Groups Urge Tenn. Governor to Oppose Bills Weakening Protections from Coal Mining Pollution

Nashville, TN–(ENEWSPF)–March 11, 2014.  Today, six environmental and community organizations delivered a letter to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam urging him to oppose legislation before the state House and Senate that would significantly weaken protections relating to coal mining. The bills, SB 1998/HB 2207 and SB 1883/HB 1832 would transfer authority to regulate coal mining from the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) to the state’s Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

“Tennessee can ill afford to take over a federal program doing a decent job of regulating and enforcing the laws governing coal mining in the state,” said Axel Ringe Conservation Chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Allowing these bills to go forward will give the job to a state agency that is ill-equipped, chronically underfunded, and has a dismal record of enforcing its own coal mining regulations.”

The groups that signed on to the letter including, Statewide Organization for Community eMpowerment, Tennessee Clean Water Network, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, TN Environmental Council, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association and Sierra Club, argue that not only is the state ill equipped to handle such a transfer of authority, but it would place an extra burden on tax payers as well.

The groups find that TDEC’s existing enforcement of coal pollution protections under the Clean Water Act fail to protect the safety and quality of Tennessee waterways. In fact, TDEC has not taken a single enforcement action against a coal mine in the last 2 ½ years despite ongoing pollution concerns, lawsuits and other appeals.

Further, the groups argue that taking away federal authority to enforce the myriad protections under SMCRA including reclamation of mine sites, complex hydrologic determinations, endangered species protections, lands unsuitable for mining provisions and abandoned mine reclamation would create an unfair burden to Tennessee tax payers. In order to effectively enforce clean water protections under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) the state would have to hire hydrologists, geologists, inspectors and other staff in order to create an entirely new bureaucracy that would replace the existing federal one based out of Knoxville.

Finally, conditions afflicting the coal industry are not due to clean water protections, and wouldn’t be improved by bringing the enforcement of those protections in state the groups contend. Rather, national and global economic factors are forcing companies to reconsider their investment in coal from places like Appalachian coal mines. This constellation of factors, when taken together, will lead to no improvement for the coal industry in Tennessee while costing Tennessean tax payers more money, and causing further damage to the state’s environment, waterways and communities. Because of these factors the groups closed their letter with an ask for the Governor to veto the bills if they came to his desk.