In this legislative session, Tennesseans’ voices were silenced. Here’s what I would have said.
Yesterday, I was honored to be called to testify before the Tennessee State Senate Committee on Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, along with a friend, hero and colleague, Ann League. Ann is a property owner and resident of coal-bearing areas in Tennessee, who has lived in the shadow of Zeb Mountain. After Ann and I were called to the bench, Chairman Steve Southerland cut us off before we could sit down and say a word. The committee killed the bill on a procedural mechanism without ever allowing for discussion or taking a vote on its substance. This was despite the fact that thousands of Tennesseans from across the ideological spectrum have called for the passage of this bill. We have prayed, pleaded and lobbied on behalf of our mountains and mountain communities. Yesterday our voices were shut out, and our bill was ignored. If allowed to speak, here’s what I would have said:
“Good morning, my name is JW Randolph and I’m the Tennessee Director for Appalachian Voices.
I grew up outside of Birchwood, Tenn., in a log cabin my father built on the shores of the Tennessee River. Walking the hills and hollows of our state is how I learned what home means. Hiking and fishing out in the woods and waters is how I got to know the best of what our country has to offer, the best of what our state has to offer, and its how I got to know my family. These experiences taught me about freedom, self-reliance and responsibility.
Later in life I learned that not too far away, these same mountains were being filled with ammonium nitrate fuel oil and being brought down, poisoning the streams we ran through. These streams are no different than the one in Hamilton County where I proposed to my high school sweetheart, and where I now take our two year old daughter to learn how to skip stones.
Although she doesn’t quite yet understand, I try to explain to her the fact that when I was her age, there were 500 mountains in Appalachia that are no longer standing.
In Tennessee, of course, people come to see mountains with their tops on. The mountain-driven tourism industry brings in $15 billion to our state and supports nearly 300,000 jobs. The coal industry, according to independent studies, costs the taxpayers of Tennessee roughly $3 million for the pleasure of hosting them each year, and surface mining employs 300, a number that is falling every year. This type of high-elevation surface mining means that now our miners are being laid off, and the very mountains that define us are being brought down.
This is a simple bill. It says that you can mine all the coal you want, but you have to protect our highest and most precious mountaintops while you are doing so. Mine it underground, or mine it without taking the top off the mountain. No coal is locked away. As long as you can leave the mountain intact, you are free to mine.
So why pass this bill? There are 21 peer-reviewed health studies showing that this type of mining is giving us increased rates of hear disease, lung disease, cancer and birth defects.
When you look at the facts around this bill, ask yourself in your heart of hearts, with a no vote, what am I standing for?
In the mountains we’re taught that you’re free to swing your fist within an inch of my face, any closer than that and you’ve got a problem. And when unborn children in these communities are 42 percent more likely to be born with birth defects, you’ve got a problem. When adults are 54 percent more likely to die of cancer, you’ve got a problem. When 60 miles of Tennessee’s streams are listed as degraded because of coal mining, you’ve got a problem.
You, ladies and gentlemen, can be the solution.
I urge a yes vote on SB 99.”