s planning and decision-making processes: EPA cites a lack of transparency around resource costs; the inclusion of federal funding and programs; and the specifics of TVA’s defined need as just a few of the reasons TVA’s final EIS does not meet NEPA regulations.

“Our concerns continue to be substantial, and the EPA requests that the relevant portions of the Final EIS be revised and made available for public comment in a supplemental EIS. Specifically, the Final EIS does not disclose essential information underlying the key analysis of the costs of each option, underestimates GHG and criterial pollutant emissions, fails to consider a reasonable range of feasible alternatives including more environmentally protective alternatives that do not lock-in fossil fuel generation, and inadequately considers impacts on communities with environmental justice concerns.” ~EPA letter to TVA on March 25, 2024

Read EPA’s full comment letter to TVA here.

NEPA Done Well Doesn’t Delay Infrastructure

EPA’s request for a supplemental environmental review for TVA may delay the replacement of Kingston. But the delay is not because the NEPA process inherently slows infrastructure –  it is because TVA is not providing the transparency required under NEPA and because TVA failed to address concerns EPA brought up earlier in the process. NEPA review is sometimes cited as a speedbump hindering us from getting energy infrastructure, clean or not, online quickly. But the NEPA process moves more quickly if it is done well from the beginning. So TVA’s incompetence in this particular NEPA review is the cause of delay.

Next Steps up to TVA

We will continue to monitor TVA’s process of replacing retiring coal plants, and particularly will look for a supplemental EIS from TVA to address EPA’s concerns with the Kingston final EIS. We hope that TVA’s future NEPA reviews, including one for a draft Integrated Resource Plan that is expected any day now, will be more transparent and TVA will put in place a more robust stakeholder engagement process.

Maggie Shober
Maggie Shober works to speed the clean energy transformation in the Southeast through analysis and advocacy. She has expertise in renewable energy, energy efficiency, coal retirements, energy market modeling, and…
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