Virginia and Tennessee Mountains
The pride of Appalachia, the majestic mountain peaks of Virginia and Tennessee, are being destroyed by mountaintop coal mining—sacrificed for coal company profits.
For residents and tourists of Tennessee and Virginia, the Appalachian Mountains are the soul of the region—the frame of each day’s sunrise and sunset. But an overpowering menace that removes the very peaks of these majestic mountains has come to haunt this range: mountaintop removal coal mining.
During the previous administration, the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) weakened already lax mining regulations, essentially removing a requirement that allowed a buffer for nearby streams. According to official federal government estimates from several years ago, mountaintop mining has devastated more than 2,000 streams in four central Appalachia states, and the numbers have continued to rise. SELC is continuing its challenge to this OSM rule.
Meanwhile, coal companies have found new ways to circumvent what little regulations protect the remaining mountains. In southwest Virginia, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is advancing a “coal synergy” project with two private coal companies so that sections of a proposed four-lane highway, the Coalfields Expressway, would be re-routed to follow coal seams, as opposed to publicly needed routes. As proposed, this public-private arrangement would allow coal companies to extract coal reserves while bypassing environmental regulations.
In addition to challenging the weakened buffer rule, SELC is urging the Virginia DOT to examine the environmental and human health impacts of surface coal mining and related valley fill activities that would occur from construction of the proposed Coalfields Expressway, and to undertake a more thorough review of the project’s threat to wildlife and threatened and endangered species, both of which are required by law.
We are also working to protect the ridgelines of the Cumberland Plateau by supporting the State of Tennessee’s petition to designate approximately 65,000 acres of public lands as off-limits to surface mining.
As part of our energy efficiency and clean energy initiative, SELC is pushing for the retirement of old, dirty coal plants that do not meet federal pollution requirements, and we are encouraging regulators to apply stringent cleanup and operating rules to those that remain. Cutting down on the coal plants in our region reduces the need for coal and protects our mountains from the devastating effects of mining.
Photo: © Robert Llewellyn
For more information about this endangered area, visit our casepage: Mountaintop Coal Mining in Appalachia