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Environmental groups sue federal agency over Middle Tennessee pipeline approval

Warnings posted in Dickson County near Tennessee Gas Pipeline property.
Tennessee Lookout
John Partipilo
Warnings posted in Dickson County near Tennessee Gas Pipeline property.

Environmental groups have filed suit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission over its approval of a pipeline that will wind through mostly poor and Black Middle Tennessee communities to supply methane gas to a new Tennessee Valley Authority power plant near Clarksville.

The Sierra Club and Appalachian Voices are asking the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to set aside the federal agency’s January order approving the 32-mile pipeline through Dickson, Houston and Stewart Counties.

The groups, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, say the construction and ultimate operations of the pipeline pose a host of avoidable risks to the communities and natural resources that lie in its path and criticized federal regulators for caving to pressure from the TVA and Tennessee Gas Pipeline, the company building the pipeline.

“FERC’s decision to greenlight this project ignored the harm the pipeline and gas plant would inflict on Middle Tennessee and beyond,” Spencer Gall, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement.

“FERC is supposed to safeguard the public interest, not rubberstamp unnecessary pipeline projects that will harm our communities, hurt the climate, and contribute to higher power bills.”

Kinder Morgan, the corporate owner of Tennessee Gas Pipeline, did not respond to an emailed request for comment about the legal challenge.

The controversial pipeline project is intended to supply natural gas to a new TVA plant in Cumberland City, about 20 miles southwest of Clarksville. Constructed on the existing campus of TVA’s soon-to-be-retired coal-burning Cumberland Fossil Plant, the gas plant is expected to be operational by 2026.

The plant is one of eight gas-powered plants that TVA has announced it will open in recent years, drawing criticism from environmental groups for its continued reliance on climate-damaging fossil fuels instead of investments in renewable energy.

A separate legal challenge filed against TVA remains ongoing. That lawsuit, filed by a trio of environmental groups in a Nashville federal court, contends the utility violated federal law by failing to evaluate climate, environmental and financial impacts of the proposed gas-fired plant.

Utility officials have denied those claims saying, “TVA takes our environmental compliance obligations seriously.”

The proposed pipeline’s route will take it through 11 communities — seven of which are disproportionately poor or Black. Three of the communities have minority populations of 50% or more, according to an analysis by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The pipeline would also cut through dozens of streams, including those that feed into the popular Harpeth River, using explosives to blast streambeds. Environmental groups have also raised concerns about the danger of pipes leaking methane into the atmosphere; methane is a key contributor to climate warming. And they have warned that the costs TVA is incurring for the project will be ultimately borne by consumers in higher energy costs.

This story was originally published by the Tennessee Lookout.

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee. She is a graduate of Columbia University in New York and the University of California at Berkeley School of Journalism. Wadhwani lives in Nashville with her partner and two children.
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