- Associated Press - Friday, December 11, 2015

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is a step closer to banning mountaintop coal mining in parts of the Cumberland Mountains.

The federal agency released draft proposals Thursday that, if approved, would designate portions of eastern Tennessee’s mountain ridges as unsuitable for surface mining, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported (https://bit.ly/1NZMNTK).

No final decision has been made. If approved, the designation would in essence prohibit mountaintop removal, a form of surface coal mining in which the top of a mountain is blasted away so workers can reach coal seams.

The proposal was issued in response to then-Gov. Phil Bredesen petitioning the federal government in 2010 to declare more than 67,000 acres unsuitable for surface mining.

“We took Tennessee’s request to act on this matter very seriously,” said Glenda Owens, the federal mining agency’s deputy director. “Our staff rigorously evaluated Tennessee’s petition and the impact of mining in the requested area.”

Public hearings on the proposals are planned in January in Wartburg, Huntsville, Clinton and Jacksboro.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who has sponsored legislation to ban mountaintop removal mining, said he asked the federal department to carefully consider the state’s petition.

“We have seen how protecting the rivers, streams, mountains, forests, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas has been important, not only for our enjoyment of the great American outdoors, but it has attracted millions of tourists and thousands of jobs to Tennessee,” he said.

He said the agency’s draft proposal wouldn’t affect other mining in these counties or other parts of the state.


Information from: Knoxville News Sentinel, https://www.knoxnews.com

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