Public Hearing Draws Environmental Organizations, University of Memphis Professor, and Civil Rights Group to Call for the Retirement of TVA’s Allen Coal Plant

Guest Blog | August 13, 2013 | Press Releases


Contact: Lauren Randall, Sierra Club, 202-495-3027, [email protected]; Jennifer Rennicks, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, 865-235-1448,
[email protected]

Public Hearing Draws Environmental Organizations, University of Memphis Professor, and Civil Rights Group to Call for the Retirement of TVA’s Allen Coal Plant

MEMPHIS, TN – Tonight, ahead of a public hearing hosted by the Shelby County Health Department, environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and a University of Memphis professor, gathered for a press conference to call for the retirement of TVA’s Allen coal plant. The Department is accepting public comments on TVA’s request to renew the Allen coal plant’s federal operating permit, which would allow for more pollution and increased threats to public health.

“Last year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation gave Memphis the deplorable designation of ‘Asthma Capital’ of the U.S.” said Rita Harris, Sierra Club Regional Environmental Justice Organizer. “The people of Memphis deserve better, and the Shelby County Health Department can deliver by calling on TVA to replace the polluting Allen coal plant with clean energy, protecting families and communities suffering from coal’s effects.”

The 50-year-old Allen coal plant is the biggest polluter in Shelby County, emitting harmful pollutants that lead to respiratory problems like asthma and bronchitis. Currently, air pollution levels in the county exceed safety limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency for ozone pollution. The Allen coal plant contributes to 39 premature deaths and 660 asthma attacks every year, according to the Clean Air Task Force.

“Children have a right, established by the United Nations, to breathe unpolluted air,” said Michael Schmidt, doctoral student in the University of Memphis’ School of Public Health, associate art professor, and founding director of the Center for Multimedia Arts, a research center within the University of Memphis focused on increased health communication. “The Health Department can help protect children’s right to breathe clean air by conducting a health impact assessment of TVA’s current and proposed operations of the Allen coal plant.”

Individuals giving testimony at the public hearing called for clean energy solutions, noting that across the country, energy efficiency, and renewable technologies like wind and solar are reducing the demand for outdated coal plants like Allen. TVA has already studied energy efficiency options, and according to a study released last year by economic consulting firm Synapse Energy Economics, if TVA followed the course set by its own study, it could save enough energy over the next three years to retire one of its old, dirty coal plants.

“As we discuss the terms of the Allen plant’s air permit, it is important for us to also consider a future where Memphis moves away from coal-fired generation and embraces cleaner energy options,” said Angela Garrone, the Southeast Energy Research Attorney with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. “Renewable generation resources, such as the Cleanline project that will bring 3,500 megawatts of wind-generated electricity into Memphis as early as 2015, and increased energy efficiency measures could help Memphis shift away from dirty, coal-fired power.”

Under the proposed federal operating permit, called the Title V permit of the Clean Air Act, the Allen coal plant will have to meet new limits on many of the harmful pollutants it emits. Some individuals testifying acknowledged that the draft permit fails to meet these health-protective limits.

“The Title V air pollution permit is the vehicle for ensuring that TVA ratchets down its pollution to comply with requirements that limit mercury, sulfur dioxide, and other harmful emissions,” said Abel Russ, Environmental Integrity Project. “The draft permit doesn’t do it, but we hope the final permit will.”

Throughout the public hearing, many concerned members of local communities, environmental groups, and civil rights organizations voiced their opposition to continuing to operate the polluting Allen coal plant, and called on the Shelby County Health Department to deny reissuing its federal operating permit.

“Our poor, black communities are routinely oppressed with the deadly residue from coal burning plants in the air and water,” said Madeleine Taylor, Executive Director of the Memphis Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Memphis is no different. I speak on behalf of the 45,000 Memphians located within three to six miles of the Allen Steam Plant in parts of zip code 38109. Families in and around Mitchell High School, Ford Road Elementary School, and White’s Chapel Elementary School have been subjected to this pollution over the years. The only way to eliminate the harmful effects of these plants is to close them in favor of cleaner sources of fuel.”