Two conservation groups filed a petition Thursday with the federal Office of Surface Mining in hopes of persuading the agency to designate a 284,000-acre area on the Cumberland Plateau in Northeast Tennessee "unsuitable for surface mining."
"The law clearly recognizes that there are some places where surface mining is simply too hard on the land, on the natural resources, and should therefore be prohibited," said attorney Deborah Murray, who drafted the petition. "We firmly believe the Cumberland Plateau is one of those places."
The petition covers more land area than any mining petition filed with the Office of Surface Mining in Tennessee, officials said.
It covers four public recreation areas: Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Royal Blue Wildlife Management Area, Sundquist Wildlife Management Area and Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area.
Ms. Murray, senior attorney in the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the petitioners are the Warioto Chapter of the National Audubon Society
and the National Parks Conservation Association.
She said the petition should force the Office of Surface Mining to undertake a comprehensive analysis, similar to an environmental impact study, to determine whether to grant or deny the request.
The 90-page petition was hand delivered Thursday to Office of Surface Mining¹s assistant acting director, Doug Siddell, in Knoxville.
Mr. Siddell said he had not read the petition but has seen the size of the area involved. Four mines are active there now, he said, and the office recently approved permits for two more.
"By regulation, we have 30 days to review the petition and determine whether it is incomplete, frivolous or whether the petitioners are or may be
adversely affected," he said. If an environmental study is needed, no deadline is set on its completion, Mr. Siddell said. "Historically, we¹ve processed some in about a year and a half," he said. "The Fall Creek Falls study took five years."
The Fall Creek Falls petition, filed in 2000, resulted in portions of the Fall Creek Falls watershed area being designated unsuitable for mining, records show.
Dr. Joe Schiller is president of the Warioto Chapter of the National Audubon Society and associate professor of biology at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.
"The way they are mining is not the only way they can mine, it¹s just the cheapest," he said. "We¹re not telling them they can¹t mine coal."
E-mail Pam Sohn at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...