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Citizen Groups Sue to Protect Imperiled Fish from Strip Mining Pollution – Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment

Citizen Groups Sue to Protect Imperiled Fish from Strip Mining Pollution

5/4/15 – Citizen Groups Sue to Protect Imperiled Fish from Strip Mining Pollution

Today, four citizen groups filed suit in the Federal District Court in Knoxville, alleging two federal agencies failed to meet their obligations under the Endangered Species Act to consult with each other to protect the threatened blackside dace when issuing the coal mining permit for the 1,088-acre Sterling and Strays strip mine in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

Today, four citizen groups filed suit in the Federal District Court in Knoxville, alleging two federal agencies failed to meet their obligations under the Endangered Species Act to consult with each other to protect the threatened blackside dace when issuing the coal mining permit for the 1,088-acre Sterling and Strays strip mine in Claiborne County, Tennessee.

Plaintiffs include Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN), and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM).

The lawsuit alleges that the US Dept. of Interior’s (DOI) Office of Surface Mining (OSM) failed to consult with the DOI’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) concerning adverse impacts on a federally protected fish species in the Clear Fork Creek watershed before issuing the permit for the strip mining operation near Clairfield, Tennessee.

The citizen groups contend OSM and FWS did not perform their duties under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, which requires them to consult with each other to insure that any action authorized, funded, or carried out by the agency is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any threatened or endangered species.

“The blackside dace is not only a unique part of Tennessee’s natural heritage, but is also the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for water quality,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “The blackside dace needs what we all need – clean, fresh water that’s not contaminated by strip mining pollution. If dace are getting sick and dying, people are next.  Indeed, peer-reviewed studies have well documented the serious health threat caused by mountaintop removal mining.”

“OSM’s own analysis shows that both sediment and conductivity will increase significantly during the 10-year life of this mine. This pollution will threaten water quality in streams that support the backside dace, a rare fish species endemic to coal mining regions in Tennessee and Kentucky.  OSM relied on 19-year-old Biological Opinion to grant the permit, but this opinion is not site or species specific and does nothing to protect fish from coal mining pollution,” said TCWN General Counsel Stephanie Durman.

“The fact is that OSM did not perform the required due diligence to protect blackside dace, even though is well-known that coal mining operations have a terrible impact on surrounding creeks and rivers. Our organizations cannot just sit back and watch as the very agencies tasked with protecting our environment fail to fulfill their responsibilities under the law,” said Sierra Club volunteer Axel Ringe.

Claiborne County resident Vickie Terry, a member of SOCM, lives near the proposed mining site.  “My family and I are very concerned about the health of our water because it affects our health,” Terry said.  “I have several grandchildren that enjoy fishing and swimming in our local streams.”

“The streams are a major part of our recreational activities, and we have regular stream cleanups because we want them to remain clean.  One of the best things is knowing that the water in these streams is still clean enough to support rare species such as the blackside dace.  These permits could result in our water being poisoned and the destruction of these beautiful streams and mountains.  That would change communities in Claiborne County forever,” Terry added.

More information and a copy of the complaint are available at www.tcwn.org/cleanwater1

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