State Legislature Kills Mountaintop Removal Ban Through Delays

Date: April 18, 2012

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By Molly Moore

The Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill to end mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee, was killed by a state House subcommittee after the bill was heard by the state’s Senate this March.

The Tennessee hearing marked the first time that a bill to ban mountaintop removal was heard by a full legislative chamber in a state with active mountaintop removal mining. The bill would have protected Tennessee’s virgin ridge lines above 2,000 feet from the destructive mining practice.

The state Senate delayed an up-or-down vote on the bill, which sent the bill to a House subcommittee. That subcommittee then delayed a vote on the bill by sending it to a summer study session. Rep. Richard Floyd, who proposed the motion, said the summer session would give the subcommittee more time to study the issue. The Scenic Vistas Protection Act, active in the Tennessee legislature for the past five years, also languished in summer study in 2011, with no action and no result.

Rep. Mike McDonald, the bill’s House sponsor, told the subcommittee, “We have lost eight mountains since 2008 by delaying. If we don’t vote this year, we will lose more mountains.”

Prominent Tennesseans, such as former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe and Rev. Gradye Parsons, the highest elected official in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), supported
the legislation.

An editorial in one of the state’s primary newspapers, The Tennessean, stated, “Whoever votes “no” to passage of HB 0291/SB 0577 will be on record as supporting this wanton destruction.”

Private Property Rights Transferred to Coal Industry

A bill that transfers property rights to empty underground mine chambers from private landowners to coal companies was signed by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell in April. The bill allows companies to dispose of toxic waste in these chambers against the property owners’ wishes, even if the waste would endanger the quality of a property owner’s drinking water.

A hastily written amendment to the bill says that, in some cases, companies must get landowners’ consent. But the bill also says, “such consent shall not be unreasonably withheld if the owner has been offered reasonable compensation for such use.” This provision would leave it up to the courts to decide whether a landowner who refused to allow waste disposal on his or her land for a fee was being unreasonable.

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