sierra web logo  January 2009
Upper Cumberland Group Sierra Club
Sierra Scene, Vol. 15, No. 1
In This Issue
 Save These Dates

Thursday January 22,
7 pm
UC Group Sierra Meeting,
Putnam Co. Library, Downstairs Mtg Rm.
Showing of "Wild vs. Wall" DVD and planning for spring meetings

Jan 30- Feb.1
TN. Chapter Sierra Club Quarterly Meeting, Cedars of Lebanon State Park

Saturday Feb. 21
Putnam Co. Library 
1-4 pm. Downstairs Meeting Room.
Progressive activists Meeting for State Senatorial District Sustainability

Saturday April 25,
1-4 pm
Cookeville Rain
Barrrel Festival
Dogwood Park,
  To learn about the successful rain barrel festival last year at Berea, KY.
Check out this

We're hoping for something similar here and have lined up 80 local artists to paint barrels!  More  about Cookeville's Rain Barrel Festival next month. . .

To see what enforcement action TDEC is taking against TVA on the coal ash spill, click here

Dear UC Sierrans,

Hope you all had a good holiday and are ready to get back in the swing of things.  Our UC Group election yielded Executive Committee slots to me and to our stalwart treasurer Ralph Bowden.  Thanks to all who participated and special thanks to Margaret Olsen for being the official vote counter.

At our January meeting next Thursday, Jan. 22, we will view a very disturbing, but brief, DVD called "Wild vs. Wall" put out by the Grand Canyon (Arizona) Sierra Chapter on the environmental impacts of the Mexico Border Wall.  We will do some planning for future program for spring meetings. 

We will also update you on the plans for the Rain Barrel
Festival, which we've now set for Dogwood Park on Sat. April 25.

We certainly have a lot of stuff locally - and in the state - going on.
I'm sure you've seen the news of the disastrous TVA coal ash spill at the Kingston fossil fuels plant.  The Sierra Club nationally has joined a group of other environmental organizations in giving notice of an intent to sue over Clean Water Act, RCRA, and CERCLA violations.  Yours truly, along with UCG members Brian Paddock, Louise Gorenflo and Dennis Gregg, and Tn. Chapter Vice Conservation Chair Axel Ringe are participating with some local activists in coordinating action requests to local agencies.

We've also met recently with a group of local progressives (health, political, environmental)  to discuss possible actions to move toward a Sustainable Upper Cumberland.  We plan to meet again Saturday February 21 at the Putnam Co. Library, downstairs, 1-4 pm.  All UCG Sierrans welcome.

We're looking at, next fall, putting on a one-day Regional Sustainability Opportunity Forum here, similar to the ones done last year in Knoxville, Chattanooga, and Memphis as a part of Tennessee Environmental Council's Summit for a Sustainable Tennessee held in Nashville in November.  Come help us plan it!

Hope to see you next Thursday at our Group monthly meeting.
Mary Mastin, UC Group Chair
Massive Coal Ash Spill Leads to Challenge of Tennessee Valley Authority.   Local Residents, Environmental Advocates: "Coal is Not Clean" TVA coal ash spill

Knoxville, Tenn.: A coalition of local residents and environmental groups has put the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) on notice today for its negligence surrounding the tragic December 22 coal ash spill at the Kingston Fossil Plant in Roane County, Tennessee.

In collaboration with dozens of neighbors whose property was directly affected by the spill, the groups Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Earthjustice, Public Justice, and Sierra Club are requesting that a federal court oversee the cleanup and remediation and that the responsible parties compensate local residents.

"This catastrophic spill was a colossal tragedy, and the Tennessee Valley Authority could have avoided this disaster had it taken its responsibilities seriously," said Bruce Nilles, Director of Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign. "This massive spill reminds us that coal is not clean, and coal is not cheap."

On December 22, 2008, an earthen dam for a coal ash waste impoundment failed at the Kingston Fossil Plant, releasing hundreds of millions of gallons of coal ash sludge and contaminated water into the Emory and Clinch Rivers and onto more than 300 acres of nearby land. Most of this potentially toxic waste remains in or near those waters. The spill left behind piles of coal ash waste that will continue to leach and channel toxic chemicals into those two rivers and other groundwater whenever it rains.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testing found more than 100 times the maximum Arsenic level allowed by the federal government in the Emory River near the spill site. The metals in this coal ash sludge may also become airborne as particulates when the ash dries out.

"We need to remember that TVA operates ten other coal-fired power plants, each with its own ash waste disposal problems," said Axel Ringe, Sierra Club Tennessee Chapter Vice Conservation Chair. "Although TVA deservedly gets primary blame for this disaster, all the agencies involved must improve the oversight and permitting processes."

The Tennessee River is the source of drinking water for the City of Kingston, Tennessee, and the Watts Bar Reservoir downstream is used by several communities for their drinking water supply. This poses a substantial health risk to persons who consume contaminated water, eat contaminated fish, or breathe airborne dust.

"We are talking about an environmental crisis of epic proportions," said Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans, who is representing Sierra Club in the case. "Not to mention the slow-motion disaster taking place at coal ash dumps all over the country, where 130 million tons of this toxic waste pile up each year and threaten to seep into drinking water supplies."

"This spill has contaminated the land and water near the spill and threatened the health of dozens of families who own property, use the river, and breathe the air near the plant," says Mary Parker, a Nashville attorney (and former President of Public Justice) who is representing dozens of local residents whose property is affected by the spill. "The TVA needs to clean up this mess and compensate the residents for their losses."

The groups sent the TVA a formal notice of intent to sue today. The Sierra Club is represented by Joe Lovett with the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Jim Hecker with Public Justice, Lisa Evans and Deborah Goldberg at the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice. Mary Parker at Parker & Crofford represents the local residents.

The Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign is working to ensure coal is mined responsibly, burned cleanly and does not contribute to global warming. This involves addressing the entire coal cycle, including mountaintop removal mining and its devastating impact on communities. Sierra Club supports efforts to invest in clean energy solutions. This coal ash spill is a painful reminder that there is no such thing as "clean coal."

For more information,  see

December 22, 2008

Groups Challenge Bush Administration over Midnight Rulemaking

If unchallenged, rule change would allow stream destruction, more mountaintop removal mining

Washington, D.C. - A coalition of environmental groups took the Bush administration to court today over a controversial rule change pushed through the Office of Surface Mining December 12 after having been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the waning days of the administration's power. The legal challenge  would overturn the last-minute repeal of the stream buffer zone rule -- an environmental law that, since 1983, has prohibited surface coal mining activities within 100 feet of flowing streams.

Attorneys with Earthjustice, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Sierra Club, and Waterkeeper Alliance filed the legal challenge today in federal district court in Washington, DC on behalf of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Tennessee-based Save Our Cumberland Mountains, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and two other West Virginia-based groups: Coal River Mountain Watch and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

If not overturned, the rule change would lead to even more mountaintop removal coal mining - the aptly named process of mining coal by blasting off the tops of mountains, and bulldozing the crumbled peaks into adjoining valleys.

The rule change was published in the Federal Register December 12 and will go into effect January 12, at which time mining companies would be free to bury streams with mining waste without reproach under the law administered by the Office of Surface Mining. Because the change was finalized before Dec. 20, it will be difficult for Congress to undo it under the Congressional Review Act.

"This is among the 11th hour landmines planted by the Bush administration that an EPA headed by Lisa Jackson stands to inherit," said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez, who filed today's complaint. "We are doing what we can to make it easier for the incoming administration to undo the damage wrought by the last one and restore our nation's commitment to protecting the waters and summits of the Appalachians."

Opponents of the rule change argue that it violates the Clean Water Act and that EPA failed to fulfill its duties under the law when it signed off on the rule change, proposed by the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining.

The outgoing administration finalized this controversial rule change in spite of a recent wave of criticism directed generally at the outgoing administration's 'midnight regulations' and specifically at the repeal of this stream buffer zone rule.

"Local communities depend on these waters, and the EPA's own scientists have concluded that dumping mining waste into streams devastates the water quality," said Bill Price, Sierra Club Environmental Justice organizer in Charleston, West Virginia. "The Bush Administration's last-minute rulemaking violates the spirit of the Clean Water Act much the same way that mountaintop removal coal mining violates the spirit of Appalachia."

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen has also weighed in with EPA, voicing concerns on behalf of his state.

"We were holding the line against mass decapitation of our mountains by the coal industry," said Ann League, Vice President of the Board of Save Our Cumberland Mountains. "But with stream buffer zone protection rules now essentially buried under a pile of mine waste, we're very worried about what could happen here in Tennessee."

Since coal companies began the practice of mountaintop removal mining in earnest, the topography of Appalachia has been forever altered: More than 400 mountaintops have been stripped of trees and flattened, and 1,200 miles of mountain streams buried under rubble. Already the lush forests which once cloaked 387,000 acres of the world's oldest mountain range have been replaced by apocalyptic lunar landscapes. If industry is allowed to proceed at the current rate, an area the size of Delaware will have been lost.

"It appears OSM and EPA have finally and totally caved to industry, revising the rule that had become too inconvenient to enforce and turning a blind eye to damage being done to our headwater streams and mountain communities they support" said West Virginia Highlands Conservancy Mining Chair Cindy Rank. "All the tears in Appalachia can never restore those streams, nor bring back what has already been lost."

For a copy of the complaint filed in federal district court in Washington, DC, please visit.

marymastin @