Can an engineer make a mountain as well as God can? The coal industry says, “Yes”; Tennesseans loudly say, “No”; and the state Senate is still ducking, stalling and faking.
I advocate for the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, SB 577, a bill to prevent blasting off high-elevation ridgelines to remove coal. When I arrived in Nashville on Tuesday morning, the staff of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, both pro and con, greeted me with exasperation. They couldn’t get a call out for calls coming in, hundreds of calls for the TSVPA. They couldn’t find other emails in the overwhelming flood of pro-mountain emails. They even had piles of paper letters — old-fashioned paper, snail-mail letters, handwritten and heartfelt — asking the senators to keep Tennessee’s ridgelines intact. It warmed my heart and encouraged Senate supporters while giving opponents pause.
Under all that pressure, the Senate leadership tried a fake, gutted the TSVPA and amended it with a big mess of nothing, then patted Tennesseans on the head and said the mountains are safe.
The sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Mike Bell, and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Sen. Jack Johnson and Sen. Mike Faulk agree that the amended bill adds no protection that is not already in current federal rules. Ramsey says we have reached “a point all honest stakeholders can be proud of,” but the amendment was not shared in advance with any stakeholder except industry. And industry does seem to be proud….
The poorly written amendment talks about where companies can and can’t put “excess overburden” from “mountain top removal,” and restoring mountains to the “approximate original contour.” “Overburden,” is a sad industry pseudonym for the little pieces a mountain becomes after it is blasted apart. But Tennesseans are not calling Nashville about where to put the little pieces. Tennesseans support the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act that says don’t blow off high-elevation ridgelines and peaks in the first place.
The amended bill seems to claim that there is no mountaintop removal so long as the coal industry molds the rubble into the “approximate original contour.” The northern Cumberland Plateau is not known for “approximate original mountains.” It is known for some of the oldest and most beautiful mountains on this Earth, molded not by engineers and bulldozers, but by the hands of God.
Tennesseans want mountains, not shell games and semantics. But the fake has backfired. Senate leadership seemed surprised when TSVPA proponents on the committee voted with them to send the bill to the floor of the Senate. Soon, likely this Thursday, the full Senate can restore and pass the TSVPA.
Tennesseans are speaking with one loud voice. We want the ridgelines protected. Senators clearly want to claim they have done that but lack the will to actually do it. LEAF asks the Senate to redeem this weak deception: Stand up and vote for the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, the bill that requires the coal companies to leave the original ridgelines on Tennessee’s mountains.
Dawn Coppock is the volunteer legislative director of the Lindquist Appalachian Environmental Fellowship, a Christian creation care organization founded in Knoxville in 2007. LEAF’s website is www.tnleaf.org.