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Citizens Groups Unite to Stop Permits for Delinquent Mine Operator – Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment

Citizens Groups Unite to Stop Permits for Delinquent Mine Operator

March 12, 2015

Citizens Groups Unite to Stop Permits for Delinquent Mine Operator – A coalition of Tennessee citizens groups is urging the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) not to reauthorize Clean Water Act permits that a rogue coal mine operator let expire for 10 coal facilities.

A coalition of Tennessee citizens groups is urging the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) not to reauthorize Clean Water Act permits that a rogue coal mine operator let expire for 10 coal facilities.

The Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN), the Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) and the Sierra Club today submitted comments to TDEC opposing the proposed National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and detailing the poor track record of compliance with environmental regulations and worker safety rules at mines and other coal operations owned by coal billionaire investor Jim Justice.

The two Justice companies seeking to reauthorize their expired permits are Premium Coal Company and National Coal, LLC.

“Despite a full year’s prior written notice from TDEC of the obligation to submit renewal applications for their coal operations, these companies failed to renew ten of their NPDES permits.  Apparently these Justice mining operators think United States laws are for everyone else but them,” said Stephanie Durman, TCWN General Counsel.

“The Justice mines have been in violation of the Clean Water Act’s most fundamental requirement for as long as four years, yet TDEC is proposing just to give them back their old permits as-is,” Durman added.

In addition, 16 of Justice’s Tennessee coal mining operations failed to submit required discharge reports to TDEC in the third quarter of 2013 and this failure to report continued into 2014.

“This is an extraordinarily serious violation because permittee reporting of pollutant discharges is central to the Clean Water Act’s compliance and enforcement framework, and many of these mines had reported numerous permit violations before they stopped submitting the reports,” said Axel Ringe, Conservation Chair for the Sierra Club.  “For example, one of the Justice mines, the Baldwin coal preparation plant in Anderson County, was the source of a significant blackwater spill to the New River in January, 2012.”

“Violations at Justice’s Zeb Mountain coal mine spanned the decades-plus history of the mine, which was Tennessee’s largest strip mine.  The Zeb Mountain site is now in reclamation,” Ringe added.

The three citizen’s groups are specifically recommending that TDEC not allow any new mining or coal operation refuse disposal under any reauthorized NPDES permits.

“TDEC has the authority to revoke, reissue or modify NDPES permits, and given the very significant, long-standing pattern of noncompliance at the Justice mines, the remedy of permit denial and/or modification of the terms of the expired permits to allow only reclamation of strip mines and other coal operations is warranted,” said Durman.

The expired permits are for coal operations in Anderson, Campbell and Scott counties in East Tennessee.

SOCM Member and Board President Patrick Morales said that people all across Tennessee are suffering from the legacy of pollution at the Justice mines.

“Jim Justice has a long history of disregard for the health and welfare of the communities directly impacted by the careless practices of his mining companies,” Morales said.  “The people of Tennessee should be aware of the costs of his blatant disregard for the Clean Water Act. It is a legacy of unpaid fines, polluted water, and an attitude of disrespect for the laws that protect our communities. No matter where you live in Tennessee you are paying for this disrespect.”

To see the complete comments submitted to TDEC by TCWN, SOCM and Sierra Club, visit the TCWN website at www.tcwn.org.

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