TVA Shouldn't Be Allowed to Get Off So Easy
Not too long ago, a writer for the conservative John Locke Foundation wrote that state Attorney General Roy Cooper had invested $7.7 million in a legal fight against the Tennessee Valley Authority “without much to show for it.”
That conclusion followed a ruling by the 4th U.S.Circuit Court of Appeals that reversed a lower court decision requiring the TVA to speed up the installation of pollution control devices for TVA coal-fired power plants.
The lower court judge decided that TVA’s pollution-belching power plants posed a public nuisance as that air drifts eastward into North Carolina.
The case included testimony by a medical expert who estimated that 100 fewer premature respiratory and heart-disease related deaths a year would result if pollution controls were put in place.
A three-member panel of the appeals court wasn’t swayed. It ruled that a patchwork of clean air standards would prevail if the lower court decision stood.
“In fact, emissions have been extensively regulated nationwide by the Clear Air Act for four decades,” Judge Harvey Wilkinson III wrote for the court.
The conclusion that Cooper and the state of North Carolina have little to show for the legal fight ignores one basic fact — the fat lady hasn’t sung. Despite the unanimous opinion from the most conservative federal appellate court in the country, Cooper could appeal; the U.S. Supreme Court could hear the case.
The state may yet win.
Wilkinson and his colleague on the 4th Circuit ignored that a patchwork of standards already prevails when it comes to the TVA.
Last year, a group called the Environmental Integrity Project released a report concluding that TVA dodges standards met by other utilities by using its status as a special federal corporation.
The report said that TVA has invoked federal sovereign immunity to avoid environmental penalties and hasn’t faced the same pressure as other utilities to reduce pollution.
Robert Dreher of Defenders of Wildlife wrote that TVA “should not be able to undermine the integrity of the legal process by claiming immunity to the enforcement of environmental laws. No corporation or agency should be above the law, especially at the expense of the environmental well-being of our citizens, wildlife and waters.”
It’s not just environmentalists who have criticized the disparate treatment.
More than a decade ago, the conservative Heritage Foundation wrote that TVA should be “subject to the same federal laws and oversight that (has) covered private utilities for decades.”
Interestingly enough, TVA announced that it wouldn’t fight a recent $11.5 million fine imposed by the state of Tennessee for its massive Kingston coal-sludge spill. Publicity is a funny thing, isn’t it?
But suppose North Carolina does lose its court fight.
If so, TVA and the executives who run it are still under more scrutiny and face more public pressure that ever to clean up their act.
If the lawsuit has helped create some of that public pressure, it’s still a win.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at email@example.com.
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