Public Meetings on Tennessee's Plan to Protect Cumberland Ridgelines from Surface Coal Mining

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining (OSM) will hold three public hearings starting this week to receive input from local citizens regarding the state's petition to protect mountain ridgelines on public lands in the Cumberland Plateau from surface coal mining. These are the first public meetings to discuss Tennessee's petition to OSM, which administers the coal mining program in the state.

** WHEN
March 8, 10, and 15

** WHERE
March 8, 6:30 p.m. (EST), Huntsville Middle School, 3101 Baker Highway, Huntsville
March 10, 6:30 p.m. (EST), LaFollette Middle School, 1309 East Central Avenue, LaFollette
March 15, 6:30 p.m. (EDT), Oak Ridge High School, 1450 Oak Ridge Turnpike, Oak Ridge

** WHO
Concerned citizens of Tennessee, and representatives from Tennessee Environmental Council, Tennessee Ornithological Society, Warioto Chapter of National Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Southern Environmental Law Center.

These groups, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, are intervening in the petition process to support Tennessee's petition.

BACKGROUND
OSM will begin a formal environmental study of the state's petition, which, if granted, would protect approximately 67,000 acres in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area (formerly the Royal Blue, Sundquist and New River units) and the Emory River Tracts Conservation Easement. These places contain much of the older-growth forest that exists in the northern plateau, as well as an array of habitats and wildlife, including rare and threatened species.

Protecting these lands would also safeguard water quality in the Big South Fork watershed, including the Big South Fork National Recreation and River Area. The Big South Fork area and connected state lands offer a broad range of recreational opportunities, including camping, whitewater rafting, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting and fishing. In a 2005 report by the National Park Service, these recreational activities represented a $10-$16 million economic benefit annually to the region.  According to a recent report by the University of Tennessee, every dollar invested in state parks generates approximately $17 in direct expenditures in nearby communities and more than $37 in overall economic impact.

QUOTES
Southern Environmental Law Center
Deborah Murray, Senior Attorney:
"It's absolutely critical that OSM look at the combined and broad environmental impacts of past, present, and foreseeable future mining operations, compared to the significant and enduring public benefits of putting these public lands off-limits to surface mining."

National Parks Conservation Association
Don Barger, Southeast Regional Director:
"The state's proposed compromise saves the 'best of the best' while still allowing for resource extraction in the majority of the wildlife management area. Keeping the ridgelines intact insures the renewal of the downstream areas after the mining machines have gone."

Tennessee Environmental Council
Mary Mastin, Board Member:
"Protection of the ridgelines afforded by the petition is very important not only for some of the world's most diverse aquatic life and hardwood forests, but also for the enjoyment of the nearby recreational areas of the Big South Fork, the Cumberland Trail, and Frozen Head State Natural Area.  The tourist revenue generated is a good sustainable source for economic growth for the counties involved."

Tennessee Ornithological Society
Dick Preston, President:
 "Our goals are not mutually exclusive: with sound policies, we can preserve our natural environment and native wildlife, and still extract needed resources and protect jobs."

TN Chapter Sierra Club
Axel C. Ringe, Vice Conservation Chair:
"The petition by Tennessee to protect the ridgelines of the Cumberland Plateau is an historic event. If ultimately approved, it will not only protect Tennessee's ridges from mountaintop removal mining, it will protect hundreds of miles of streams from degradation, safeguard breeding habitat for the cerulean warbler and other threatened and endangered species, and provide the foundation for sustainable development of one of the poorest areas in Tennessee."

Defenders of Wildlife
Gregory Buppert, Staff Attorney:
"The Cumberland Plateau is a treasure-trove of biological diversity. Surface mining threatens the region's forests and streams and the wildlife that depends on them for survival. The state of Tennessee has our full support in its petition to designate ridgelines on state lands as unsuitable for surface coal mining operations."

Natural Resources Defense Council
Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist:
"Many of the unique hardwood forests on the northern Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee remain largely wild. But growing global demand for coal is increasing the pressure to destroy them. In the past, OSM routinely approved coal companies' destruction of Appalachia's forests and waterways by mountaintop removal coal mining. However, the environmental review process now underway offers OSM a chance to begin to move in a positive, environmentally intelligent direction, one wholly supported by sound science."
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