Citizens opposed to National Coal Corporation mining the Sundquist Wildlife Management Area
CAMPBELL 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, Tennessee.
“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 operations 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.