Bill that would transfer Tennessee mine permit program to TDEC is dead…for now

By Cathie Bird

A bill that would have given oversight of coal mining permitting to the state, taking it out of the hands of the federal Office of Surface Mining and Enforcement (OSMRE), gave SOCM’s E3 Committee cause for concern during this year’s legislative session.

The bill has been dropped for now, but we’re pretty sure it will be back. Transfer of the program would have cost Tennessee millions and reduced the efficiency of Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) permitting and enforcement.

We plan to keep the pressure up from now until our legislators and the Governor get the message that this is a really bad idea for Tennessee. Updates, informative links and action alerts will be posted on this blog.

For now, we’re asking that citizens let Governor Haslam know we do not want the Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) to run the SMCRA program. Tell him to say NO to weaker control of surface mining in Tennessee, and ask that he veto such a bill if it ever comes across his desk in the future. Click here to send an email to the governor or call the office for a printed postcard.

The Tennessee Mining Association says this legislation would quadruple coal mining in our state (mostly in surface mine operations) and it supported these bills. SOCM has worked hard over the last 41 years to eradicate destructive forms of surface mining that poisons our air, our water, and our people. We don’t need an understaffed and underfunded TDEC office handing out permits for surface mines when it can’t even enforce current permits!

TDEC’s Division of Water Resources has not taken a single enforcement action against a mining company in Tennessee in more than two years. Last year, Tennessee Clean Water Network released a study of TDEC’s water protection programs showing a 75% reduction in enforcement actions taken by TDEC since 2007.

The E3 Committee has a talking points document (pdf) for this issue to help people write their own letters and emails. During legislative sessions, you can also check SOCM’sLegislative Page on our website for up-to-date information on the bills that SOCM committees are following.

For more information on SOCM’s E3 (Energy, Ecology, Environmental Justice) Committee, contact the Committee Chair at e3@socm.org.

Related article: Environmentalists oppose letting Tennessee take over surface-mining regulations (Times-Free Press, 2/13/14)

*For reference, this year’s bill was House Bill 1832 (Carr)/ Senate Bill 1883 (Niceley), and its placeholder House Bill 2207 (Powers)/Senate Bill 1998 (Yager)

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