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Clean Water Legal Defense Fund

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Our litigation program supports TCWN’s mission by enabling us to secure stronger permits and better enforcement of existing permits.  Through our attorney, Stephanie Durman, and partner organizations, TCWN takes legal action to ensure compliance with state and federal clean water laws in four areas: coal mining, toxic industrial discharges/coal-fired power plants, sewage treatment plants, and wetlands protection.


One good thing that can come out of litigation is a supplemental environmental project. These are monies a defendant pays to a local organization to help communities harmed by illegal pollution, and often involve land conservation.  Through its litigation program, TCWN continues to support the good work of the environmental community while cleaning up pollution at the same time.  


Lawsuits are expensive and we need help with expert fees and legal costs. Please support our litigation program by going here.




City of Madisonville - Proposed Consent Decree

  • On May 4, 2015, TCWN along with the Watershed Association of the Tellico Reservoir lodged a proposed consent decree with U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan to resolve their pending CWA citizen suit against the City of Madisonville. Under the decree, Madisonville would construct a new wastewater treatment plant to discharge to Bat Creek, implement infrastructure improvements to reduce sanitary sewer overflows, and fund a supplemental environmental project for nutrient sampling in Bat Creek. The Department of Justice has 45 days to review and comment on the decree before it can be entered by Judge Varlan.


Sterling and Strays Mine - ESA Coal Mining Case

  • On May 3, 2015, TCWN along with Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment filed suit, alleging the Office of Surface Mining failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services in regards to a coal mining permit in Claiborne County. According to  the Endangered Species Act these two agencies are obligated to consult with each other to protect the threatened blackside dace - a federally protected fish species in the Clear Fork Creek watershed - when they were issuing the coal mining permit for the 1,088-acre Sterling and Strays strip mine. Read the entire complaint here


Jim Justice TN Coal Mines - NPDES Permit Renewal


  • On March 12, 2015 a coalition of Tennessee citizens groups submitted comments urging the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) not to reauthorize Clean Water Act permits that a rogue coal mine operator let expire for 10 coal facilities in Tennessee. The comments submitted by TCWN, the Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), and the Sierra Club  opposed the proposed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and detailed the poor track record of compliance with environmental regulations and worker safety rules at mines and other coal operations owned by coal billionaire investor Jim Justice. Despite a full year’s prior written notice from TDEC of the obligation to submit renewal applications for their coal operations, these companies failed to renew ten of their NPDES permits.   The Justice mines have been in violation of the Clean Water Act’s most fundamental requirement for as long as four years, yet TDEC is proposing just to give them back their old permits as-is. In addition, 16 of Justice’s Tennessee coal mining operations failed to submit required discharge reports to TDEC in the third quarter of 2013 and this failure to report continued into 2014. Click here to read more.


U.S. Office of Surface Mining - Zeb Mountain and Davis Creek Mine 5 ESA Case

  • On January 28, 2015, Judge Pam Reeves of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee issued an order allowing an Endangered Species Act case filed against the Office of Surface Mining and the Fish and Wildlife Service to proceed to a decision on the merits. The case, filed by TCWN, Defenders of WildlifeSierra Club, and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment in May 2013, alleges the federal agencies had failed to use the best available scientific data when OSM issued mining permits for the Zeb Mountain surface mine and Davis Creek Mine 5. Specifically, the environmental groups allege OSM failed to protect the threatened blackside dace and the endangered Cumberland Darter from the impacts of high conductivity discharges. Judge Reeves rejected arguments by the federal agencies that plaintiffs could only address these claims through a direct appeal of the mining permit, rather than through an citizen suit under the Endangered Species Act.


TDOT - Grainger County Wetland Citizen Suit

  • On December 18, 2014, TCWN and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a complaint against TDOT Commissioner John Schroer. The suit alleges TDOT  failed violated its permit obligations to create 3.268 acres of wetlands to compensate for wetlands it filled in conjunction with a road widening project for State Route 1 (also called 11W / Lee Highway) and State Route 32 (also called 25 E / Dixie Highway) in Grainger County. TDOT created only about 1 acre of wetland, and that this wetland is causing water quality violations due to pyritic material. 


U.S. Army and BAE Systems Ordnance Systems Inc.

  • On November 17, 2014 TCWN filed suit against the U.S. Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and BAE Systems Ordnance Systems, Inc for dumping RDX, an explosive, into the Holston River 822 times since May 1, 2012. These and a number of other violations for BOD, leaks, spills, overflows, and bypasses are also listed in the notice letter. To read the notice letter, click here. To read EPA's factsheet on RDX, click here. TDEC Engineer Julie Harse recused herself from working on the BAE permit. To read her letter, click here.  Tisha Calebrese, Director of the Division of Water Quality responded to that letter. Read her response here. TCWN Attorney Stephanie Durman Matheny is co-counseling with Gary Davis and Jamie Whitlock of Davis & Whitlock, PC.





Strip mining of coal is a highly damaging industrial assault on our precious land and water resources. Strip mines destroy our mountains and forests, pollute our waters, and provide relatively little economic benefit to local communities.  Transporting coal leads to dust, noise, and traffic hazards. Recent studies have shown elevated public health risk in counties that product coal.  And, as we have learned from the Charleston, WV chemical spill, even "cleaning" coal is a dirty business that threatens our drinking water. Yet, despite the high cost we are paying, Tennessee represents a scant .1% of U.S. coal production, and much of our coal is shipped to other countries. TCWN is working to ensure that Tennessee coal mines comply with all legal requirements to protect water quality and other community values. Click here to learn more.





Tennessee has many industries that discharge toxic and nonconventional pollutants either directly to our streams and lakes or to sewage treatment plants.  These facilities range from power plants to factories to industrial stormwater sites such as scrap yards or construction sites.  Many of the pollutants discharged from industrial facilities are highly toxic even in vanishingly small amounts, particularly mercury, PCBs, and dioxins.  TCWN routinely reviews discharge monitoring reports submitted by the dischargers to determine which industrial facilities are discharging pollutants in violation of their permit limits, works to enforce these permits, and also seeks to stronger permits when necessary. 





Coal-fired power plants are a particular focus for TCWN. Most of the coal mined in the U.S. is burned to create electricity, either here or in other countries.  In addition to substantial impacts on global warming and air quality, this process also involves massive water withdrawals, discharges of toxic-laden coal combustion wastewater, impingement and entrainment of aquatic organisms by cooling water intake structures, discharges of very hot water, and groundwater pollution from coal ash impoundments. A recent EPA draft rule states that steam-electric power plants alone account for 50 to 60 percent of all toxic pollutants discharged to the surface waters by all industrial categories. To address these challenges, TCWN is seeking stronger permits for several of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal-fired power plants. Click here to learn more.




The collection and treatment of sewage is a hallmark of modern life, and has contributed tremendously to improved public health and environmental quality.  Yet, throughout Tennessee many sewage collection and treatment systems are aging or otherwise unable to meet the demands of an expanding population. Sewage treatment plants report by far the largest number of permit violations of any type of discharger in Tennessee.  These violations typically include sanitary sewer overflows – or releases of raw sewage from manholes, pump stations, and broken sewer lines – and end-of-pipe violations, resulting in pollution of Tennessee waters.  Many sewage treatment plants also discharge significant quantities of nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorous – to streams that are already polluted by excess nutrients.  While TCWN supports substantial public reinvestment in Tennessee’s sewer infrastructure, we have also used litigation to encourage municipalities to improve sewage collection and treatment. Click here to learn more.





Wetlands help clean our water, provide habitat for fish and wildlife, and serve as natural sponges to reduce flooding. But, they are often filled to make way for construction and roads. When that happens, state and federal permits are required, and these permits are supposed to ensure that the negative environmental impacts of filling wetlands are either avoided or offset by mitigation. Unfortunately, many permittees do not comply with their permits, and TDEC has not consistently monitored compliance or enforced permit obligations. TCWN is working to protect wetlands statewide through policy work and litigation



Tennessee Clean Water Network

625 Market St.

Knoxville, TN 37902


Mailing Address:

PO BOX 1521

Knoxville, TN 37901


Office: 865.522.7007

Fax: 865.525.4988