In a victory for those who love Tennessee’s mountains, the U.S. Department of the Interior last week banned mountaintop coal mining from more than 500 miles of ridgetops in the Upper Cumberland region. The decision, six years in the making, places a 1,200-foot buffer – 600 feet on both sides of the ridgetops – from surface mining. In all, the ruling covers nearly 75,000 acres of state-managed land.
The land that will be declared off-limits to mountaintop mining is in Scott, Morgan, Anderson and Campbell counties and falls within the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tract Conservation Easement.
The state petitioned the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for the declaration in 2010, three months before then-Gov. Phil Bredesen left office. In its petition, the state said mountaintop coal mining would be incompatible with existing local and state plans and would result in significant damage to cultural, scientific, aesthetic values or natural systems.
The state’s petition sought protection for 67,326 acres, but the Office of Surface Mining used improved mapping techniques to determine that 74,968 acres along 569 miles of ridgeline qualified for protection.
The decision “honors Tennessee’s request to protect the Cumberland Plateau’s majestic forests, mountains and streams for future generations,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.
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