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Groups: 'Harmful' Effects of Tenn. Coal Mines to Be Reviewed

A coalition of environmental and community groups won an agreement this month to help protect two species of fish from mining pollution in the streams of Tennessee. SOCM logo

On Jan. 19, a federal judge approved a settlement that calls on the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Under the agreement, the two agencies must consider how pollution from three mining operations affects the endangered Cumberland darter and the threatened blackside dace, the coalition said in a statement.

The settlement focuses on the impact of pollution from National Coal’s Zeb Mountain Mine, Davis Creek Energy’s Mine Area 5 and Middlesboro Mining’s Sterling & Strays mine, according to the statement.

“From day one in our efforts to stop mining on Zeb Mountain, we have been concerned about the streams and the animals that live in them, and believed that science backed us up,” Cathie Bird, a member of the Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), said. “This settlement, to me, is more than about winning a case. It’s about affirming the rights of people and wildlife to clean water.”

Going forward, the groups said they will work to ensure that future coal mining permit requests comply with the Endangered Species Act.

“For too long, regulators have been reluctant to consider the full costs to people and the environment of coal mining in Tennessee,” Tennessee Clean Water Network executive director Renee Hoyos added.

“We have lost fish species and water quality has degraded to the point that very little can live in these streams. We are glad to have a resolution to this problem and look forward to working with OSM and US FWS on better permitting in the future.”

The coalition also includes the Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club.

SOCM – Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment – is a member-run organization that encourages civic involvement and collective action so that the people of Tennessee have a greater voice in determining their future. 

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