Conservation groups ask federal court of appeals to review key Cumberland Pipeline permit

August 21, 2023

Eric Hilt, (615) 622-1199,
Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683),

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Southern Environmental Law Center and Appalachian Mountain Advocates, on behalf of Appalachian Voices and the Sierra Club, are asking a federal court of appeals to review a state-issued permit for the proposed Cumberland Pipeline. The sole purpose of the proposed 32-mile pipeline, which would cut through communities in Dickson, Houston and Stewart Counties, would be to supply methane gas to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s proposed Cumberland Gas Plant.

The pipeline route crosses dozens of streams, rivers and wetlands. These waterways are extremely important to the health of Middle Tennessee communities, including tributaries of Middle Tennessee’s Harpeth River, a popular destination for anglers, paddlers and other visitors. These waterways also are home to a diverse array of wildlife, including endangered and threatened species.

The pipeline’s construction threatens to cause long-lasting and irreparable damage to these waterways. Tennessee Gas Pipeline — the company behind this reckless proposal — intends to use “open trench” methods, which have major environmental consequences, to cross almost all of these waterways. TGP also plans to use explosives to blast through streambeds at water crossings where it deems it necessary, resulting in even more unnecessary impacts to Tennessee waters.

Despite the detrimental impacts this pipeline project would have on Tennessee waterways and the people and wildlife who depend on them, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation issued TGP an Aquatic Resource Alteration Permit in July of this year. An ARAP is required for any proposed project that will impact a Tennessee waterway and is meant to prevent harm to the state’s streams and rivers. But in this case, state officials ignored, among other things, the significant impacts the Cumberland Pipeline will have on local waterways.

“Instead of requiring TGP to demonstrate that its plans will result in the least amount of harm, which it is required to do, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation rubberstamped a reckless pipeline project,” SELC Senior Attorney Jamie Whitlock said. “This permit, in effect, gives TGP a green light to pollute and degrade important Middle Tennessee waterways.”

“TDEC granted this permit to TGP based on an incomplete application less than five full business days after the close of the public comment period,” Bri Knisley, Director of Public Power Campaigns at Appalachian Voices, said. “It’s hard to imagine that the state is fulfilling its responsibility to protect our waterways when it isn’t requiring TGP to present a complete and thorough application or investigating serious concerns raised in public comments.”

On Friday, the conservation groups submitted a petition for review to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, asking the federal court to review TDEC’s flawed decision to issue an ARAP for the Cumberland Pipeline project.

“Last week, people in a rural Tennessee community were forced to evacuate their home due to an explosion at a facility run by Kinder Morgan, the same company proposing this pipeline,” said Amy Kelly, Beyond Coal Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club. “Increased oversight and a thorough examination of permits that would affect our waterways are warranted and absolutely necessary. We are calling on the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to do just that.”

The proposed Cumberland Pipeline also carries concerns about safety. Just last week, an explosion at a gas pipeline facility in Hickman County forced around 200 families to evacuate. In 1992, a pipeline explosion in Dickson County injured five people, destroyed three homes, and burned 400 acres of farmland.