COUNTY, Tenn., July 20 - Residents of coal-impacted communities throughout
Tennessee and Appalachia took a stand today for the mountains of East
Tennessee by marching on Zeb Mountain, a surface mining site owned by
Knoxville-based National Coal Corporation. In the tradition of American
Civil Disobedience, the march, organized by United Mountain Defense,
Mountain Justice, and Three Rivers Earth First!, included a diversity
of coal-impacted citizens ranging from hunters fighting for the state’s
wildlife to religious leaders promoting environmental stewardship
The march began with a prayer led by Christians for the Mountains and
included political theater, life-sized puppets, rousing speeches, and
proud renditions of the Tennessee state anthem, “Good Ol’ Rocky
Top.” As the march reached the border of National Coal’s
property, four activists decided to risk their freedom by walking across
the line to make it clear that the destruction of mountains for short
term profit is not acceptable. The Campbell County Sheriff’s Office
calmly and orderly arrested the activists and removed them from the property.
Eric Blevins, one of those arrested, and a multi-generational Appalachian,
said “I crossed an artificial line today because Appalachia is
my homeland, and its life is being destroyed far faster than it can regenerate.
I wanted to open people’s minds to how insane it is that we allow
corporations to own land without loving it and keeping life sustainable.”
Now that 1345 acres of Zeb Mountain, half the original permit, have
been reduced to rubble, National Coal is moving on to assault other mountaintops
in Tennessee. One of these areas is the 65,000 acre Sundquist Wildlife
Management Area, which cost Tennessee taxpayers $40 million dollars to
purchase. Sundquist Wildlife Management Area is a public access game
preserve with rivers flowing directly into the water supply of Nashville,
“The land belongs to the state and the people of Tennessee, and
corporations should not be allowed to destroy it. The federal mining
regulators should start listening to state agencies and representatives,” said
Matt Landon, a United Mountain Defense volunteer.
Coal mining involving mountaintop removal or cross ridge mining has
many negative effects across Appalachia, and using this method in the
Sundquist Wildlife Management Area would threaten the Big South Fork
National River and Recreation Area. The Big South Fork has begun to recover
from previous mining operations in the early 1900s. There are five federally
endangered species of mussels in the Big South Fork and two listed endangered
fish. This is about the survival of the New River and the Big South Fork.
Mountaintop removal is inherently destructive to the sources of our water,
and the fish and wildlife that depend on it.
Of the groups organizing the march, United Mountain Defense is a Tennessee-based
non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the state’s land,
air, water and people, while Mountain Justice is a pan-Appalachian movement
dedicated to similar issues on a regional scale. Three Rivers Earth First!
is dedicated to preserving all places.
“We believe Tennesseans need to stand up to the coal companies
that are devastating our environment, killing our wildlife, and poisoning
our air and water,” said United Mountain Defense co-founder Paloma
Galindo. National Coal has committed over 50 violations of environmental
regulations since 2004.
“NCC cannot be trusted to protect our public lands based on their
prior record of violations,” said lawyer and Knoxville native Chris
Irwin. National Coal is unfit to mine our public lands due to their pattern
of violations in Tennessee.
The march comes as state legislators continue to debate the Tennessee
Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill that would protect Tennessee ridgelines
above 2,000 feet, require an environmental impact statement before
issuing any surface coal mining permits and would prohibit surface mining
within 100 feet of any water of the state.
Now is the time for citizens to speak up and take a stand to protect
the mountains of Tennessee from the devastating effects of surface mining.
With coal prices becoming less competitive than renewable energy and
in-state tourism growing in popularity due to the rising cost of travel,
the mountains of Tennessee are far more valuable to the state and its
citizens if they are protected
United Mountain Defense (UMD) is a nonprofit volunteer based organization
committed to protecting Tennessee’s mountains, water, air and people.
UMD conducts activities in three principle areas: legal and policy advocacy;
scientific monitoring and data collection; and public education, outreach
and grassroots organizing. These activities are conducted within the
state of Tennessee, primarily in Campbell, Claiborne, Scott, Fentress,
Bledsoe, Knox and Blount counties
photos | Read a first person
account from the march |