KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The nation’s largest public utility is backing off an aggressive tree-cutting policy that led to a lawsuit in federal court.
According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Tennessee Valley Authority said in a motion to dismiss the lawsuit that it has dropped a policy in its seven-state service area to remove any tree within its power line easements that could grow more than 15 feet high.
The motion says the lawsuit is moot since the agency has "suspended use of the 15-foot rule and reverted to the right of way maintenance practices that were utilized prior to the introduction of the 15-foot rule."
TVA spokesman Jim Hopson says even though the rule has been dropped, property owners will still be required to keep trees along easement borders trimmed to specifications and vegetation under lines will still be limited to low-growing plants.
"The only thing that is different is that the specification of 15 feet has been dropped," Hopson said last week.
The Dec. 5 motion came after a federal appeals court sent the lawsuit back to district court, saying TVA hadn’t properly assessed the environmental impact of its tougher tree-cutting policy.
U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan ordered the agency to produce records showing how it reached a decision that a full environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act wasn’t necessary for the new policy.
"TVA is reviewing its practices for clearing of trees in the buffer zones of TVA rights of way, and will initiate a . (new) NEPA review of any new buffer zone clearing practices before adopting them," TVA said in its motion.
Plaintiffs challenged the motion last week, saying they want a definitive ruling on whether federal law requires the utility to draft an environmental-impact statement and whether TVA could reinstate the rule.
Vance Sherwood, whose wife, Donna Sherwood, was among Knoxville, Tennessee homeowners who sued over the policy in 2012, said plaintiffs want more clarification.
"There are too many unanswered questions," Sherwood said.
TVA has about 15,900 miles of transmission lines and services about 9 million people in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.