Mountain Top Removal

Mining Our Mountains

In Appalachia, mining companies literally blow the tops off mountains to reach thin seams of coal. They then dump millions of tons of rubble and toxic waste into the streams and valleys below the mining sites. This destructive practice, known as mountaintop removal (MTR) mining, has damaged or destroyed nearly 2,000 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of mountaintops and forests by 2020. The mining poisons drinking water, destroys beautiful, biodiverse forests and wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding, and threatens entire communities.

Who Gets Hurt

Mountaintop removal mining pollutes waterways and allows toxic heavy metals such as cadmium, selenium, and arsenic to leach into local water supplies that communities rely on. But the danger isn't limited to drinking water. Mountaintop removal also causes air pollution that affects communities for miles around. Many of the toxins that pollute mountaintop removal sites are carcinogens, and cancer rates are twice as high for people who live near mountaintop-removal sites.

The Future for Tennessee’s Mountains and Mountain Communities

Ending mountaintop removal and other forms of destructive coal strip mining and transitioning to clean energy will benefit Appalachia by creating good jobs in the clean-energy and tourism industries and by improving public health.

Mountaintop Removal in Tennessee

Stopping MTR and keeping coal in the ground is a priority of the Tennessee Sierra Club and we have been working on coal mining-related issues since 2004. Partnering with local communities and allied organizations, the Tennessee Sierra works closely with volunteers in our state as well as national staff and the Environmental Law Program to hold coal companies accountable and to build more just and sustainable mountain communities.   We encourage you to join us in our activities and campaigns to advocate for land stewardship, a clean energy future, and responsible mining practices.

To get involved contact Bonnie Swinford: (865) 755-0095,

Citizen enforcement

Coal companies have an obligation to obey the law just as state and federal officials have the responsibility to enforce laws. Unfortunately, both fail too often at the

ir responsibilities, and people and our environment pay the cost. Environmental enforcement works best with citizen 

engagement so we organize, educate and if necessary litigate to defend Tennessee while pushing to strengthen environmental protection.

Stay Informed: 

Sign up to receive state water pollution permit notices by sending your name, phone number and mailing address to:

State of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Division of Water Resources Mining Section  

Gary Mullins
Tel# 865-594-5541 
Fax 865-594-6105  

Sign up to receive federal mining permit notices by sending your name, phone number and mailing address to:

The Office of Surface Mining Knoxville Field Office General Mailing List

Tamara Bowling
Tel # 865-545-4103 ext 149 
Fax# 865-545-4114

North Cumberland Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition 

In October 2010, Tennessee filed a Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition with the U.S. Department of Interior, Office of Surface Mining. The petition signed by Governor Phil Bredesen requests the Office of Surface Mining find ridgelines on land managed for public use on the Northern Cumberland Plateau unsuitable for coal surface mining. Much of the proper

ty covered by the petition is part of Tennessee’s landmark 2007 “Connecting the Cumberlands” conservation initiative and is located in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan and Scott counties. 

If approved by the Secretary of the Interior, the petition would prevent surface mining of coal for 600 feet on each side of the ridgelines in the designated area, creatin

g a 1,200 foot ridgetop corridor encompassing approximately 67,000 acres. This area contains most of the older growth forest that exist in the area as well as a diverse array of habitats and wildlife, some of which are considered rare or threatened. The ridgelines covered in the petition include about 40 percent of the total North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and Emory River Conservation Easement Tract. 

Upon receiving a complete petition, the federal Office of Surface Mining must prepare an Environmental Impact Statement. This process provides an opportunity for public input prior to a decision being made about whether to accept the Lands Unsuitable for Mining petition under provisions of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. The petition does not affect underground mining or permits for surface mining that have already been issued; nor does it cover any areas in which historical mining has resulted in water pollution from acid mine drainage where re-mining could help improve environmental impacts.


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