News | March 23, 2011

SELC Urges OSM to Look at Benefits of Saving Lands on Cumberland Plateau

Earlier this month, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining held its first public meetings as it begins considering Tennessee’s petition to save public lands on the Cumberland Plateau from mountaintop removal and other forms of surface mining. SELC Senior Attorney Deborah Murray took part in the hearings and urged OSM officials to look at the broad environmental and economic benefits of granting Tennessee’s request.

Countering arguments that protecting these landscapes would kill jobs and choke economic recovery, she emphasized that bringing surface mining onto these wildlife management areas would strike a severe blow to recreation and tourism—not only on the affected ridge tops, but also downstream in places like Cumberland Trail State Park, Frozen Head State Park, and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

A recent University of Tennessee study found that visitors to Tennessee’s state parks contributed $1.5 billion directly or indirectly to the state’s economy in 2008 alone and are a boon to businesses in rural communities. This represents a $37 return for every $1 the state invests in its parks. The National Park Service estimates that recreation on and around the Big South Fork generates up to $16 million each year for the region’s economy.

Deborah also called for OSM to examine the full range of detrimental impacts of allowing surface mining on the state lands, including:

  • The clear-cutting of mature forests, which support the Plateau’s world-renowned biodiversity;
  • Pollution in downstream waterways, especially in tributaries of the Big South Fork, and other aquatic treasures; and
  • Damage to unfragmented habitat critical to vulnerable wildlife, such as the cerulean warbler and aquatic species found nowhere else in the world.


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