Earlier today the Board of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) voted to approve a settlement that provides for the single largest coal retirement announcement in the nation’s history.

The settlement requires the permanent retirement of 18 coal units, totaling 2,700-megawatts of TVA’s coal fleet.  In addition, it requires the retirement or clean up of an additional 2,800-megwatts over the next decade. 

Ken Ward, reporter at the Charleston Gazette, put those numbers in perspective, stating that just three of the plants being closed bought an amount of coal in 2010 equivalent to four large West Virginia surface mines.

This decision also brings tremendous public health benefits for the millions of residents living in a four-state region where the air is unsafe to breathe, and the Smoky Mountains, America’s most visited National Park, which for more than half century has been polluted by TVA’s coal plants.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, these coal plant closures and clean-ups “will prevent approximately 1,200 to 3,000 premature deaths, 2,000 heart attacks and 21,000 cases of asthma attacks each year, resulting in up to $27 billion in annual health benefits.”

This settlement comes after 11 years of pressure from environmental organizations (Sierra Club,

National Parks Conservation Association and Our Children’s Earth Foundation), working with EPA to clean up the majority of TVA’s coal fleet. The blockbuster agreement – which includes the affected states of Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee – represents the largest ever reduction in air pollution in the Southeastern United States. There are many other pieces to the settlement – many are detailed in EPA’s press release.

To their credit, TVA officials agreed to this plan and now embark on a new path where it can be a leader in a region that for far too long has refused to address its long-standing over reliance on coal. 

Now we will continue work with TVA to replace these retirements with energy efficiency and clean energy such as wind and solar power.