|Mountaintop mining, in process and reclaimed (knoxnews.com)|
The 1977 federal strip-mine law allows the Department of the Interior to designate land as unsuitable for mining, "in essence barring a controversial form of mining known as mountaintop removal," Collins notes.
A petition for the declaration was filed in 2010 by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, three months before his last term ended. He said mining would damage to cultural, scientific and aesthetic values or natural systems. "The area is an important wildlife corridor, providing habitat for black bear, elk and numerous songbirds like the cerulean warbler, the Interior Department said. The New and Emory rivers also run through the designated area and provide clean drinking water to thousands of Tennesseans," Collins reports. It includes a wildlife management area and a conservation easement.
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, "an opponent of mountaintop removal mining, said the decision will help safeguard the state’s mountains without affecting mining operations in other parts of the impacted counties or elsewhere in Tennessee," Collins reports. "The National Mining Association, however, called the Interior Department’s announcement 'another unwarranted blow to our ability to responsibly utilize this nation’s domestic resources'." The NMA said those who wrote the law didn't contemplate such large areas being designated unsuitable for mining.
The designation "makes a limited exception for re-mining activities, which will be restricted to proposals that will provide environmental benefits, such as reclaiming abandoned mine lands, and reducing the impacts of acid mine drainage and residual sedimentation," Collins reports.