By Elizabeth E. Payne
On Dec. 7, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior approved the state of Tennessee’s 2010 petition to designate nearly 75,000 acres off-limits for surface coal mining.
The ban includes ridgelines in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tact Conservation Easement.
“It will provide tremendous economic value for tourism and recreation for future generations,” says DJ Coker, a resident of Campbell County, Tenn., who lives near the protected land.
The state’s petition was filed with the Department of the Interior in 2010 under then-governor Phil Bredesen. The December designation forbids surface coal mining within a 1,200-foot-wide corridor, with a 600-foot buffer on either side of 569 miles of ridgeline.
The decision makes limited exceptions for environmentally beneficial re-mining, such as removing dangerous features from abandoned mine sites, and it does not extend to existing permits, nor does it prohibit underground mining in this area.
Yet many mountain ridges, including in East Tennessee, are not protected. A new surface coal mine has been proposed on 1,500 acres in Claiborne County, Tenn. The proposed Cooper Ridge Mine is not inside the newly protected area and would negatively impact Valley Creek, Hurricane Creek and other mountain streams.