NASHVILLE, TN – The Sierra Club, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM), and the Tennessee Clean Water Network (TCWN) took action today to protect Tennessee streams by challenging the pollution discharge permit that allows continued operations at the Zeb Mountain mine in Campbell & Scott Counties, TN. The groups are challenging the permit for a second time, because Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) has issued a new version of the permit that allows greater pollution discharges and less monitoring than is required under the Clean Water Act.
“Unbelievably, this new permit from TDEC is weaker than the previous permit, and both are violating the Clean Water Act by failing to protect our waterways from toxic selenium and conductivity pollution,” said Axel Ringe of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club.
At 2,129 acres, Zeb Mountain is by far Tennessee’s largest mountaintop removal coal mine. The mine has been slammed with multiple notices of violations in recent years for exceeding permit limits and for discharging pollutants outside the scope of the permit. National Coal, LLC, operates the mine.
National Coal, LLC also challenged the previous discharge permit issued by TDEC in March of 2011. In spite of that permit’s clear deficiencies, National Coal wanted the ability to pollute more, with less oversight from regulators.
Renée Hoyos, Executive Director of TCWN said, “The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is supposed to uphold the law, and protect our people and environment from pollution that’s coming from the Zeb Mountain mine. Now they’ve weakened an already insufficient permit for National Coal. Has TDEC forgotten who it works for?”
National Coal. LLC is owned by James C. Justice II of West Virginia. Justice’s companies have a long history of outrageous violations at its operating sites in Tennessee, including a large volume “black water” spill into the New River in January. TDEC fined Premium Coal, owned by Justice, a miniscule $50,000 for the estimated 1.4 million gallons of black water (a by-product of coal processing) that spilled from the Baldwin Processing Plant.
“With the mounting evidence of adverse health impacts from mountaintop removal coal mining and other forms of strip mining, it is mind-boggling that TDEC would allow permits like this that do not adequately protect people and communities in Tennessee,” said Ann League, Chair of SOCM’s Energy, Ecology and Environmental Justice (E3) Committee.
Selenium is a toxic pollutant that causes deformities and reproductive problems in fish and amphibians and is discharged from many surface coal mining operations across Appalachia. At very high levels, selenium can pose a risk to human health, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems. Selenium accumulates in the tissues of aquatic organisms over time, and experts predict that waterways across Appalachia could be on the brink of collapse due to increasing levels of the pollutant.
The groups bringing today’s challenge are represented by Stephanie Matheny of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, and by Gena Lewis of the Law Office of Gena Lewis.
Documents related to this case, including the permit and the appeal petition, are available at http://www.tcwn.org/cleanwater1.
This issue represents the second time this week that environmental groups have expressed concern with TDEC’s blatant disregard for community input regarding weak and ineffective regulations. Earlier this week, news reports revealed that TDEC officials were writing disparaging remarks on public comments submitted when developing regulations for oil and gas drilling in the state.