Ex-official testifies that TVA broke federal law

A former U.S. government air quality official testified Tuesday that the Tennessee Valley Authority violated federal law by renovating and expanding power plants without installing new air pollution scrubbers.

Bruce Buckheit, former air enforcement director for the Environmental Protection Agency, told a federal judge that an investigation showed that the TVA emitted more than 1 million tons of illegal pollutants over 20 years, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.

“We were stunned,” Buckheit said. “This is one of the most significant violations I've ever seen.”

Buckheit said under questioning by the TVA's lawyer that no court has ever convicted the TVA of violating new source pollution rules of the Clean Air Act. He said the matter still is in the courts.

Buckheit's testimony came in the federal court trial of the state of North Carolina's lawsuit against the TVA. It accuses the utility of illegally allowing emissions to cross into North Carolina.

North Carolina sued the TVA and asked the court to make the utility clean up emissions from its 11 coal-fired plants in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama. The lawsuit asks that TVA be required to abide by the same pollution limits as North Carolina utilities.

U.S. District Court Judge Lacy Thornburg is hearing the case without a jury in Asheville. The trial is in its second week.

The TVA supplies electricity to all or part of seven states — Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Virginia.