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Zeb Mountain Mining May Continue, Federal Court Says

Tue March 15, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Construction Equipment Guide

KNOXVILLE, TN (AP) National Coal Corp. can proceed with mining some 2,000 acres (810 ha) on Zeb Mountain in Scott and Campbell counties, a federal judge ruled.

Save Our Cumberland Mountains, the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project challenged the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement’s issuance of a permit to mine the property, saying a full environmental impact statement was required.

The mountain is being mined using a “cross-ridge” technique that the operators say ultimately will restore the mountain to its approximate pre-mined contour. Opponents label it “mountaintop removal.”

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Varlan granted a summary judgment ruling in favor of the Knoxville coal company Feb. 23.

The permit was issued to Robert Clear Coal Corp. last April, but National Coal Corp. bought the permit from Robert Clear in August and began mining in November. With the judge’s ruling, National Coal can continue mining the property.

According to the ruling, the permit covers 2,107 acres (853 ha), and 1,249 acres (505 ha) would be disturbed by mining during the 10-year project. About 970 acres (393 ha) would be used for mining and about 179 acres (72 ha) would be disturbed for the construction of roads, ponds and a coal processing area.

Of the disturbed areas, 412 acres (167 ha) previously were mined without reclamation from the late 1960s to the early 1980s and are to be reclaimed.

Varlan ruled a less-detailed environmental assessment that discussed alternative uses of the land and the environmental impacts of the proposed action was all that was required for the permit. The 24-page analysis included effects on topography, geology, soils, vegetation, land use, hydrology, fish and wildlife resources, threatened or endangered species, cultural and historic resources, air quality and aesthetics, such as noise and scenery.

“Such discussion can hardly be considered insignificant,” Varlan ruled.

Tiffany Hartung, spokeswoman for Save Our Cumberland Mountains, said the plaintiffs may appeal to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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