Tag Archives: mining

Feds move to ban mountaintop removal in part of TN

The federal government is moving closer to granting Tennessee’s request to ban mountaintop mining in parts of the Cumberland Mountains, which was filed years ago under former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration.

Further from the News Sentinel:

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released draft documents on Thursday that would designate portions of East Tennessee’s mountain ridges as unsuitable for surface coal mining.

Specifically, the draft proposal and draft Environmental Impact Statement would place 67,000 acres in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tract Conservation Easement off-limits to surface mining.

Re-mining would be allowed in certain areas once mining companies obtain all the necessary permits and authorizations.

“We took Tennessee’s request to act on this matter very seriously,” said Glenda Owens, the agency’s deputy director. “Our staff rigorously evaluated Tennessee’s petition and the impacts of mining in the requested area.”

A final decision won’t be made until after a 45-day public comment period that will end next Jan. 25, the agency said in a news release.

Mountaintop removal is a form of surface mining in which the top of a mountain is blasted away so workers can access coal seams. The rubble is then dumped into adjacent valleys. The process allows coal companies to economically access seams otherwise too small to mine near the tops of ridges.

In 2010, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen petitioned the federal government to ban mountaintop mining in the North Cumberland Plateau. The affected land is in Scott, Morgan, Anderson and Campbell counties, all of which is included in wildlife management areas that make up the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.

Note: A news release is below.
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New push for state takeover of coal regulation gains steam

A renewed push to have state government take over regulation of Tennessee coal mining after 31 years of federal oversight has won approval in state House and Senate committees where similar legislation died last year.

The bill sponsored by Republicans with coal mines operating in their district, Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro and Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman, advanced last week with the sponsors assuring colleagues that the transition from federal to state oversight can be accomplished with no new cost to Tennessee taxpayers.

Environmentalists are skeptical of that contention and many oppose the bill in general, arguing the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) is not prepared to replace the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) and the change will lead to less effective protection from coal mine pollution.

The bill, HB833, was approved 8-1 by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week and by an apparently unanimous voice vote in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. Federal law requires that states regulating coal abide by federal environmental standards and, in general, the proposal puts into state law all relevant provisions of federal law.

That should eliminate concerns for any lessening of environmental protections, according to proponents. It does not, say opponents.
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TDEC levies $1.3M in fines against coal mining operations

State officials have levied a total of $1.36 million in civil penalties against three coal mining companies that have operations in Anderson and Campbell counties and are owned by a West Virginia coal baron, reports the News Sentinel.

Billionaire James Justice’s Justice Corp. has a history of racking up delinquent fines that are promptly appealed and can stay unpaid for years, said Ann League. She is with the environmental group Appalachian Voices, which focuses on coal-mining operations.

The civil penalties against three of the Justice Corporation’s companies — Premium Coal Company Inc., National Coal LLC, and S&H Mining Inc. — are for failing to submit daily monitoring reports of the quality of water runoff.

The penalties were imposed by the state’s Department of Environment and Conservation, and the TDEC-required reports are for effluent from the companies’ strip- and deep-mining operations during the last three months of 2013 and the first quarter of this year.

The companies are supposed to do self-reporting of water quality monitoring, said Jessica Murphy, compliance enforcement manager for TDEC’s Water Resources Division. It’s not known if those reports weren’t done or just weren’t sent in, she said.

Also uncertain: whether such monitoring is now underway. “I know the Knoxville office (of Water Resources) has been in contact with the (mine) owners,” Murphy said.

The civil penalties involved eight coal-mining sites in Campbell County and seven mining operations in Anderson County. A total of 25 facilities at the mining sites were in violation of the state guidelines. National Coal and Premium Coal have mines in Anderson County, while S&H Mining has four operations in Campbell County.

All of the state’s civil penalties have been appealed, said Kelly Brockman, TDEC spokeswoman

Environmental groups’ lawsuit contends TN coal mines violating federal law

By Dylan Lovan, Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Two environmental groups say a West Virginia billionaire’s Tennessee coal mines are violating federal law by not monitoring water pollution.

The groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in East Tennessee this week against S&H Mining, saying an underground mine in Campbell County is discharging pollutants into forks of the New River. Statewide Organizing for Community Empowerment, based in Knoxville, and the Sierra Club, filed the lawsuit on Thursday.

The groups also filed a notice that they intend to file additional lawsuits against S&H and two other Tennessee coal companies owned by billionaire Jim Justice, alleging that the companies’ mines are violating the Clean Water Act by not filing water pollution reports.

Steve Ball, vice president of operations for the Justice Corp. based in Roanoke, Virginia, said in an email Friday that the company denies the allegation that the recent water discharge reports for the Tennessee mines have not been submitted. Ball said he has not yet seen any of the legal filings from the environmental groups.
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Move for state takeover of coal mining oversight dead for the year

An effort to have Tennessee coal mining regulated by the state rather than the federal government was abandoned for the year Wednesday, leaving environmentalists pleased and industry advocates vowing to resume their quest in 2015.

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, sponsor of the legislation drafted by the Tennessee Mining Association, announced the move in the last scheduled meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Chuck Laine, lobbyist for the mining association, said the drafting of a final version of the bill had become “extremely complicated” in trying to assure that all federal requirements for a state takeover of coal regulation were met along with those of state government officials.

The bill would have turned coal mine permitting and inspections over to a new agency within the state Department of Environment and Conservation. The regulatory functions have been handled by the federal Office of Surface Mining since 1984, when the state gave up “primacy” in mining oversight during the administration of former Gov. Lamar Alexander.

“We haven’t had primacy for 30 years. It’s worth waiting one more year to make sure we get it right,” said Laine.

Stewart Clifton, lobbyist for Tennessee Conservation Voters, said that stopping the measure had become the top environmental issue of the current legislative session because passage would have meant “costing taxpayers millions of dollars more, possibly for less oversight” of the coal industry.

He said Tennessee gave up control in 1984 because state regulation was too costly and federal regulation was more efficient and effective. Those considerations still apply, he said.

“This is a great day,” Clifton said.

The move came a day after six environmental groups sent a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam urging him to oppose the bill. Haslam has been neutral on the bill, though expressing concern about any increase in costs for the state. The bill called for a new tax of 20 cents per ton on coal mined in Tennessee with the goal of the levy being to cover any new state costs.

The groups opposing the bill were Statewide Organization for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), Tennessee Clean Water Network, Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, TN Environmental Council, Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association and the Sierra Club.

Also dying in the Senate committee Tuesday were bills that would have banned or restricted so-called “mountaintop removal” coal mining in Tennessee. Similar legislation has failed repeatedly in past legislative sessions, supported by environmentalists and opposed by the coal industry.

Laine expressed confidence the primacy bill could win approval next year.

State takeover of coal mining regulation comes under fire from environmentalists

A proposal to have the state take over regulation of coal mining in Tennessee from the federal government, scheduled for its first legislative hearing this week, faces criticism as a drain on state financial resources and a weakening of environmental regulations.

Those contentions are disputed by proponents of the move, which would reverse a state decision made 30 years ago to let the federal Office of Surface Mining replace the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation in regulating the coal industry.

The Tennessee Mining Association and Republican sponsors of the bill, Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman and Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro, provided copies of a new draft of the legislation (SB1998) last week to members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The panel is scheduled to vote on the “Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee” Wednesday at what is billed as the committee’s last meeting of the 2014 legislative session.

As written, the 42-page revised bill calls for a new 20-cents-per-ton levy on coal mined in Tennessee. Renee Hoyos, executive director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, says — based on 2012 coal production figures, the latest available — that would generate just $218,000 per year, not nearly enough to cover the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) costs for overseeing the coal industry’s operations, even with federal aid.

“This would mean more cost for the taxpayer to provide a benefit to the mining industry,” she said.
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Bills seek state takeover of coal mining regulation, reversing Gov. Alexander decision 30 years ago

Almost 30 years after Tennessee state government turned oversight of coal mining within its borders to the federal government, two bills have been filed in the Legislature to reverse a decision made by Lamar Alexander as governor.

Apparently by coincidence, there are actually two new legislative efforts to authorize the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to oversee issuance of permits for coal mining and followup inspections of operations rather than the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM).
One has been initiated by the Tennessee Mining Association, which represents the coal industry in Tennessee.

Chuck Laine, lobbyist for the association, says OSM takes three to four years to process a permit application, a lag time that that is stifling coal production in Tennessee and sending mining jobs to other states such as Kentucky, where the state-run coal oversight operation takes no more than a year – typically less — to act.

The other was initiated by state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, who is running against Alexander in the U.S. Senate primary. Carr says he first learned about the state’s delegation of coal-mining oversight to the federal government while traveling in East Tennessee’s coal-mining counties as a candidate.
Carr says he believes Alexander’s action in 1984 is an example of the then-governor’s willingness to surrender state rights to the federal government and an “attack on coal” that continues today in his U.S. Senate service. Carr said he introduced his bill (HB1832) to rectify a situation wherein “Lamar was acting more like an Obama Democrat than a conservative Republican.”

Alexander spokesmen declined to directly address Carr’s comments or Alexander’s current position on moving oversight of the coal industry from federal to state authorities. As a senator, Alexander has consistently avoided taking a position on most state-level issues in the past, saying the state “can have only one governor at a time.”
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UT puts a hold on fracking plans

The University of Tennessee has halted plans to conduct fracking research on the Cumberland Plateau after the school failed to generate interest from oil and gas companies, reports the News Sentinel.

UT Institute of Agriculture officials announced Friday they may revisit the project “if there continues to be a need” for such research, but did not give a timetable on when or if they would re-evaluate the proposal.

UT also cancelled a presentation on the project planned for the October board of trustees meeting.

“What ultimately drives the project is going to be if we can put science on the ground and if we have a need,” said Bill Brown, dean of AgResearch,the institute’s research arm. “The reasons for us to drill in the future would be those we saw this time, and that was public interest and public concern relative to environmental aspects like water quality, air quality, terrestrial ecosystems and the potential for impacts that gas and oil extraction has on those components.”

Whether the university decides to revisit the research could depend on the price of natural gas, which has seen record lows in recent years.

….Environmentalists said they were relieved the plan is at least on hold, but said they would not be surprised to see the university pursue drilling in the future. UT has explored oil and gas extraction at the Cumberland Research Forest off and on for more than a decade.

Annetta Watson, a resident of Coalfield whose land shares a boundary with UT in Morgan County, said the school has treated the land “as a commodity rather than public trust land.”

“The industry’s no bid response confirms what many UT neighbors and concerned community groups have repeatedly stated for many months, and that is the university’s proposal to frack public lands in Tennessee is not viable and should not move forward,” she said, adding that CNX and other companies already operate on hundreds of thousands of nearby acres.

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.
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UT Fracking plans draw no bidders; just a letter

No companies submitted proposals by Friday’s deadline to drill for natural gas on University of Tennessee land as part of a fracking research proposal in the Cumberland Forest, reports the News Sentinel.

The university received one response: a letter from CNX Gas, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania-based CONSOL Energy, insisting that the current lease terms are not financially feasible for the company.

The letter asked for a lease with a drilling schedule and royalties that are tied to monthly gas prices. It also asked that its research and development department collaborate with UT scientists on “mutually beneficial research.”

It’s not yet clear whether UT will revise the lease terms and rebid the project in the research forest, which includes two tracts of land in Scott and Morgan counties.

“No decision has been made on next steps at this time,” said Gina Stafford, a UT spokeswoman. “At the first opportunity, the appropriate leadership from within the university will consider available options and make a determination about the future of this venture.”

Environmental groups said they are pleased, though cautious, about the lack of interest from oil and gas companies.

“It’s extremely encouraging to us, and what we hope is that UT will put this thing to bed and not go forward with any research on fracking or oil and gas drilling on property,” said Anne Davis, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Nashville offices. “I am concerned — and certainly the university has indicated for over 10 years now — that it wants to enter into a deal here to do oil and gas fracking on its property.”

Activists are worried that the university could revise the request for proposals, or RFP, and relax the requirements surrounding the oil and gas research.