In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Owensboro, Kentucky, just 30 miles north of the big power plant near Drakesboro, the plaintiffs claim TVA ignored federal procedures and its own rules in reversing a previous decision to install additional pollution controls on Paradise Units 1 and 2 so they could continue to burn coal.

In short, the plaintiffs — KCA, James Rogers III, Talmage Rogers, Pat Early, Kristine Early and Kevin Lawrence — accuse the federal utility of failing to prepare a full-fledged environmental impact statement (EIS) they argue is required under the National Environmental Protection Act.

KCA President Bill Bissett said his Lexington-based trade group is borrowing legal tactics often used with some success by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups in their ongoing opposition to the mining of coal and burning of coal in power plants in the United States.

“In many ways, this is a page of the Sierra Club’s playbook,” Bissett said in an interview. “You have to follow the rules.”

In the suit, the plaintiffs argue TVA failed to prepare an EIS “to inform its decision to decommission and demolish the two existing coal-fueled generating units known as Paradise Units 1 and 2, a decision with significant environmental impacts.”

The suit also said TVA characterized the construction of a new gas-fired facility and its related infrastructure at Paradise as an “upgrade” of the existing coal plant. “Implying that characterization allows it to ignore the significant environmental impacts of constructing an entirely new facility and associated fuel supply and storage structures and of decommissioning and demolishing the existing coal-fueled units,” the suit added. “This characterization is arbitrary and capricious, and unsupported by substantial evidence.”

In addition to failing to prepare an EIS, the plaintiffs allege TVA also failed to consider a legitimate “no action” alternative, failed to examine reasonable alternatives to the chosen alternative, and prejudged its decision prior to and outside of the NEPA process.

Bissett, in fact, said he suspects the TVA board of directors’ decision earlier this year to shutter the two Paradise units may have been more political than legal. “A lot of us are suspicious of the political nature of TVA’s board,” he said. “But it’s not what this litigation is about.” The board members are appointed by the U.S. President.

The plaintiffs are asking the court for preliminary and permanent injunctive relief against TVA and for a declaratory judgment holding TVA “acted arbitrarily, capriciously, and contrary to law and in abuse of its discretion and its statutory authority.”

TVA spokesman Scott Brooks denied the board’s decision was influenced by politics and insisted it did not violate any laws.

“We believe we followed applicable procedures, which included an environmental assessment and public comment period,” Brooks said.

Site work began this summer at Paradise, and Brooks said TVA intends to continue operating Units 1 and 2 on coal “as long as we can until the gas plant comes on line, which is scheduled for 2017.” Unit 3, the plant’s largest unit rated at 1,150 MW, will continue to burn coal indefinitely, according to Brooks. Unit 3 burns about 2 million tons of high-sulfur thermal coal annually. Including all three units, Paradise burns 4-6 million tons of coal a year.