Call to Action: Save Tennessee Cumberland Mountains from Ridgetop Coal Mining

Click here to take action right now. The deadline is February 26!

Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition: The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) is evaluating a petition to designate more than 67,000 acres as unsuitable for surface coal mining. The bureau began work on the petition in 2010 after the State of Tennessee petitioned OSMRE to designate certain ridge lines and connecting corridors within the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Emory River Tract Conservation Easement under the discretionary provisions of Section 522 of SMCRA. The petition seeks to prevent surface mining within 600 feet on either side of ridge lines within the 269 square miles of the two areas.

Please, take action today to support the petition and save the Tennessee Cumberland Mountains!

Our recommendation: Alternative 4 with a modification most closely accomplishes the State’s intent to designate as unsuitable for surface mining all of the ridgeline corridors in the petition area, extending to and connecting with stream corridors in the North Cumberland WMA and the Emory River Tract Conservation Easement. The modification to Alternative 4 should state that re-mining is limited to sites at which, by consensus between the State and OSMRE, safety and/or environmental benefits of re-mining outweigh the damages inflicted by the procedure. It is important to say:  I support alternative 4 with modifications.  Alternative 4 would conserve the most mountain tops.  The modification that we recommend is that re-mining only occur when environmental damages from previous mining must be corrected.  (The state and OSMRE would have to agree on the need to permit re-mining.)

Some other points you can make:

  • State how you use the area and how ridgeline mining would affect your values.
  • The majority of the ridgeline to be designated are in the headwaters of the Big South Fork, an area of special concern. Their protection would benefit the park’s water resources.
  • The North Cumberland Mountains contain natural treasures such as a 40’ tall waterfalls, mountain tops over 3,000’, and headwater streams.
  • The petition area should be designated as “fragile lands.” Headwater sources are essential to downstream viability. Coal mining was the primary cause of decline for 33 of the 34 aquatic special-status species known to occur in the evaluation area.
  • Re-mining should only be allowed where genuine environmental problems exist. It should be the exception rather than the rule.
  • Recreation and tourism are a higher and better use of this area for the economic future of the region. Travel and tourism-related expenditures in the four-county area in a recent year supported 1,420 jobs as well as $10.4 M and $6.0 M, respectively, in state and local tax receipts. By contrast, there were 135 people employed in surface mining in the entire State of Tennessee in 2013.


Take action to save our precious mountains, headwaters, and economy.

Background: Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), a member of the public may petition a state regulatory authority to declare areas not otherwise precluded from coal mining operations as “lands unsuitable for mining” (LUM). Such a designation would mean that no new surface coal mining permits could be issued within the designated area. The state’s basis for the petition is that 1) surface coal mining operations are inconsistent with the existing state or local land use plans for programs and 2) surface coal mining operations would affect fragile or historic lands, resulting in significant damage to important historic, cultural, scientific, and aesthetic values and natural systems.

In July 2014, OSMRE secured contractor services to prepare and publish the Petition Evaluation Document/Environmental Impact Statement (PED/EIS) document.

For more background on the issue:

February 8: Read the News Release “OSMRE Reopens Comment Period on Tennessee Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition”

February 16: Public Comment Report on Tennessee Lands Unsuitable for Mining Draft Petition Evaluation Document/Environmental Impact Statement – Comments collected through January 25, 2016. (5 MB)