The Front Porch Blog, with Updates from AppalachiaThe Front Porch Blog, with Updates from Appalachia

What We Weren’t Allowed to Say

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 2 Comments

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.

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Protecting Tennessee’s mountains? Not worth the Senate’s time.

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Despite broad citizen and political support for a bill protecting Tennessee’s mountains, the state Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee today decided to not even allow public testimony on the measure and instead killed the bill.

SB99, the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, was slated to be heard by the committee during its usual meeting time at 9:30 (CST) this morning. The bill would prohibit mountaintop removal coal mining from ridges above 2,000 feet on the Cumberland Plateau.

Along with our good friend Ann League, a resident and property owner in Tennessee’s coal-bearing region, I had been scheduled to testify before the committee. But just as we were called up to speak, the chairman stopped us short. Several Members had left the room, and when none of the committee members offered a motion on the bill, the Chairman declared the bill dead, and we were not allowed to speak.

Despite the fact that Tennesseans from the left, right and center, and from a broad array of interests have come together to protect our mountains, our voices were silenced.

Instead, the senators chose to side with the coal industry whose political influence has long outlasted its ability to grow jobs in our state or protect the health and well-being of citizens in the coal region.

Two senators who have generally supported mountain protection, Ophelia Ford and Jim Summerville, didn’t come to the meeting, and a third, Charlotte Burks, who has voted for the bill in the past, left.

Update: We’ve posted my prepared statement here, and a powerful speech by Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) here. The news has been picked up by outlets worldwide including Chinese television, Switzerland, Singapore, Businessweek, NBC News in states from coast-to-coast, and in dozens of outlets across Tennessee. Local blog Nooga.Com has a great summary

Tennessee Votes on Scenic Vistas Tomorrow. CALL TODAY!

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 | Posted by JW Randolph | 2 Comments

Call today and Urge Tennessee Legislators to Protect the Beauty and Economic Vitality of the Cumberland Plateau.

Tennessee legislators are scheduled to take up a critical vote tomorrow on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act — a good bill with broad, bipartisan support that would help one of Tennessee’s most important assets – our mountains.

Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) will be carrying the bill (HB 43 / SB 99) in the House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Senator Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) in the Senate Committee on Energy, Agriculture, and Natural Resources.

Appalachian Voices urges you to call committee members and ask them to support the common sense “Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act (HB 43 / SB 99)“.

Chairman Ron Lollar (R-Bartlett) / 615-741- 7084
Curtis Halford (R-Dyer) / 615-741-7478
Andy Holt (R-Dresden) / 615-741-7847
Judd Matheny (R-Tullahoma) / 615-741-7448
Billy Spivey (R-Franklin) / 615-741-4170
John Tidwell (D-New Johnsonville) / 615-741-7098
Ron Travis (R-Dayton) / 615-741-1450
Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville) / 615-741-1997 [This is a “Thank you!” as Representative Gilmore is a cosponsor of the Scenic Vistas bill.]

Chairman Steve Southerland (R-Morristown)/615-741-3851
Mae Beavers (R-Mt Juliet)/ 615-741-2421
Jim Summerville (R-Dickson) / 615-741-4499
Mike Bell (R-Riceville) / 615-741-1946
Charlotte Burks (D-Monterey) / 615-741-3978
Ophelia Ford (D-Memphis) / 615-741-1767
Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) / 615-741-6682
Dolores Gresham (R-Somerville) / 615-741-2368
Frank Niceley (R-Knoxville) / 615-741-2061

Tell these legislators your name and let them know you are a Tennessean who cares about protecting our mountains. And please pass this along, so that legislators hear from as many Tennesseans as possible.

Talking points and bill information below… (more…)

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“I’m Here Because I Love Mountains:” Watch a speech by Appalachian Voices’ JW Randolph

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 | Posted by | 10 Comments

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.

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TN Legislators Miss Another Opportunity to Protect State’s Mountains

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 | Posted by | No Comments

House Subcommittee Kills Mountaintop Removal Ban
With Delay Tactic

In yet another act of political cowardice on the issue of mountaintop removal coal mining, a Tennessee House subcommittee voted to kill the Scenic Vistas Protection Act and for the second time to send it to summer study.

Despite a passionate plea by bill sponsor Rep. Michael Ray McDonald, the Conservation and Environment Subcommittee voted 6 to 4 to avoid a direct vote and instead condemn the bill to a summer study session which has no authority to vote on legislation. Representatives Richard Floyd, David Hawk, Ron Lollar, Pat Marsh, Frank Niceley and John C. Tidwell all cast pro-mountaintop removal votes. Representatives who voted to hear the bill were Charles Curtiss, Brenda Gilmore, Mike Kernell and Art Swann.

“When this bill was introduced in 2008 there were 5 mountains permitted for surface coal mining above two thousand feet in Tennessee. Now there are 13,” Rep. McDonald said to the subcommittee. “We have lost eight mountains since 2008 by delaying. If we don’t vote this year, we will lose more mountains. Without our mountains, Tennessee is not Tennessee.”

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Critical Vote Today in Tennessee Legislature

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Mountaintop Removal Makes Us Sick, Takes Away Our Jobs, and Destroys Our Mountains. What Else is Left to Study?

The Scenic Vistas Protection Act is closer to passage than ever before. TODAY (Mar. 27) at 12 p.m. CST, the Tennessee House Environment Subcommittee will vote on whether or not to protect Tennessee’s mountains from the damages of mountaintop removal coal mining.

One tactic that the coal lobby is using is to push for delay into “summer study,” with Representatives saying that they need more information on the issue. But there’s a problem with their line of thinking. First, this bill has been around for 5 years. They’ve had time to read it, consider it, and study it. Heck, they’ve had time to etch it into stone if they want. Its not a new bill.


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WOW! More than Two Dozen Republicans, Democrats, and Independents Cosponsor Scenic Vistas Act

Monday, March 26th, 2012 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

New Cosponsors Swarming as Advocates Prepare for Critical Test Tuesday

Tonight a host of House Republicans, Democrats, and the state’s sole elected Independent signed on as cosponsors of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, signaling an unprecedented shift in momentum for our efforts to protect Tennessee’s Mountains. The bill is scheduled for a critical vote tomorrow (3/27) at 1PM EST in the House Environment Subcommittee.

A big Appalachian THANK YOU to the new cosponsors of the Scenic Vistas Act, listed below…

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Tennessee Senate Dodges Historic Vote on Mountaintop Removal

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012 | Posted by | No Comments

March 13, 2012

Tennessee Senate Dodges Historic
Vote on Mountaintop Removal

Scenic Vistas Act Delayed, House Subcommittee Vote Up Next

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CONTACT: JW Randolph, Tennessee Director, 615-592-6867,
Molly Moore, Public Outreach Associate, 828-262-1500,
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During a Monday night legislative session, the Tennessee Senate avoided an outright vote on a bill to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in the state, choosing instead to delay.

State senators voted 19-14 to delay a floor vote on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act — a bill that has been active in the Tennessee Assembly for the past five years — until April 2.

“[This] vote was a calculated act of political cowardice,” said J.W. Randolph, Tennessee Director for environmental organization Appalachian Voices. “Senators chose to delay the bill hoping it will die in the House, rather than stepping forward to protect Tennessee’s historic mountains from the destructive practice of mountaintop removal.”


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Prominent Citizens Speak Up To Protect Tennessee Scenic Vistas

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 | Posted by JW Randolph | 1 Comment

(Clockwise from top): Victor Ashe, Rev. Gradye Parsons, Anne Davis

Prominent Tennessee citizens are lending their voices of support to the original language of the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill currently in the state legislature that is aimed to stop mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee.

In the state’s top daily newspaper, The Nashville Tennessean, an editorial by former long-time Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe and Southern Environmental Law Center managing attorney Anne David called for state officials to pass the Scenic Vistas bill in its original language to protect the mountain heritage of Tennessee.

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Update on Mountain Advocacy in Tennessee Legislature

Sunday, March 4th, 2012 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Dawn Coppock, Legislative Director of LEAF has a spot-on letter in the Knoxville News Sentinel. Reprinted below.

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….


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What Happened in the Tennessee Legislature Today?

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012 | Posted by JW Randolph | 10 Comments

Mountaintop Removal Bill Goes to the Senate Floor

We’re still alive! Appalachian Voices and other Tennessee coalition partners have moved the conversation on banning mountaintop removal to the floor of the Tennessee State Senate. The Senate Energy and Environment Committee this morning vote 8-1 to move a bill forward.

BUT, its a bit complicated. Before what we call the “Scenic Vistas Protection Act” was passed from Committee, the title and language of the bill were gutted via an amendment offered by Senator Mike Bell (R) of Polk County. Senator Bell’s amendment erased the bill language as written and inserted a very narrow definition of mountaintop removal that will – by Senator Bell’s own admission – have little if any impact here in Tennessee. The amendment was written behind closed doors, and no one was allowed to see it prior to the actual hearing, even the sponsor of the Scenic Vistas bill, Senator Stewart. Senator Bell’s amendment was actually handed to the members during the committee hearing, giving them no chance to review its impacts. However, there was complete consensus that the members of the Committee wanted to get the issue of mountaintop removal off of their backs. Their phone-lines have been off the hook this week with people asking them to pass the Scenic Vistas Protection Act.

After the amendment was added, the bill sailed through unanimously with the exception of Senator Beverly Marerro, a great mountain advocate who voted against the final bill because of how badly the original bill had been gutted.

Needless to say, the bill as passed is not the Scenic Vistas bill. It is, as we say – a marshmellow – with essentially zero value. It is a blank slate which allows us to take up the conversation of mountaintop removal with the entire 33 member Tennessee State Senate. An amended bill is not the very best scenario that we could have faced, but it isn’t a bad position to be in. For the first time in history, to my knowledge, a mountaintop removal ban will be heard in its entirety on the Senate floor of a state legislative body.

While we are terribly disappointed by the mockery of the legislative process made by Senator Bell, the fact is that the bill could have died in Committee today, or it could have moved to the floor. We now have a chance to go to the floor of the Tennessee State Senate and have a conversation about mountaintop removal, while trying to add some meaningful language back into this bill.

This critical conversation continues, and we need to make sure all Tennesseans step up the pressure and contact their state Senators to let them know that they want to protect our mountaintops in the state of Tennessee by adding meaningful, powerful language back to the bill that will protect our mountaintops and our Appalachian citizens.

An image of the Bell amendment is below the fold, and you can watch the full committee meeting here:
[Note, embedded video is not working for some users. You might try the original site here.]

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Tennessee Coal Industry Should Read the Bill

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012 | Posted by JW Randolph | No Comments

Why does the coal industry need to make things up? Because they are on the wrong side of the facts, they are on the wrong side of public opinion, and they are on the wrong side of history. Fortunately, they don’t have a defensible case to continue doing mountaintop removal here in Tennessee. Unfortunately, too many legislators are easily swayed by their misinformation.

The text of the legislation clearly states:

(2) Except as provided in subdivision (3) under no circumstances shall the commissioner issue or renew a permit, certification, or variance that would allow surface coal mining operations to alter or disturb any ridgeline that is above two thousand feet (2,000′) elevation above sea level, such elevation being determined using the most current edition of the United States forest service’s publication, Ecological Subregions of the United States. This subdivision (2) does not prohibit any otherwise allowable surface coal mining above two thousand feet (2,000′) elevation above sea level that does not alter or disturb a ridgeline.

The rest of the bill is mostly exemptions and things which the language will not effect. Who are the legislators going to side with? A hired coal lobbyist, who is making up things about the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, or the majority of the Appalachian and American people who are sick of seeing are mountains torn down!

We’ll know tomorrow morning (2/29) at 11:30eastern/10:30Central. If you can, take 5 minutes and call the Committee members this morning. Tell them you support the Scenic Vistas Protection Act and want them to vote YES.

Senate Energy and Environment Committee
Senator Steve Southerland, Chair – Phone (615) 741-3851
Senator Jack Johnson, Vice-Chair – Phone (615) 741-2495
Senator Jim Summerville, Secretary – Phone (615) 741-4499
Senator Mike Bell – Phone (615) 741-1946
Senator Mike Faulk – Phone (615) 741-2061
Senator Kerry Roberts – Phone (615) 741-1999