Confronted with the increasing popularity of gold prospecting in general and suction dredging in particular, the Tennessee Department of Conservation is in the process of drafting a general permit that would regulate where and how people mine for gold, reports the News Sentinel.
“We knew there was a tradition of panning and dredging around Coker Creek and Tellico,” said Jonathon Burr, program manager with the mining section of TDEC’s division of water resources. “We’ve seen it spread to other streams, and we want to set reasonable limits as it continues to grow.”
The details of the general permit for recreational gold mining still are being hashed out, but state environmental officials say that generally speaking the new requirements will seek to relieve pressure on popular streams that have suffered habitat damage, and to prohibit prospecting altogether on waters that hold threatened or endangered aquatic species.
Burr said the guidelines might restrict suction dredging to larger waterways such as the French Broad and Nolichucky rivers.
“We don’t have anything against the concept of recreational dredging if it’s done in a certain way,” said Burr. “These gold dredgers are not bad guys. A lot of them want regulations to keep the few bad apples from making them look bad.
Bruce Ragon, environmental specialist for TDEC, said the traditional method of panning for gold, which involves disturbing the stream bottom with a shovel, might be prohibited in the smaller, headwater reaches of mountain streams.
“It’s certainly not our intent at the end of this process to restrict simple panning much at all,” Ragon said. “We’re talking real common sense stuff. The permit language will need to set boundaries for the recreator to know when they’re OK and when they’re not.”
A coalition of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit claiming federal agencies, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, unlawfully approved surface mining on Tennessee mountains, according to The Tennessean. The Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and others sued the agencies in U.S. District Court in Nashville for not considering how pollution from the mining would impact endangered fish — in particular, the blackside dace and Cumberland darter.
“Extinction of endangered species is too high a price to pay for surface mining,” said the Sierra Club’s Mary Anne Hitt. “Mining pollution from these sites clearly poses a risk to the dace and darter; these permits should have never been allowed to go forward.”
The fish use the creeks downstream of Zeb Mountain and David Creek, both outside of Knoxville (Note: They’re in in Campbell County.). The fish have been dwindling in numbers for years.
Extinction of the fish, the lawsuit says, could harm the area’s entire ecosystem. Citing violations of the Endangered Species Act, the groups contend federal officials have leaned on outdated safety research when approving mining permits.
The Tennessee Conservative Union is launching a statewide media campaign in support of a bill banning “mountaintop removal” coal mining, warning the Volunteer State has “become the first state in America to permit a communist Chinese company to destroy our mountains.” From Andy Sher’s report: “The Tennessee Conservative Union is 100 percent Pro-Coal, but our organization does not support destroying our mountain heritage,” TCU Chairman Lloyd Daugherty “Mountaintop removal mining kills jobs because it takes fewer workers to blow up a mountain.”
The ad alludes to a Wall Street Journal MarketWatch article from last May which revealed that China-based Guizhou Gouchuang Energy Holdings Group said it had raised $616 million in a private placement to be used mainly to acquire and develop Triple H Coal Company in Jacksboro, Tenn.
That would make Guizhou Gouchuang the first Chinese company to invest in coal in America, MarketWatch reported.
It also quoted an unnamed top executive at Shenhua Group, a wholly state-owned Chinese company, saying Tennessee coal mines were attracting great interest in China as energy companies look at U.S. coal mines.
— Note: TCU’s video ad on the issue is HERE.
The news release is below.
News release from Administrative Office of the Courts:
Nashville, Tenn. – In a unanimous decision, the Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated a ruling by Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood that a New Market company’s mining activities may continue under the “grandfather clause” despite the enactment of a county zoning ordinance which purported to limit the land use to agriculture.
From the 1880s until 1967, a variety of owners intermittently conducted mining activities on a property in Jefferson County. American Limestone, which sold its interest to Ready Mix, USA, LLC during the lengthy proceedings in the trial court, had re-initiated mining operations only weeks before the county enacted a comprehensive zoning ordinance, which would have prevented use of the land for quarrying gravel or crushed stone. The county issued a stop work order once the ordinance was enacted.
Today, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided that the quarry owned by Ready Mix is protected by the “grandfather clause,” a statute that permits a business to continue if “in operation” at a time a zoning ordinance, which would otherwise prohibit the activity, takes effect. In a unanimous opinion, which included a separate concurrence by Justice William C. Koch, Jr., the Court reversed a ruling by the Court of Appeals, which had dismissed the claim on procedural grounds.
To read the Ready Mix, USA, LLC v. Jefferson County, Tennessee opinion authored by Justice Gary R. Wade visit . https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/ready_mix_opn.pdf
To read the concurring opinion by Justice William C. Koch, Jr., visit https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/readymix_con.pdf.
Conservationists try varied tactics to ban practice Conservationists supporting a bill to prohibit mountaintop removal in Tennessee are launching a second round of television ads, but this time photos of ridges in Tennessee that have been blown off are included.
More from Anne Paine’s report: The first ad that the Tennessee Conservation Voters launched showed pictures from other states. Opponents of the bill, called the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Act, had slammed the campaign as deceptive, saying that mountaintop removal doesn’t happen in the Volunteer State. Any ridges sheared off are replaced as much as possible to the original contours, they countered.
Relatively little coal mining is done in Tennessee compared with other states, including Kentucky and West Virginia. The legislation, House Bill 0291, is on today’s agenda of the House Conservation Subcommittee.
…. The companion bill in the Senate was amended in a way that supporters said gutted it, so that little if any change would occur in current mountaintop mining practices. That one, Senate Bill 0577, is on the agenda to be heard by the full Senate on Monday. The issue is the focus of a wide coalition of conservation, environmental and church groups. Note: TCV’s news release on the ads is below.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Senate has voted to delay for three weeks a vote on a proposal to halt mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee.
The decision came despite the objections of the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester, who called for a vote Monday evening.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville said the delay is aimed at finding a compromise on the measure, and not an effort to kill the bill by holding it until relevant committees finish their business for the year.
The measure seeks to deny permits that would alter any ridgeline more than 2,000 above sea level. Stewart said he opposes a Republican amendment attached that would continue to permit current practices.
— Note: The vote to defer the bill over Stewart’s protest was along party lines, Republicans wanting to delay it; Democrats against. The bill (SB577) is up Tuesday in a House subcommittee where it has died in years past.
In his weekly column, Robert Houk criticizes an amendment to legislation on so-called “mountaintop removal” coal mining. A popular mantra among many Republicans has been, “Drill, baby, drill!” Now we are hearing: “Blast, baby, blast!”
…Don’t be fooled by the clever semantics that are being used to distract from the real purpose of the amendment. The truth is the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Act has been hijacked by Big Coal to allow mining companies to blast off the tops of mountains in Tennessee.
One local environmentalist told me last week the amendment would allow mining companies to remove mountaintops as long as ‘they pile the rubble back on to re-form the original contours.”
This is a practice known in the industry as cross ridge mining, and as long as valley fill is not involved then it is not classified as “mountaintop removal.”
Whatever you want to call it, the end results are the same. Dawn Coppock, the legislative director for LEAF (Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship), said the amended bill repeats a federal law on what coal companies can do with “overburden,” which she calls a “sad industry pseudonym” for what is left of a mountain after it is blasted apart.
If the amended Tennessee Scenic Vistas act becomes law, environmentalists fear the measure will spell doom for ridgelines in Claiborne, Campbell and Anderson counties, where 98 percent of all coal in Tennessee is mined.
,,,,Not surprisingly, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey praised the amendment as a sensible compromise that protects Tennessee’s mountains while allowing mining companies to continue to do business in this state.
“After years of controversy on this issue, I believe we have finally reached a point that all honest stakeholders in this process can be proud of,” said Ramsey, who has collected more than $195,000 in campaign contributions from coal companies in recent years.
Not so fast. Some of those “stakeholders” say Ramsey is not being honest when he says all interested parties have had an equal place at the negotiation table. They say the coal mining industry has clearly purchased a seat at the head of the table.
Meanwhile, environmental groups weren’t allowed anywhere near the bargaining table.
“He (Ramsey) appears to be is calling the advocates of protecting our ridgelines, like LEAF, dishonest,” Coppock said. “This is ironic in light of the circumstances.”
Tennessee’s oil and gas industry successfully opposed passage of a law this spring to regulate fracking, the controversial practice of cracking the rock deep underground to more quickly release natural gas, reports Anne Paine.
And as the state is poised to update its mining regulations, the industry has firm seating on the board that will make the final decision on any rules, a fact that environmentalists say is part of a too-cozy relationship between regulators and those regulated.
Fracking is growing nationwide in areas with gas-rich shale, and it’s been blamed in some areas for tainting well water. Questions also have arisen about possible links to earthquake tremors.
But so far, fracking is not on the table as the state Department of Environment and Conservation proposes changes in mining rules.
“One of our concerns is that TDEC reached out to the oil and gas community and basically asked them to help write the regulations and never asked us,” said Renee Hoyos, with the Tennessee Clean Water Network. “They’re silent on fracking.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — This year’s effort to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee has failed in a Senate committee.
The Senate Environment and Conservation Committee voted 6-2 against the bill (SB578) sponsored by Sen. Eric Stewart of Winchester after a nearly three-hour hearing on Wednesday.
The measure sought to ban water quality control permits from being issued for mining that would alter a ridgeline located more than 2,000 feet above sea level.
The mining method involves blasting away mountaintops to expose coal seams and often filling nearby valleys and streams with waste.
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville has opposed past version of the bill because it could hurt coal mining in Tennessee.
Addendum: The only two senators voting for the bill were Stewart and Democratic Sen. Beverley Marrero of Memphis. The no votes came from the committee’s six Republicans. This marks at least the third legislative session where similar legislation has failed.
LaFOLLETTE, Tenn. – Opponents of coal surface mining along ridgelines of the North Cumberland Plateau and those in favor of the practice both sent clear messages Thursday night to representatives of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining.
So reports the News Sentinel: There was no shortage of opinions at an OSM-sponsored public hearing at LaFollette Middle School in Campbell County.
The hearing was held to gather input from local citizens and others. About 30 gave comments. The majority spoke against the practice, but the ones who supported it received equally loud applause from the crowd of about 150.
In October, the state filed a petition with OSM requesting that more than 67,000 North Cumberland ridgeline acres be declared unsuitable for surface coal mining operations. The petition would make 600 feet on both sides of ridgelines in the petition areas off limits to surface mining.