Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee’

Tennessee Passes New Lead Notification Bill and other shorts

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016 - posted by interns

Tennessee Passes New Lead Notification Bill

In April, Tennessee’s governor passed Senate Bill 2450 requiring quicker notification of dangerous lead levels in public water. Under this law, public water systems must notify the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation within 24 hours and affected residents within 72 hours of discovering levels above the federal standard. The water utilities must also provide information regarding potential contamination sources, health effects and possible mitigation to the agency. The previous law allowed utilities to wait 60 days before notifying the public of lead contamination. — Hannah Petersen

Study Shows Nutrients Returning to Damaged S.C. Soil

An ongoing study by Dr. Dan Richter, a professor of Soils and Forest Ecology at Duke University, shows Piedmont soils are making a slow recovery from erosion and carbon damages caused by cotton production.

According to university news outlet DukeToday, the land in the Piedmont and in western South Carolina lost half a foot of topsoil to erosion due to cotton farming. This caused the soil’s organic carbon level, an indicator of soil health, to drop by almost half by the middle of the 20th century. Richter explains that forests have returned to the area and falling leaves and branches have begun to return nutrients to the soil. — Hannah Petersen

Virginia Greenway Receives Environmental Award

The Hawksbill Greenway in Luray, Va., was honored with a gold medal as a part of the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards. The greenway consists of a two-mile walking and biking trail along the Hawksbill Creek.

A report from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality states that by providing citizens with fitness classes and protecting the creek from pollution using natural barriers, the greenway “encourages wellness and connectivity” throughout the community. — Savannah Clemmons

Environmental Education Center Opens in West Virginia

The National Park Service opened Camp Brookside Environmental Education Center in Brooks, W.Va., on May 21. Originally a children’s summer camp, Camp Brookside was renovated to house research and environmental education services. The center has seven cabins, a mess hall, field study tools and other amenities that can be found at — Hannah Petersen

Online Water Mapping A Useful Tool for Citizens

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released an online resource where users can learn more about water sources and water quality. The Drinking Water Mapping Application to Protect Source Waters allows users to enter an address and see both the source of drinking water for that area as well as potential or existing sources of contamination. The tool is located at —Dylan Turner

Keeping energy through the generations

Friday, June 10th, 2016 - posted by Lou Murrey
Barbara and Paul Cochran, pictured in their very energy efficient home in east Tennessee. Photo by Lou Murrey.

Barbara and Paul Cochran, pictured in their very energy efficient home in east Tennessee. Photo by Lou Murrey.

“We do everything we can to keep energy,” Barbara Taylor says as she heads down the stairs to the basement of the home she has shared with her husband, Paul, in New Tazewell, Tennessee since 1980. Outside it’s a humid 78 degrees, but in the narrow basement room that houses the Taylors’ heat pump it’s cool and dry.

Standing next to a wall of canned fruits and vegetables, Barbara points to the individual pieces of rigid board insulation she has neatly cut to fit between the ceiling joists and chuckles. “See where the pipe is, I put some caulking in and put some insulation ‘round where I finally cut the hole too big.”

The duct that runs along the ceiling from the gas heat pump in the corner of the room is tightly wrapped and sealed with thick insulation and was installed with the original electric heat pump. The Taylors switched to a gas heat pump two years ago when their electric heat pump quit working. Barbara and Paul both maintain that gas was just the more affordable option, even with Powell Valley Electric’s (PVEC) heat pump financing program.

Barbara Cochran points out her energy-efficiency handiwork in her east Tennessee home. Photo by Lou Murrey.

Barbara Cochran points out her energy-efficiency handiwork in her east Tennessee home. Photo by Lou Murrey.

Barbara recalls that in the 80’s when their electric heat pump was installed they did participate in PVEC’s heat pump financing program. The interest was at 8% and the co-op asked the homeowner to do the weatherization improvements themselves before installation. When asked if they would have chosen an electric heat pump had it been more affordable, both of them said yes. “We loved our electric pump,” Barbara says.

Heading back up the stairs to where Paul is waiting on the couch in the living room, Barbara mentions that she and her son installed all the insulation behind the cedar paneling in the basement.

Before they returned to Claiborne County in the 80’s, the Taylors lived in Michigan where Paul was a millwright for the Ford Motor Company. In 1978, he suffered a fall on the job and broke his back and crushed both of his heels, so aside from the installation of the heat pump, Barbara has done the majority of the weatherization in their home. In addition to the joist and duct insulation, she has sealed the windows with caulk, put up heavy curtains on all of the windows, weatherstripped the door so well it hardly opens, and she has still found time to replace the air filter each month.

Together, Paul and Barbara have an extensive knowledge of weatherization, and without hesitation they both profess that they learned it when they were kids. “We were poor when we grew up. He comes from a family of thirteen, and I come from a family of nine,” Barbara says.

“At one time,” Paul picks up the story, “there was twelve of us living in a three room house and a lot of times when they built houses back then they would use green wood and as the wood dried out you’d have cracks in the floor where air would get in.” Thriftiness and a keen understanding of how a home performs most efficiently were just a way of life for their families.

Barbara and Paul both grew up in Claiborne County and just like how they learned to grow and process the food from the garden from their parents, it was from their parents they learned about insulating a home to save money and stay warm. Barbara describes how her mother would use old clothes and newspapers to insulate their home. Paul goes on to explain how his folks used a paste made from flour and water to plaster newspapers to the walls and prevent air leaks. “They put it [the paste] on the wood to let it stick to keep the air from coming into the house.”

The methods behind energy efficiency may have changed but the science behind those methods remain the same. You could say weatherization has become a tradition in the Taylor family, as Paul and Barbara have passed along their skills and sensible approach to using energy efficiently to their own children and grandchildren. Speaking of her children, Barbara proudly reports that in the wintertime they put heavier curtains up. Adds Paul: “They put plastic over their windows that keeps the air that seeps underneath windows, that’ll keep it from coming through.”

If anyone was wondering whether the Taylors’ weatherization efforts have paid off, it seems they have. Their electric bill is barely more than $100 a month, and has been as low as $50 in the winter and that their electric bill and gas bill combined have never been more than $200. An electric bill as low as $50 is not the norm for many people in Claiborne County acknowledges Paul. “I’ll put it this way. Our electric bill is the cheapest one in this community.”

It’s likely true that using gas as a heat source is a factor in their low electric bills, but the weatherization they have done is not only about saving money, it is also about living in a comfortable home. Paul proudly states that if they added any more insulation their ceiling would fall down. The couple recognizes that not everyone has the physical ability, knowledge or money to make weatherization improvements to their home.

Powell Valley Electric Cooperative has an opportunity to participate in a state-wide program that would make energy efficiency improvements such as those the Taylors made accessible to people of any income. The Taylors believe that this “pay-as-you save” on-bill financing program would relieve the energy burden of many people in their community.

To start a conversation with your electric cooperative about the potential for them to offer this program, call them today.

Announcing the Energy Savings for Appalachia webinar series

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016 - posted by Amber Moodie-Dyer

Three-part series highlights on-bill financing as a unique opportunity for our region

If you happened to miss our first energy efficiency on-bill financing webinar on May 11, don’t despair. You can watch a recording of the webinar, which is the first in a series describing the benefits of on-bill financing entitled “Leveraging Energy Savings: On-bill Financing as an Economic Opportunity in the Southeast.”

At this point you may be wondering, what is on-bill financing and why might I want to watch a webinar about it? Do you care about saving money on your electric bills, minimizing energy waste, helping the environment and your local economy? Energy efficiency on-bill financing can address all of these concerns. With on-bill financing, people can make energy efficiency improvements to their home without having to foot the bill upfront. Instead, residents pay for the improvements over time through a monthly charge on their electric bill. With a well-designed program, many residents will have lower bills even while paying back the project cost because of the energy savings they’re achieving.

Curious? Watch the webinar below to learn more!

You can watch the one-hour webinar, or simply review the slides here. In the video above you’ll hear Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil discuss the effects of energy waste in the Southeast and Appalachian region, how energy efficiency programs can benefit communities by saving people money and creating jobs, the best practice Pay-As-You-Save® model of on-bill financing for weatherization improvements, sources of capital for on-bill financing programs, case studies of successful on-bill finance programs and ways you can engage in our campaign.

Keep a look out for an announcement about the second webinar in the series next month that will delve into what we’re learning about on-bill financing from a number of electric cooperatives throughout the country who offer this program (including some in our own region and state). Visit the Energy Savings for Appalachia homepage to learn more about campaign, and while you’re there, be sure to go to our Energy Savings Action Center to submit a letter to your utility provider a letter asking them to offer on-bill financing.

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Sleeping giants: TVA and Georgia Power stuck in second gear on energy efficiency

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016 - posted by guestbloggers

Editors’ Note: This piece, by Taylor Allred, is the third entry in a blog series entitled Energy Savings in the Southeast and featured on the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy’s footprints blog. The series will cover the performance of Southeastern utilities’ energy efficiency programs, and highlight how the region can achieve more money-saving and carbon-reducing energy savings. Future posts in this series can be found here.

While even the region’s top achievers have room for improvement, some of the largest utilities in the Southeast are seriously falling behind on energy efficiency. In particular, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and Georgia Power are two enormously capable utilities that appear to be stuck in second gear.

Huge Potential, Anemic Growth



The nation’s largest public power provider, TVA provides generation and transmission to 154 electric cooperatives and municipal utilities serving more than 9 million people across seven states. In addition, TVA provides power to 59 directly served industrial customers.

TVA started ramping up its energy savings in 2011, following a relatively favorable outcome for energy efficiency in its 2011 integrated resource plan (IRP). Apart from the IRP, the federal utility also signed a 2011 EPA Consent Decree settlement over coal-plant emissions violations that, among other things, called for TVA to spend at least $240 million on energy efficiency. Following up on the IRP, the TVA Board challenged its staff to achieve savings equivalent to the output of a new nuclear plant, and TVA did just that with its EnergyRight Solutions programs, reporting 1,126 MW in avoided capacity additions from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2014.

Not surprisingly, the cost of TVA’s energy savings – about $0.02 per kWh – was far lower than the $0.10 to $0.14 per kWh cost of new nuclear energy reported by Lazard. However, the ultra-low cost energy savings also indicate that they could be doing a lot more. TVA’s net savings rate of 0.25% ranks in the bottom half of major Southeastern utilities.

Georgia Power

Georgia Power is the largest subsidiary of Southern Company, one of the largest power providers in the country. As the only investor-owned electric utility in Georgia, the company serves more than 2.4 million customers, including the Atlanta metro area.

While it has achieved higher savings than TVA, Georgia Power has been on a slow growth trajectory over the past few years, and just under half of its 0.43% 2014 savings came from prescriptive commercial incentives, such as fluorescent lighting retrofits. Commercial lighting is a fairly easy way for utilities to achieve a base level of energy savings at an extremely low cost, but it is critical to also invest fully in the many other opportunities for cost-effective savings.

Non-Residential Savings

Both TVA and Georgia Power derive about three-quarters of their energy savings from non-residential customers, but both utilities are still far from fully capturing their huge non-residential savings potential – for completely opposite reasons having to do with their industrial energy efficiency programs.

On the one hand, Georgia Power has no energy efficiency programs for large industrial customers – industrial interest groups maintain an active stance against developing programs tailored to their members’ needs. But just to the north, TVA’s industrial program is limited not by opposition from industrial interest groups, but by TVA’s budget. Industrial customer interest in the program is so high that TVA has suspended new applications for months at a time when funds have run out. Thankfully, TVA’s programs are currently all funded and operating.

The Role of Resource Planning

One of the biggest opportunities to increase energy savings is in the treatment of energy efficiency in integrated resource planning. Utilities typically just pick a modest number as an energy efficiency target, and then subtract that figure from their demand forecasts prior to modeling generation resources based on costs.

The problem with that approach is that energy efficiency is actually the least-cost resource available (and clean!), so it’s wasteful not to maximize cost-effective energy efficiency. A better approach is to model energy efficiency as an energy resource on equal footing with generation resources, but very few utilities have tried it.

TVA’s 2015 IRP

With its 2015 IRP, TVA broke new ground by becoming the first Southeastern utility to model energy efficiency as a resource, something SACE had recommended in our 2011 IRP comments. Unfortunately, TVA developed a methodology that inappropriately inflated the cost of energy efficiency and placed unreasonable limits on its ability to compete on a level playing field with other resources. However, TVA has been sharing its experience and could inspire other utilities to model energy efficiency, possibly with better methodologies.

In a year full of changes, it appears that TVA’s fiscal year 2015 net savings have declined to about 0.2% of sales, but new programs could drive growth in the near future. TVA launched a promising new residential audit and retrofit program called eScore in early 2015, and has recently been exploring options for serving lower-income customers, who are generally unable to access TVA’s energy efficiency rebates due to high upfront costs. SACE is engaging on those efforts, and we commend TVA for its interest in providing equitable offerings for lower-income customers.

Georgia Power’s 2016 IRP

Georgia Power filed its 2016 IRP in late January, and unfortunately, it represents more of the same. The company has not modeled energy efficiency as a resource, and its plan provides for only modest growth in energy savings. SACE will testify as an intervenor in the IRP proceeding and recommend ways the company could significantly increase its cost-effective energy savings. One solution we plan to recommend is a tariff-based on-bill financing program that would enable customers to make energy efficiency upgrades with no money down, and achieve immediate bill savings that are greater than the monthly payments.

SACE will continue pushing TVA and Georgia Power to increase their energy savings to catch up with regional leaders such as Entergy Arkansas. We are hopeful that a healthy spirit of competition, as well as Southeastern utilities’ growing experience with energy efficiency, will help to drive significant growth across the region over the next few years.

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The Hidden Gem of Rocky Fork

Thursday, February 18th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Lorelei Goff

Hike to Birchfield Camp Lake

A view of Birchfield Camp Lake in June. Photo by Marty Silver, Tennessee State Parks

A view of Birchfield Camp Lake in June. Photo by Marty Silver, Tennessee State Parks

I arrive at the Lower Higgens Creek trailhead with a dozen other hikers, ranging from an 8-year-old to some with many miles and years to their credit. The jovial banter of Ranger Tim Pharis, Ranger Naturalist Marty Silver and State Naturalist Randy Hedgepath of Tennessee State Parks enlivens our group. This First Day hike on January 1, will take us 2.7 miles to the 100-foot Big Falls on Lower Higgens Creek and Birchfield Camp Lake, a small, man-made lake sitting at 4,000 feet above sea level.

“The name Birchfield Camp comes from the old logging camp that was up here, named after the Birchfield Logging Company,” Pharis says. “The lake was built to suppress wildfires.”

After large-scale logging operations ceased in the 1960s, the 10,000 acres of the Cherokee National Forest known as Rocky Fork remained undeveloped. A decades-long saga, rife with drama and even some intrigue between private sector developers and an alliance of government agencies and activists, ended in 2012 with the land secured for public ownership and enjoyment within the Cherokee National Forest. Rocky Fork State Park, now in development, occupies 2,000 acres of Rocky Fork in Unicoi County, Tenn. The remaining 8,000 acres span portions of Unicoi and Greene counties.

Hikers willing to ford the trail’s creek crossings. Photo by Marty Silver, Tennessee State Parks

Hikers willing to ford the trail’s creek crossings. Photo by Marty Silver, Tennessee State Parks

We start up the remnant of an old logging road, coming to a gravel parking area after about a third of a mile. Hedgepath spots a putty root, a wild orchid with pin-striped leaves. It was traditionally used to seal windows, he says. According to Ranger Silver, Rocky Fork harbors several unique species of orchids and rare trilliums, around 80 species of mosses and liverworts, and rare salamanders including the Yonahlossee, a large, black salamander with a distinctive rusty blotch on its back.

Roughly a mile into our hike, the sound of flowing water grows to a roar and we stop at Big Falls. A steep but short path drops off dramatically to the right, descending to the foot of the falls. The recent rains have swelled the normally tame 100-foot cascade into a foaming cataract. Most of the group makes their way down the slippery path with the help of a safety line secured from top to bottom. We take pictures amid the spray, then climb back up to the trail.

We make the first of several creek crossings a short distance later. After the second creek crossing, the trail veers from Lower Higgens Creek and follows Birchfield Camp Branch, fed by the lake above.

The mood is mirthful, despite the dropping temperature. After more creek crossings, we ascend the steepest segment of the trail and come upon the rusted bones of an ancient logging truck. We explore its remains wondering how it met its demise between the trail and the creek.

The big waterfall on Lower Higgens Creek. Photo by Marty Silver, Tennessee State Parks

The big waterfall on Lower Higgens Creek. Photo by Marty Silver, Tennessee State Parks

The creek sliced through the mountain long before loggers cut a road alongside its path, so narrow that it’s hard to imagine logging trucks descending with their pillage.

The last stretch takes us past a couple of caves to the right and then we see the lake, surrounded by white pines and mountain laurel. It’s small, but the beauty of the scene is augmented by the exhilaration of reaching it. Rumor has it that it’s a popular dining area for local bears, with frog legs being a favorite dish. We all sit down to dine on our lunches, and some stroll along the .75-mile loop around the lake. No bears in sight, just a lone turkey hunter ambling through. On a warmer afternoon, it would be hard to leave, but a raw chill is seeping through our layers and there are some wet feet from crossing creeks. We head back down the trail in the waning light of 2016’s first day.

Lower Higgens Falls & Birchfield Camp Lake

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous with some challenging creek crossings

Details: 5.4 miles round-trip. Wear high boots, gaiters and bring extra socks

Directions: From I-26, take exit #43. Turn right onto 19/23. After .75 mile, turn right onto Lower Higgins Road, which will end at a small parking area. Groups can park at the I-26 Welcome Center and carpool.

Contact:Contact Rocky Fork State Park: 423-271-1233, and Cherokee National Forest, Watauga Ranger District: 423-735-1500,

More info: “Rocky Fork: Hidden Jewel of the Blue Ridge Wild,” a book by local conservationist and photographer David Ramsey, will be available in spring 2016 through

Radioactive Sludge Being Removed from Sewage Facility

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 - posted by interns

Two years after radioactive sludge was discovered, the Department of Energy is still removing it from the city of Oak Ridge’s sewage treatment facility.

The pollution was caused by technetium-99 that entered through pipelines in the sewer system from the demolition project at the federal government’s K-25 uranium-enrichment plant on the Clinch River, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. The plant was built in 1943 as part of the U.S. government’s Manhattan Project, and at that time was the largest building in the world; it is now the U.S. Department of Energy’s largest demolition project.

Since 2014, containment and cleanup of the treatment facility has been in progress, and about 75,000 gallons of radioactive sludge has been removed from and transferred to a Perma-Fix Environmental treatment facility in Richland, Wash.

The Department of Energy contractor in charge of the cleanup recently told the Knoxville News Sentinel that as removal continues, they will approach the upcoming demolition work at the adjacent K-27 facility with the lessons learned from the K-25 project, taking steps to ensure the radioactive contaminants do not once more reach the town’s sewage treatment plant. — Charlotte Wray

Tennessee Leading the Way in Animal Abuse Accountability

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 - posted by interns

At the beginning of 2016, Tennessee became the first state to implement an animal abuse registry. This registry, available to the public online, will list anybody convicted of committing an animal abuse offense. This list will host people convicted of crimes after January 1. Those responsible for passing the law hope to prevent future cases of animal cruelty, as well as better screen people during adoptions. Concurrently, the FBI began tracking animal abuse as a Group A felony, which has placed it in the same category as homicide and assault. — Dylan Turner

Cougar: Ghost of Appalachia

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Lorelei Goff

North American Cougar:  Photo by Baranov E / Shutterstock

North American Cougar:
Photo by Baranov E / Shutterstock

A phantom haunts Appalachia. Blurry trail camera pictures and occasional eerie screams in the forest keep the debate about the Eastern cougar’s existence alive among scientists and lay people, even after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the elusive ghost cat extinct in 2011.

The Eastern cougar, Puma concolor cougar — also known as ghost cat, catamount, puma, painter, panther and mountain lion — once roamed Eastern North America from Canada to Florida. All but the Florida Panthers were wiped out by the early 1900s. Hunting by European settlers, loss of habitat and a decline in the white-tailed deer population — the cougar’s favorite meal — all played a part in its demise.

Myths surround these tawny predatory cats, which can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh in at 200 pounds. One is the notion that they are man killers. The truth is, a fatal accident with a white-tailed deer is many times more likely than a fatal cougar attack, according to The Journal of Wildlife Management.

“The chance of a cougar encounter is incredibly rare, much less, a fatal attack, even where there are established cougar populations,” says Joy Sweaney, a wildlife biologist with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Cougar sightings east of the Mississippi River often turn out to be misidentifications of other wild animals or house pets, wandering western cougars, or captive cats that have escaped or been released. Ironically, whether or not the Eastern cougar ever existed as a separate subspecies is now a subject of scientific debate. The question of a distinct genetic profile, or even whether the cat is extinct or not, does not impact their protected status, however; hunting or trading any native species is still illegal unless a state management policy says otherwise.

Cougar Facts

• These unspotted, light brown to tawny cats range from 5 to 8 feet long and weigh 100 to 200 pounds, with a tail one third the length of its body.
• It’s impossible to visually distinguish an Eastern cougar from any other subspecies of cougar.
• Female cougars bear one to six kittens after a three-month gestation. The cougar lives approximately 12 years in the wild.
• The cougar’s vocalizations include screams, hisses, whistles and growls.
• Cougars can leap 15 feet.
• Established breeding populations of the North American cougar remain in western North America and South America.

Wildlife agencies in southern and central Appalachia receive a number of reported cougar sightings every year, which often turn out to be misidentifications or deliberate hoaxes. There have been some confirmed sightings, however, including a widely publicized 2014 report from a farm in Bourbon, Ky. After the farmer’s neighbor called the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, an officer from the agency shot the cat, believing it posed a threat to the public.

Mark Marraccini, information officer at Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, doesn’t believe the Bourbon cougar arrived in the state on its own. According to Marraccini, the cat was too well fed to be wild and probably escaped or was released by its owner. DNA tests were withheld while a criminal investigation for illegal trade was underway, fueling a long-standing theory that state agencies have covered up evidence of cougars in the region. Doug Markum with Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says the conspiracy theory is really just a matter of miscommunication.

“When somebody asked us about cougars, we didn’t say, ‘They’re not here,’” Markum says. “We said, ‘There’s never been good evidence that cougars are here.’ And then they misconstrue that to say, ‘The agency said there are no cougars here.”

DNA testing later revealed that the Bourbon cougar traced its genetic origin to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Recent sightings have been confirmed in Obion, Humphreys and Carroll counties in western Tennessee. DNA tests from a fur sample show that the Carroll County cougar is a female, also with genetic origins traced to the Black Hills in South Dakota and Wyoming. Biologists believe it is possible that all three sightings are the same cat migrating further east.

Photo by Emmanuel Keller

Photo by Emmanuel Keller

Does the recent increase in sightings mean that a breeding population of cougars may one day inhabit Appalachia? Many folks hope so, including Tennessee State Park Ranger Tim Pharis.

“The way I look at it, if there are any resident cougars, they’re probably the ones that are wise enough to stay away from people,” Pharis says. “If there aren’t, this ecological niche is open. If they’re in West Tennessee, they’ll probably eventually be here, too. It’s just a matter of time.”

Federal Agency Considering Partial Surface Mining Ban in Tennessee

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Charlotte Wray

In 2010, Tennessee petitioned the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to prevent surface coal mining on land within 600 feet of certain ridgelines in a 67,000-acre area north of Knoxville.

The state contended that surface coal mining would not be in accordance with state or local land use plans for the areas, which are currently wildlife management areas and conservation easements, and that mining operations would “significantly damage the natural systems and aesthetic, recreational, cultural, and historic values of the ridgelines and their viewsheds.”

The federal agency’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, released on Dec. 10, 2015, outlined several possible responses to the state petition. The agency’s preferred alternative would designate the requested ridgetop corridors in the 67,000-acre area as unsuitable for coal mining.

At a hearing on Jan. 14, Tom Chadwell, a resident of Campbell County who lives beside the petition area on land that has been owned by his family since 1872, voiced his support for the ban.

”We have a beautiful county, a beautiful community and I don’t want to see us [risk] our land that nature has spent most of the last 50 years trying to recover,” he said.

The agency is now reviewing public input submitted during the 45-day comment period.

Federal agency considers restricting surface mining in Tennessee

Monday, January 18th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Charlotte Wray, Spring 2016 Editorial Assistant

speakers at public hearing

Carol Judy of the Clearfork Community Institute and Willie Dodson, right, of Appalachian Voices speak in support of the Lands Unsuitable For Mining designation at a January hearing in Jacksboro, Tenn.

The Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee are home to diverse habitats and headwater streams that are vital to tourism and safe water, but these have been jeopardized by the threat of coal mining.

The federal government is deciding whether to grant the State of Tennessee’s 2010 request to designate a portion of land in East Tennessee unsuitable for surface coal mining.

Stand up for the Cumberland Mountains! Send your comment to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

In 2010, Tennessee petitioned the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to prevent surface coal mining on land within 600 feet of certain ridgelines in a 67,000-acre area. The land is located north of Knoxville in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tracts Conservation Easement.

The state contended that surface coal mining would not be in accordance with state or local land use plans for the areas, and that mining operations would “significantly damage the natural systems and esthetic, recreational, cultural, and historic values of the ridge lines and their viewsheds that exist within these fragile lands.”

The federal surface mining agency’s draft Environmental Impact Statement released on Dec. 10, 2015, outlined several possible responses to the state petition. The agency’s preferred alternative would designate the requested ridgetop corridors in the 67,000-acre area as unsuitable for coal mining. Appalachian Voices and our allies, including the Tennessee-based grassroots advocacy group Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, support this ban and urge the federal agency to list the area as “fragile lands” to ensure the greatest protection.

A former surface mining site in Tennessee. Photo taken October 2012, flight courtesy Southwings

A former surface mining site in Tennessee. Photo taken October 2012, flight courtesy Southwings

The agency’s preferred alternative would also allow certain areas that were abandoned prior to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to be re-mined, if mining companies acquire the necessary permits. SOCM believes that any re-mining should be strictly limited to areas where it is the only solution to the significant environmental problems at the abandoned sites.

At the hearing in Jacksboro, Tenn., on Jan. 14, Tom Chadwell, a resident of Campbell County who lives beside the petition area on land that has been owned by his family since 1872, voiced his support for the ban. He acknowledged the heritage of mining in both his family and Campbell County. His grandfather and grandmother were both in the mining industry before the stock market crash in 1929, he said, but that was a way for economic growth then and it should not be so now.

“Just because Campbell County is having tough times, and we are, doesn’t mean that we do whatever we can whether it’s right or wrong,” he said. “I do believe tourism is a way to go, we have a beautiful county, a beautiful community and I don’t want to see us [risk] our land that nature has spent most of the last 50 years trying to recover.”

This land, including the Cumberland Trail, is a highly valued tourism area, generating $177.4 million per year, creating 1,420 jobs and producing more than $16 million in state and local tax receipts, according to SOCM. Surface mining operations would destroy vibrant lands, clean water and natural resources and negatively impact Tennessee’s growing tourism industry.

The federal agency’s draft Environmental Impact Statement determined that the areas at stake are “fragile lands” that are ecologically significant and contain fish and wildlife habitat and recreational resources that could be severely damaged by coal mining activities.

A final decision on the proposal will be made after the 45-day public comment period ends on Jan. 25.

Submit your comment here.

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