A bill that would shift control of coal mine permitting and oversight from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to the state of Tennessee is awaiting the governor’s signature.
Tennessee is the only active coal mining state that does not have state-level primacy over enforcement of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. The program transferred to the federal mining agency in 1984 when the state repealed its surface mining law.
Opponents fear that transferring oversight to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation would weaken community and environmental safeguards. Proponents believe that the change would speed up coal mine permitting and increase jobs.
Funding for the program would rely partially on federal grants and partially on coal industry production taxes. With only three mines currently producing coal in Tennessee, local citizens worry that funding shortfalls will negatively impact the state’s ability to implement an effective program. — Erin Savage