Sierra Club


For Immediate Release: February 9, 2012

Contact: Sean Sarah, Sierra Club, 202 548 4589,
Axel Ringe, Sierra Club, 865-397-1840,
Renée Hoyos, Tennessee Clean Water Network,, 865-522-7007 x100
Chris Irwin, United Mountain Defense,, 865-257-4029

 Groups Work to Secure Clean and Safe Tennessee Streams

Demand Federal Mining Agency Stop Toxic Pollution from Surface Mines


Knoxville, TN – Today, a coalition of citizen groups provided the federal Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation, and Enforcement (OSM) with notice that the agency has failed to take sufficient action to protect Tennessee streams and communities from the perpetual discharge of toxic pollutants from surface coal mines. Specifically, the groups charge that OSM is violating the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) by failing to ensure that performance bonds are adequate to cover the cost necessary to treat ongoing toxic discharges, including selenium. A performance bond is an amount of money posted by a mining company to ensure that there are sufficient funds to reclaim a mine site, which includes preventing the discharge of any pollutants. The groups also allege that OSM has violated SMCRA by issuing new surface mining permits without first determining the potential for long-term selenium discharges. The groups told OSM that they intend to file suit over these alleged violations unless the agency takes appropriate action within the next 60-days. The groups involved in the action are the Sierra Club, Tennessee Clean Water Network, and United Mountain Defense.

The groups have identified 9 Tennessee coal facilities that are currently discharging selenium at rates above federal water quality standards. The groups also point to evidence from West Virginia which shows that surface coal mines that have been reclaimed are still releasing selenium at levels above water quality standards.

“Even after a coal mine has been shuttered it still poses a threat to local rivers and streams,” said Axel Ringe, Vice-Conservation Chair of Sierra Club’s Tennessee Chapter. “The Office of Surface Mining must adjust its permitting practices to comply with the law, protect Tennessee’s streams, and ensure coal mining companies are responsible for the pollution from their mines.”

“Reclaimed Tennessee coal mines must not be a threat to local waterways,” said Renée Hoyos, Executive Director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network. “OSM is not living up to its legally required commitment to keep our streams safe from the constant discharge of toxic pollutants like selenium from active and closed mining sites.”

“The Office of Surface Mining must identify and deny permit applications for operations likely to discharge elevated levels of selenium,” said Chris Irwin of United Mountain Defense. “The evidence clearly shows that the agency is not following its own rules.”

Selenium, a toxic element that causes reproductive failure and deformities in fish and other forms of aquatic life, is discharged from many surface coal-mining operations across Appalachia.  At very high levels, selenium can pose a threat to human health, causing hair and fingernail loss, kidney and liver damage, and damage to the nervous and circulatory systems. Members of the coalition sending today’s notice recently settled several selenium enforcement actions which together require coal mine operators in West Virginia to install treatment technology at an estimated cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The groups are represented by Joe Lovett and Ben Luckett with the Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and by Knoxville attorney Gena Lewis.

For more information on selenium visit



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