Sen. Lamar Alexander welcomed the news Wednesday that the U.S. Interior Department has agreed to review Gov. Phil Bredesen’s petition to ban coal mining along some ridgetops in the northern Cumberland Plateau.
“The goal here is to protect Upper Cumberland ridgetops in which Tennessee taxpayers already own an interest,” Alexander said. “Doing so will allow more opportunities for outdoor recreation, attract job-creating tourist dollars and still allow for mining in appropriate ways and places.”
The ban would prevent mountaintop removal mining on 67,000 acres in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan and Scott counties. The state either owns or manages the land but does not own the mineral rights. Bredesen filed the petition in October to ask the land be deemed unsuitable for mining within 600 feet of the ridgelines upstream from the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.
Last week, Alexander met with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Office of Surface Mining Director Joseph Pizarchik to urge them to begin their review of Bredesen's petition. Alexander said the review will include studying the area involved, consulting with all landowners in the area and creating an environmental impact statement. Once those are complete, the Interior Department will make a decision on Bredesen’s petition.
The conservation group Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment praised the federal government for moving forward. One of its leaders, Cathie Bird, said the ban on mining is needed "to keep some of the state's world-class, biodiverse ecosystems intact."
For the past two years, conservationists have pushed legislation to ban mountaintop removal mining in Tennessee, but the legislature has refused. Bredesen's petition is seen as a way to bypass the legislative process and protect some environmentally sensitive lands. Gov.-elect Bill Haslam has said he is undecided about whether to pursue the petition once he takes office in January.