News | January 8, 2016

Federal designation would protect Tennessee’s eastern mountain ridges

Recognizing the immense value of the ridges and headwaters of the Cumberland Plateau, in 2010 Tennessee petitioned the federal government to designate a 67,000-acre area as unsuitable for surface mining. Last month, the federal government released its draft environmental impact study and evaluation of the petition and is seeking public comment on them until Jan. 25.

The petition before the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) would protect valuable natural resources and safeguard the economies dependent on the tourists drawn to the natural beauty of the area. In years past, surface coal mining left a devastating environmental footprint on the Cumberland Plateau—clear cuts, polluted rivers, and unstable slopes. Tennessee requested that the ridgeline corridors within the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tract Conservation Easement be off-limits for future surface mining on the grounds that the array of valuable habitats and wildlife qualify these lands as “fragile lands” and that new mining would be incompatible with the state’s plans or programs for protection of these publicly-owned lands.   

As this proposal advanced, many supporters have enumerated the ways recreation, tourism, and continued habitat management are better uses for the future of the North Cumberland area and its role in the local economies. For instance, while surface mining employed 135 people in all of Tennessee in 2013, tourism-related jobs in the Cumberland Plateau region alone supported 1,420 jobs. In 2012, tourism brought more than $177 million in to the four-county region included in the petition.

OSMRE scheduled several public hearings, listed below, to hear public comment. To submit your comments on the petition electronically, visit this link. Below is the schedule of public hearings on the petition. All meetings open at 5:30 p.m. with the public hearing beginning at 6:30 p.m.

  • Wartburg Central High School, Wartburg, TN on Monday, January 11
  • Roane State Community College, Huntsville, TN on Tuesday, January 12
  • Clinton Community Center, Clinton, TN on Wednesday, January 13
  • Campbell County High School, JROTC Room, Jacksboro, TN on Thursday, January 14

Read recent editorials on the petition.