SOCM Reports Black Water Spill in New River

Jan. 9, 2012 – Knoxville – Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) has learned of a large volume spill of black water into the New River from a coal processing plant near Devonia in Anderson County. “Black water” (a by-product of coal processing) was sighted in the New River over 40 miles downstream from the Baldwin Processing plant by a local resident. The plant is located near Frozen Head State Park. The flow from the toxic discharge was described as so strong that it flowed upstream.

State and Federal regulatory agencies are trying to ascertain when, why, and how this large spill happened. The Baldwin Processing Plant did not come forward to self-report the spill to OSM (the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement) and TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation) as required by law. The spill was discovered by a local resident and reported to OSM via a citizen’s complaint. SOCM members and staff will continue to monitor the spill and ensure appropriate action is taken to hold the company accountable for violation permit requirements.

The Baldwin processing plant is owned by Premium Coal, which is owned by James C. Justice II of West Virginia. The Justice family acquired National Coal Corp., based in Knoxville, on December 15th and closed its office on December 28th, laying off 155 employees. Between Premium Coal and National Coal, the Justice family controls five of Tennessee’s surface mines.

“Out-of-state coal operators like Jim Justice are bringing a new definition of business-as-usual to the Volunteer State. Tennesseans are very welcoming people, but if Mr. Justice’s business plan involves destroying mountains, eliminating jobs, and bankrupting our rural communities then our citizens won’t stand for it. Tennesseans want to preserve our mountains and mountain communities,” said SOCM member Patrick Morales. Morales is a member of SOCM’s E3 (Energy, Ecology and Environmental Justice) Committee and went to investigate the spill over the weekend.

Over the past several years, SOCM and its partner organizations have been monitoring numerous and continuous violations on the part of National Coal Corp. The company’s own records continue to show violations of legal limits of iron, selenium, and other heavy metals in local waterways near several of their coal mines and processing plants. SOCM, in partnership with the Tennessee Clean Water Network and the Sierra Club recently filed three more lawsuits against National Coal in November to enforce the pollution limits on two coal mines and one coal mine waste disposal area.

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About SOCM

SOCM – Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment – is a member-run organization that encourages civic involvement and collective action so that the people of Tennessee have a greater voice in determining their future. The mission of SOCM is to empower Tennesseans to protect, defend, and improve the quality of life in their communities across the state. SOCM is working for social, economic, and environmental justice for all. We are committed to the journey of becoming an anti-racist organization. Recognizing our interdependence, SOCM is committed to overcoming social and institutional racism and embracing our diverse cultures.

About Appalachian Voices

Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the land, air and water of the central and southern Appalachian region, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Nashville, Tn. and Washington, D.C. Since we believe working in concert with others produces maximum results, we are proud members of the Alliance for Appalachia, Waterkeeper Alliance, and Wise Energy for Virginia.

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