The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Tennessee Community Groups Call for Plan to End Federal Coal Leasing Program

Residents rally outside DOI public hearing demanding to protect our public lands


On Thursday, mothers, children, doctors, community leaders, and public health advocates rallied at the Tennessee Historical Society in downtown Knoxville to call on the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) to reform its federal coal leasing program, which is broken, outdated, and does not consider the threat of climate change in American communities.

A rally and press conference took place during a noon break from DOI's public listening session, one of six around the country, for its upcoming Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), a formal plan announced by President Obama and Secretary Jewell to consider reforming the federal coal leasing program.

"We need to use this review as an opportunity to make smart choices about the future of U.S. energy policy," said Bonnie Swinford, an organizer with the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We've seen firsthand in Tennessee the damage that burning coal can do. We know that a flood of subsidized federal coal has harmed so many communities like ours, stunted clean energy growth, and hurt our environment.

"It's time for a planned transition that will keep federal coal in the ground."

In January, President Obama and Secretary Jewell announced a formal plan to consider reforming the federal coal leasing program, including an immediate stop to approving new and modified coal leasing, with some exceptions. These six public hearings serve as a key first step in hearing from Americans what the administration should consider in its analysis of the coal leasing program through the PEIS.

This is the first time the U.S. will examine the collective climate impacts from all coal mined from public lands. For decades, coal companies have ripped 400 million tons of coal from our public lands every year, burning it in power plants, slowing clean energy development, worsening climate disruption, and polluting our communities.

"Surface coal mining has a devastating impact on water quality in Tennessee," said Tennessee Clean Water Network Executive Director Renee Hoyos. "The federal government is correct in reviewing the state of coal mining in the USA as the free market is telling the nation that coal is no longer king. Tennessee communities have learned that the foreign-owned coal mining companies come into their counties and create only a few jobs, poison the water and air and then leave it to future generations to clean up the mess they leave behind."

Forty percent of all coal burned in the United States comes from our public lands. Dirty air and water caused by coal pollution can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses and cancer, even leading to irreversible lung damage or premature death.

"I'm working for a place where young people like my friends and myself can make a beautiful future, despite the obstacles that currently make it hard to stay, said Eric Dixon, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. "I'm working for an Appalachia where friends who have been forced to leave the mountains can come back and work making our homes more energy efficient, work reclaiming the mountains scarred from mining, work installing solar panels or wind turbines on reclaimed strip mines and mountaintop removal sites."

The Sierra Club is the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. We amplify the power of our 3.8 million members and supporters to defend everyone's right to a healthy world.

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