On Feb. 8, Appalachian Voices Tennessee Director, JW Randolph, spoke to members of the state legislature, the media and the environmental community. Below is a video and the transcript of his speech in support of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill to protect the state’s virgin ridgelines from mountaintop removal coal mining.
Hello, my name is JW Randolph, and I’m proud to serve as the Tennessee Director for Appalachian Voices. I’m here to speak with you for a few minutes about efforts to protect Tennessee’s mountains, but first I want to thank the members that have joined us here this morning. Chairman Southerland and Representative Gilmore have both supported the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, and we’re happy you’re here. We’re thankful to you both and look forward to continuing to work with you to pass this important legislation. I would also like to thank those in attendance for engaging in the democratic process, and finally I’d like to thank the Tennessee Environmental Council, Gretchen Hagle, John McFadden and your team. You guys are great leaders in this movement here in Tennessee and for us here on Capitol Hill, we all appreciate you and the work you do.
I’m here because I love mountains. I grew up in a log cabin my father built in the woods, on the banks of the Tennessee River. And like many of you, I got to know my family, my place, and our history through walking the beautiful woods and waters of middle Tennessee, fishing, hiking, and 4-wheeling. The time spent in these mountains taught me about freedom, responsibility and self-reliance. This was where I learned the best of home, the best of our state, and the best of what our country has to offer. As I got older, I learned that not too far away, near our ancestral land, coal companies were blasting apart the mountains, and poisoning the streams that we ran through.
My daughter will turn two years old this month. When I was her age, there were 500 mountains across Appalachia that are no longer there. Since then there have been 2000 miles of streams buried by mining waste, and 125-square miles of The Cumberland Plateau that has been altered irrevocably. That is why its important that Tennesseans join the effort to pass the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act.
Now, we don’t have to hate coal and we don’t have to hate coal mining. In fact, one of my favorite authors said that in every small town and major city in America we should put a monument to the American coal miner. And I agree, because miners helped fuel the industrial revolution, put a man on the moon, and build the biggest and most prosperous economy the world has ever seen. From Fraterville to Upper Big Branch, miners have given us their tears, toil, and their lives.
Mountain people have never asked for much in return, and we’ve gotten exactly what asked for. But now our miners are being laid off, and the very mountains that define us are being torn down before our eyes.
These are the mountains where leaders grew – Johnson, Jackson and Polk – who went on to lead our nation. This is where great men found peace – Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett and Jack Daniel. These are the mountains that filled the hearts of Duane Allman, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and Chet Atkins to turn into song and share with the world. These are the mountains that inspired defense from some of our great military leaders from Alvin York to Sam Crawford, and the great Civil War hero David Farragut who you might know by the famous phrase he coined – “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”
Now the mountains that inspired these great Tennesseans are being filled with Ammonium Nitrate Fuel Oil and blasted apart, which means fewer jobs, poisoned water, and little economic opportunity. 85 percent of our mining jobs have been lost since 1985, Tennessee taxpayers fund what ends up being a $3 million dollar subsidy to the coal industry every year, and we know that this type of mining is making our people sick. It is safe to say that if another country was doing this to us, we’d be at war. And with rumors increasing that China is looking to buy out parts of Campbell County, I certainly don’t feel very secure.
There are 21 peer-reviewed studies showing that people in Appalachian communities live a decade less than someone born in Davidson County. Those in communities surrounded by surface mining also face higher incidence of heart disease, lung disease, cancer and birth defects. But you don’t have to be a scientist to know that water runs downhill, or that if coal companies are putting waste into the streams in eastern Kentucky or on the Cumberland Plateau and the river is running orange that something ain’t right.
Lastly, we want to ensure that we protect and respect private property rights. When the Scenic Vistas bill is passed, the coal companies will still be able to mine their coal, while they leave the mountaintops on. But let it be known that the hearts and the lungs of the Appalachian people do not belong to a coal company. Mountain people believe that you can swing your fist however you like within an inch of our face, any further and you’ve got a problem. And when unborn children in Appalachian communities are 42 percent more likely to be born with birth defects, you’ve got a problem. When 60 miles of our streams in Tennessee are poisoned from coal mining, you’ve got a problem. But when our elected leaders stand up and lead on this issue, we will have a true solution.
If you love the mountains as I do, ask your legislators to sponsor the Scenic Vistas Protection Act to protect our virgin ridgelines and our mountain way of life.
Call your State Representative today, and ask that they sponsor the Scenic Vistas Protection Act (HB 43).
Here are a few talking points you may find helpful:
The Scenic Vistas Protection Act does one thing; it protects Tennessee’s Virgin Ridgelines from being removed by surface mining.
Relying on surface mining methods like mountaintop removal means fewer mining jobs. Since 1985, the coal industry in
Tennessee has laid off 85% of their workforce while the portion of our state’s coal that comes from surface mining has increased dramatically.
The tourism and hospitality industry employs more than 175,000 Tennesseans, and brings in more than $15 bilion to our state every year. But those jobs and dollars are threatened when we blast apart our mountains. As Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) says, people come here to see mountains with their tops on.