Monday, October 29, 2007

Environmental Public Hearing Draws 140

Knoxville, TN: Over 140 people attended the public hearing hosted by the Office of Surface Mining concerning the elimination of stream buffers which would benefit Tennessee's coal mining companies and significantly damage the environment. The vast majority of those in attendance at the hearing were organized by Save Our Cumberland Mountains. For a screening of the video shot by SOCM of the hearing click on the YouTube link at the end of this story.

Tennessee's Streams in Danger

KNOX, TN: After three years of agency review, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), under Bush Administration directives, submitted a proposal for a new regulation that would allow companies to dump hazardous fill material directly into waterways and streams, permanently destroying them.

David Beauty, SOCM coalfield resident of Fentress County says, “it is because of the current stream buffer zone rule that our family still has a home. Without it, our livelihoods would be threatened”.

The proposed regulation, "Excess Spoil, Coal Mine Waste, and Buffers for Waters of the United States," 72 Fed. Reg. 48890 would repeal a 1983 regulation, adopted by the Reagan Administration, which protects streams from coal mining activities by creating a 100-foot buffer zone around them.

At 6pm EDT, On October 4th, the Office of Surface Mining notified Tennesseans and citizens throughout the nation that only four public hearings would be held on this matter. These hearings are set for the same time and date, 6pm EDT, Wednesday October 24th. In Knoxville citizens will issue a press statement a 5:30pm EDT, the OSM public hearing begins at 6 pm EDT, both events will be hosted in the Goins Auditorium at Pellisssippi State Community College on Hardin Valley Rd.

According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) the new rule would “revise the current stream buffer zone regulation to ‘clarify’ the kinds of coal mining activities that are subject to that rule. Stream crossings, sedimentation ponds (i.e. coal slurry impoundments), permanent excess spoil (i.e. mining waste) and coal waste disposal facilities would no longer be subject to this ‘clarified’ stream buffer rule change”.

Longtime coalfield leader and SOCM member, Landon Medley, stated “In Tennessee, the rule is anticipated to impact 22 coalfield TN counties and approximately 1 million Tennesseans and 17 TN State Park watersheds. We our asking the Administration to pull this rule and save our streams”.

Reagan Richmond, SOCM youth member and student climate organizer for TN Alumni & Students for Sustainable Campuses commented, “in my opinion this is the administration’s attempt enshrine mountaintop removal coal mining. OSM is proposing a rule that would greatly increase our nation's reliance on mountaintop removal coal. Yet, coal is the country's largest, dirtiest source of electricity and climate-changing greenhouse gases. Ultimately, this rule is a step backwards in establishing sound energy policy, it would legalize and expand the worst abuses of mountaintop removal”.

The agency announced the public hearings with less then 14 working days notice for the public. Considering the Department of Interior and Office of Surface Mining has been compiling this information for over three years, many citizens feel 14 days working notice for public hearings to be inadequate for citizens to comment on both the proposed rule change and accompanying draft environmental impact statement.

“The magnitude of the documents that must be reviewed, the diversity and severity of impacts this proposed rule
would have on different communities in many states and the need for citizens living in affected communities to understand those impacts and develop comments based on sound legal and scientific analysis, all make OSM’s decision to allow only fourteen working days notice questionable in terms of the agency’s intent in allowing a authentic avenue for legitimate public process on this rule change proposal”, stated Cathie Bird, Chair SOCM Stripmine Issues Committee.

According to SOCM Vice-President, Ann League, “Already, nearly 2000 miles of mountain streams in Appalachia have been buried by mountaintop removal waste, wiping out these streams and causing flooding and destruction in the surrounding communities. The Bush administration’s failure to enforce the buffer zone law led to an additional 535 miles of stream impacts nationwide during between 2001 and 2005”.

League concluded, “The repeal of the buffer zone rule would allow more than 1,000 miles of streams to be permanently destroyed each decade into the future”.

Save Our Cumberland Mountains, Kentuckians for the Common Wealth, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, Sierra Environmental Justice, Appalachian Voices, Southern Energy Network, The Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, TN Alumni & Students for Sustainable Campuses and many more are all asserting that the administration immediately “pull the stream buffer zone rule proposal and enforce the existing law”.


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