Knoxville News Sentinel: Senator talks surface mining with officials

Alexander backs Bredesen's push to protect land

Posted on November 19, 2010

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee met Thursday with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Office of Surface Mining Director Joseph Pizarchik to ask that the U.S. Department of the Interior move to protect land in the Northern Cumberland Plateau from coal surface mining.

Alexander asked that the officials review a request by Gov. Phil Bredesen to protect a 1,200-foot ridgetop in the Northern Cumberland Plateau from coal surface mining.

Alexander sent a letter to Salazar on the issue Oct. 27.

Bredesen's petition to protect the land was filed Oct. 1 and asks that the Office of Surface Mining determine that ridgelines on lands with public interest be deemed unsuitable for coal surface mining.

"Millions of visitors spend tens of millions of dollars in Tennessee every year to enjoy the natural beauty of our mountains," Alexander wrote.

The petition, if approved, would protect the ridgetop corridor, which encompasses approximately 67,000 acres, and would "ensure that the beauty of our mountains and our streams will continue to be protected for Tennesseans and our visitors. This area is also home to diverse habitats and wildlife, some of which are considered rare or threatened."

Bredesen had asked that the department deem the ridgelines on lands with public interest in the Northern Cumberland Plateau unsuitable for coal surface mining.

The governor asked that the area be protected to preserve the ridgelines' "important cultural, recreational and scientific resources, such as hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other outdoor recreational activities." Mining would disturb those activities, the petition says.

"The Great Smoky Mountains and other conservation areas and national parks in Tennessee have not only preserved pristine parts of the great American outdoors, but they bring millions of people to visit them every year and hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs to the state," Alexander told Salazar. "The governor's request is not only a good way to save our mountain tops and preserve these areas for the future, but is also a good way to create new jobs in an area of our state that urgently needs them."