Tennessee Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition
Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), a member of the public may petition a state regulatory authority to declare areas not otherwise precluded from coal mining operations as "lands unsuitable for mining" (LUM). Such a designation would mean that no new surface coal mining permits could be issued within the designated area.
As the SMCRA regulatory authority in Tennessee, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has evaluated a petition to designate more than 67,000 acres as unsuitable for surface coal mining. The bureau began work on the petition in 2010 after the State of Tennessee petitioned OSMRE to designate certain ridge lines and connecting corridors within the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and Emory River Tract Conservation Easement under the discretionary provisions of Section 522 of SMCRA. The petition seeks to prevent surface mining within 600 feet on either side of ridge lines within the 269 square miles of the two areas.
The following assertions serve as the basis for the State’s petition:
- Surface coal mining operations are incompatible with existing State or local land use plans or programs; and,
- Surface coal mining operations would affect fragile or historic lands, resulting in significant damage to important historic, cultural, scientific, and aesthetic values and natural systems.
In December 2015, OSMRE released the draft Petition Evaluation Document/Environmental Impact Statement (PED/EIS) document. In that document OSMRE evaluated six possible alternatives, including a “no-action” alternative that would deny the petition. OSMRE identified Alternative 3 as the preferred in the draft PED/EIS. The bureau solicited public input by holding four public meetings, and accepting written statements in an extended public comment period. As of the comment period closing (1/25/16), a total of 3,220 individual comments were recorded in the National Park Service PEPC system. This number does not include pre-packaged comments received via mail or e-mail from specific groups (i.e. Center for Biological Diversity, Alliance for Appalachia, etc.) that adds another 10,000 comments.
Based on public comments and the subsequent evaluation, the bureau identified Alternative 4 as the preferred alternative. This alternative sets aside 76,000 acres in an expanded corridor of independently identified ridgelines as unsuitable for new surface coal mining operations. However, the designation would not prohibit remining of some sites. OSMRE may still permit remining on a case-by-case basis if the remining is consistent with the criteria for designation.
Map of Alternative 4 (OSMRE’s preferred alternative)
The map below shows the 600-foot ridge line buffer zones described in the petition.
Record of Decision and Statement of Reasons
On December 7, 2016, the Department of the Interior designated 74,968 acres as unsuitable for coal mining operations, including surface activities in connection with underground mining operations. The area designated as unsuitable for coal mining operations is within a 76,133 acre area and includes 569 miles of ridgeline (with a 1,200-foot corridor; 600 feet on both sides of the ridgeline), including ridgelines proposed in the State’s petition and ridgelines identified by the OSMRE. Pursuant to 30 CFR § 762.13(b), lands covered by an existing permit issued under SMCRA will not be considered as part of this designation. As such, 1,165 acres of lands covered by an existing permit within the 76,133 acre petition area will not be affected. This designation would not prohibit the use of existing access or haul roads. This designation would also not prohibit remining of sites if the proposed remining is consistent with the criteria under which this designation is being granted and other applicable requirements as set forth in the Record of Decision.
Developing the Petition Evaluation Document and EIS
The steps below constitute the process OSMRE is following as it develops the document.
Notice of Intent Published in Federal Register
Preparation of Draft PED/EIS
Notice of Availability of Draft PED/EIS
Public Comment Period for the Draft PED/EIS
Preparation of Final PED/EIS
Notice of Availability of Final PED/EIS
30 Day Waiting Period as Required by NEPA
Record of Decision
OSMRE will update this chart as the LUM process progresses.
- Final PED/EIS, Volume I (pdf 17 MB)
- Final PED/EIS, Volume II (pdf 20 MB)
- Final PED/EIS, Volume III (pdf 39 MB)
- Draft PED/EIS Volume I (pdf 30 MB)
- Draft PED/EIS Volume II (pdf 40 MB)
- Draft PED/EIS Volume III (pdf 13 MB)
- Review the TN LUM Fact Sheet for additional details on the TN LUM Petition.
- February 8: Read the News Release "OSMRE Reopens Comment Period on Tennessee Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition"
- February 16: Public Comment Report on Tennessee Lands Unsuitable for Mining Draft Petition Evaluation Document/Environmental Impact Statement - Comments collected through January 25, 2016. (5 MB)
- December 10 News Release: Read the News Release "OSMRE Opens Comment Period on Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Tennessee Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition and Announces Public Hearings to Gather Input from Stakeholders"
- State of Tennessee Wildlife Management Area Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition; September 30, 2010 (4 MB)
- Map of the Petition Area (Exhibit A) as Submitted by the State of Tennessee (3 MB)
- Federal Register: Notice of Receipt of a Petition to Designate Lands Unsuitable for Mining and to Prepare a Petition Evaluation Document and Environmental Impact Statement; February 8, 2011
- Scoping Report: Petition Evaluation Document/Environmental Impact Statement North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and Emory Tract Conservation Easement; December 1, 2011
- Petitions to Intervene
- Intervention Request filed on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association, the Warioto Chapter of the National Audubon Society, the Tennessee Ornithological Society, the Tennessee Environmental Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Sierra Club; November 24, 2010 (4 MB)
- Intervention Request filed on behalf of National Coal, LLC; April 13, 2011 (13 MB)
- Intervention Request filed on behalf of Tennessee Mining Association, National Mining Association, and Campbell County, Tennessee; January 7, 2011 (12 MB)
Abandoned highwall from pre-SMCRA mining within the Tennessee Lands Unsuitable for Mining Petition Area.