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Hope for Tennessee’s mountains

The Memphis Commercial Appeal termed it “Hope for the mountains” when efforts late last year by Gov. Phil Bredesen and Sen. Lamar Alexander resulted in a petition to the Department of Interior.
In our state, the federal department’s Office of Surface Mining has regulatory oversight for coal mining.
The governor’s petition would put off limits to the practice of mountaintop removal mining all ridgelines in three sections of the North Cumberland mountains, encompassing areas now being managed by the state for hunting, habitat for wildlife and wildlife watching, hiking and other outdoor recreation.
Cumulatively, 67,326 acres in The Royal Blue, Sundquist and New River Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) would receive permanent protection from mountaintop mining through being designated as “Lands Unsuitable for Mining” by the federal office.
They cover a 505-mile scenic corridor, of 1,200-foot width, along the WMAs’ intertwining ridges in Scott, Morgan, Campbell and Anderson counties.
The petition does not affect existing permits or prevent underground mining, but the areas’ forested ridges, and the headwater streams that originate on them, could not be subjected to surface mining in the future.
The Office of Surface Mining is seeking input from “other federal and state agencies and the public” on scope and impacts to be considered in its decision on the petition.
Possible decision alternatives, posted in the Federal Register in February, could be to deny any unsuitable designation altogether, or to provide it for all or parts of the petition area.
The public can send comments on the matter to the federal Office, via e-mail at [email protected] or postal mail through April 14.
Postal mail should be addressed to Office of Surface Mining, Field Office Director, Attn: Earl D. Bandy, Jr., John J. Duncan Federal Building, 710 Locust St., Second Floor, Knoxville, Tenn. 37902.
While the state petition seeks protection for some public lands, Tennesseeans by large margins favor abolishment of mountaintop removal for coal extraction in other areas as well.
A bill to this effect, twice bottled up in the years just past, will be debated in the State Legislature’s environment committees this week.
HB0291 on the House side and its companion bill in the Senate, SB0577, would protect against “alteration” of high elevation ridgelines.
The environment committees are chaired by local legislators, Rep. David Hawk (Greeneville) in the House and Sen. Steven Southerland (Morristown) in the Senate.
“Mining by blasting the tops off mountains,” the Commercial Appeal noted, “is one of the most shortsighted practices among mining interests, providing short-term profits [but polluting streams, killing wildlife and] limiting the quality of life and economic prospects for generations to come.”