Lawsuit settlement to close TN’s largest coal strip-mining operation

News release from Tennessee Clean Water Network:
Knoxville, TN — Sep 12, 2013 — East Tennessee’s streams and rivers will be cleaner and safer in the future after a consent decree approved by U.S. District Court Judge Tom Varlan that forces the closure of National Coal’s strip-mining operation at Zeb Mountain in Campbell and Scott Counties, the largest strip mining operation in Tennessee.

Three citizen lawsuits and a permit appeal were filed two years ago against National Coal’s operations at Zeb Mountain, Mine 14 (a deep mining operation) and the Jordan Ridge Refuse Disposal Area. The lawsuits alleged that the strip mining operations violated their Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation discharge permits and that the Jordan Ridge facility was releasing high levels of selenium into surrounding creeks and streams. Selenium is highly toxic to fish and aquatic life.

“Discharges of sediment, heavy metals and other pollutants have been a concern to us ever since these mining operations began,” said Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) member Cathie Bird, who lives in the shadow of Zeb Mountain. “The conditions of this settlement can move us in the right direction toward protection of streams and surrounding communities from negative consequences of water pollution.” Cathie is a member of SOCM’s E3 (Energy, Ecology, and Environmental Justice) Committee.

Under Judge Varlan’s consent decree, National Coal agrees to stop mining operations and to continue reclamation activities at the sites until the area returns to its natural state. The decree also requires the company to pay $54,000 to the Tennessee Parks and Greenway Foundation to acquire approximately 1,800 acres of land for conservation purposes in Campbell County. For the first time, National Coal will be required to comply with selenium limits during the entire duration of its reclamation work.

The consent decree ends a two-year legal battle between three environmental groups (Sierra Club, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) and the Tennessee Clean Water Network) and National Coal.

“We are immeasurably pleased to finally be able to close the books on the Zeb Mountain mine,” said Axel Ringe of the Tennessee chapter of Sierra Club and a co-founder of the Tennessee Clean Water Network.

“We have fought against the mine since it opened ten years ago. “This settlement will help ensure that National Coal takes appropriate measures to address unlawful pollution from its Zeb Mountain mine — a victory for all Tennesseans,” Ringe added.

“National Coal’s commitment to stop surface coal mining, like Patriot Coal before them, provides still more confirmation that mountaintop removal mining is not in the best interest of Appalachian communities and is no longer economically viable,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign. “This settlement is another step on the path towards ending years of destruction on our mountaintops, mining pollution in our waterways and injustice for the people of Appalachia.”

The environmental groups are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett and Mike Becher from Appalachian Mountain Advocates and by Gena Lewis of the Law Office of Gena Lewis. The groups were also represented by Stephanie Matheny of Tennessee Clean Water Network in their challenge to the Zeb Mine permit.

Note: The Sierra Club did a news release on the settlement prior to approval by Judge Varlan that has some more details. It’s HERE.