In the last issue of the Appalachian Voice, we brought you a story about the struggle of people in the Elk Valley region of eastern Tennessee to protect their streams, mountains and communities from a new type of mountaintop removal mining that is on the rise in Tennessee. Unfortunately, a lawsuit filed in Tennessee by environmental and community groups (including Appalachian Voices) to stop the destruction of Zeb Mountain and its associated streams has so far been unsuccessful. A judge in Knoxville refused to allow an injunction to stop the mining while the considerable legal questions surrounding this operation are resolved. Worse, delaying tactics by the mining company ensure that the next round of legal battles will not happen until summer, while the blasting and destruction of Zeb Mountain continue unabated.
Already, the worst fears of residents about the intentions and practices of the Robert Cleer Coal Company have been realized. According to Doug Murray of Tennessee Forest Watch, in the first six months of mining there have already been five notices of violation issued against the company for everything from their failure to control sediment running into Dan Branch, a nearby stream, to their building of a containment pond that was not only outside of the approved plan (and the knowledge of agencies who enforce the permit), but is entirely outside of the geographic area of the permit itself. According to Murray, “It is obvious that the original sediment control plan isn’t working. We need to suspend the permit and reopen the permit process.”
Already, Dan Branch has been re-classified by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation from a stream “supporting fish populations” to a stream “partially supporting fish populations.” According to Mary Mastin, an attorney with the Tennessee Sierra Club who is representing the opponents of the mine, it is critical that the sediment control problems be worked out before this massive operation moves to more watersheds. “We think this is indicative of what will happen in other watersheds unless we can reopen the permit process,” said Mastin.
Until this operation is ended, this newspaper will continue to update our readers on the destruction of Zeb Mountain, as we believe it is critical for Tennesseeans to understand exactly what it means for mountaintop removal mining to be coming to their state. According to Matt Wasson, executive director of Appalachian Voices, “This is the most well monitored mountaintop removal operation I have ever seen. As long as the folks at Tennessee Forest Watch continue their heroic efforts to document the destruction of this mountain, we’ll be a partner in their efforts and bring updates to our readers.”