Posts Tagged ‘Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act’

What’s Happening in Tennessee on Mountaintop Removal Today?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014 - posted by brian

UPDATE: Both bills described in this post, the Scenic Vistas Protection Act and the Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee, remain in committee after yesterday’s hearing and will not be considered again this session. Senator Lowe Finney, who sponsored the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, told committee members that Tennessee needs to “find a way to protect the natural resources and, frankly, the beauty that we have in those mountain ranges across Middle and East Tennessee,” while also supporting jobs and the economy.

Thankfully, the committee also halted the primacy bill, which would allow the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to take over regulation of coal mining in the state from the federal Office of Surface Mining. Appalachian Voices Tennessee Campaign Coordinator Ann League told The Tennessean that the committee took a “sound course of action today on this ill-conceived bill.” We’ll share more news about these bills on Twitter. Follow us @Appvoices.

For the seventh year, Tennessee lawmakers can stand up for mountain communities by voting "yes" on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act. But if a coal industry-backed proposal passes, Tennessee's mountains could be threatened further.

For the seventh year, Tennessee lawmakers can stand up for mountain communities by voting “yes” on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act. But if a coal industry-backed proposal passes, Tennessee’s mountains could be threatened further.

Two important legislative efforts face hurdles in the form of a legislative hearing and committee vote today. Both efforts pertain to coal mining and mountaintop removal. One promotes the health of Tennessee’s mountains and mountain communities, the other would harm them.

First, a rightfully controversial proposal to have the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation take over regulation of coal mining in the state from the federal Office of Surface Mining is being considered in the Senate Committee on Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources today. The committee hearing starts at 3 P.M. EST and can be live streamed here.

Titled the “Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee,” the initiative represents a drain on Tennessee’s financial resources and its natural resources through a weakening of environmental regulations.

The bill, supported by the Tennessee Mining Association and state GOP legislators, calls for a 20-cents-per-ton-tax on coal mined in Tennessee. But that would have to be much higher to come close to covering the costs of the program, which could reach into the millions. As Appalachian Voices’ Ann League wrote in an op-ed in The Tennessean last week, “Tennessee’s annual production of coal is 1.2 million tons, which would yield just $240,000 [under the 20-cents-per-ton-tax] — and coal production is declining.”

Tennessee contributes a negligible amount of coal to national production, and research has found that coal already does more harm than good to the state economy. As written, the proposal makes no economic sense unless you put coal industry profits above the public interest of Tennesseans. If passed, it would reverse a state decision with 30 years of standing.

During the same Senate committee hearing, the legislators will also consider the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill that would protect the state’s highlands by banning mountaintop removal coal mining on the highest ridges of the Cumberland Mountains.

Mountaintop removal threatens one of the primary drivers of tourism in Tennessee: its mountains. The tourism industry generates an economic impact of more than $15 billion and sustains nearly 177,800 jobs. Mountaintop removal’s economic importance to the state pales in comparison — according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in 2012 Tennessee had fewer than 200 surface coal mining jobs.

Despite having broad bipartisan support, the Tennessee legislature has repeatedly ducked the issue of mountaintop removal. Last year, the sixth session during which the bill was considered, legislators in the Senate killed the bill without a vote or allowing testimony from the public. The House likewise deferred the bill with little consideration or time for debate.

The move prompted the Knoxville News-Sentinel to write an editorial opposing mountaintop removal and criticizing legislators for once again shirking their responsibility to the public and the obligation of their posts. “No discussion means no progress in solving an issue that is important to this area.”

For the seventh year in a row, the Tennessee lawmakers have a chance to vote “yes” on protecting mountains and streams, and promoting a sustainable economy for future generations. We hope they do.

Ann League: Coordinating to Protect Tennessee’s Mountains

Thursday, January 30th, 2014 - posted by ann

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I was born in a little South Carolina town nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. When I was five years old, my mother and I traveled to Ohio to visit her family. While there, my Uncle Bill started calling me “hillbilly.” I was very proud of that moniker and I would announce to everyone we encountered during that visit that I was a “hillbilly” from the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When I moved to East Tennessee when I was 16, I quickly fell in love with the region. It felt like home, especially the Cumberland Mountains. That love has strengthened over the years, which is why I am so excited to join Appalachian Voices to coordinate our organization’s Tennessee campaign.

In 2003, a large cross-ridge mine was permitted on Zeb Mountain in Campbell County. I was living on the mountain adjacent to Zeb Mountain at the time and could see it from my deck — it was my backyard. As the mining progressed on Zeb, I started doing weekly surveys and water testing with other community members on several of the streams coming off of the mine permit area. Month to month and year to year, I witnessed the steady degradation of those beautiful mountain streams as they were strangled by the sediment produced by the blasting on the mountaintop above.

I watched coal trucks race each other on the narrow twisting mountain highway that passed by an elementary school. I saw state and federal violations rack up, most of them concerning water quality. But too many fines were suspended for years and appealed by the coal company, so little or no payment was ever collected.

I watched my well water turn orange, and we started using bottled water to cook with and drink. I saw my windows rattle and my doors move from the massive explosive blasts used to blow apart the top of the mountain to get to a thin seam of coal. I started working to protect Tennessee’s mountains from mountaintop removal coal mining more than 10 years ago because it was personal for me.

I don’t live in Campbell County anymore, but it is still personal to me and I will continue to fight mountaintop removal because the mountains of Tennessee will always be in my heart and in my backyard.

Do you live in Tennessee and share Ann’s love of mountains? Click here to ask your representatives to co-sponsor the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act.

Tennessee Tuesday: What Do We Do Now?

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013 - posted by jw

This is a post about how we can improve life for Tennesseans, protect an American culture that has endured for centuries, and promote our beloved Appalachian Mountains that once stood higher than the Himalayas, and are now threatened by mountaintop removal coal mining.

Tennessee Tuesdays is a new weekly feature on the Appalachian Voices Front Porch blog. While our main goal is to end mountaintop removal, we also hope to spread the gospel of hope, bring light to issues facing Tennesseans, and offer solutions on how we can move our state toward a cleaner and more energy efficient future.

Are you from Tennessee or nearby? Introduce yourself in the comments and let us know what you’d like to hear about. For now, welcome! Have a cup of coffee and take a minute to enjoy your Tennessee Tuesday.

What’s been happening in Tennessee lately?

Tennessee Legislature 2013
My home state has been in the national news a lot the last few months and not for the greatest reasons. Our legislature was constant fodder for late night comedians (catch Daily Show and Colbert’s greatest Tennessee hits here, here, and here) and was generally considered a bumbling embarrassment for most Tennesseans who don’t respond to “Senator.”
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What We Weren’t Allowed to Say

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 - posted by jw

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

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

Lawmakers to hold hearings on Scenic Vistas bill on heels of ad campaign from conservatives

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 - posted by brian

Press Advisory
Appalachian Voices

March 19, 2013
Contact: JW Randolph, Tennessee Director, 202-669-3670; jw@appvoices.org

“This is a golden moment for Tennessee, with elected leaders on both sides of the aisle in strong favor of this legislation to protect our mountains, our homeland, from those who would destroy it for short-term gain, whether they are from China or Chattanooga.” - JW Randolph, Tennessee director for Appalachian Voices

Nashville – Tennessee Senate and House panels are scheduled tomorrow to consider bi-partisan companion bills that protect mountain forests on the Cumberland Plateau by effectively prohibiting new surface coal mining on ridgelines above 2,000 feet.

The Scenic Vistas Protection Act is the subject of a statewide ad campaign launched today by the Tennessee Conservative Union, which supports the bill, revealing that, for the first time anywhere in the U.S., a Chinese company plans to use mountaintop removal to mine the plateau. View the ad here.

Last year, the Tennessee Senate became the first state or federal legislative body to send an anti-mountaintop removal bill to the floor. Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 500 mountains and buried or poisoned more than 2,000 miles of streams throughout Appalachia, including Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau.

• The Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will take up SB99 at 9:30 a.m. (CST) tomorrow.
• The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee will take up HB43 at 1:30 p.m. (CST) tomorrow.
• The bill summary can be found here.

“This is really a golden moment for Tennessee, with elected leaders on both sides of the aisle in strong favor of this landmark legislation to protect our mountains, our homeland, from those who would destroy it for short-term gain, whether they are from China or Chattanooga,” said JW Randolph, Tennessee director for Appalachian Voices. The nonprofit group has been working on this legislation package for almost two years along with numerous other organizations from a broad spectrum of interests, including conservationists, the faith community, the tourism sector, and many others.

** JW Randolph is available by cell and email today. He has been confirmed to present testimony at the House subcommittee meeting tomorrow and will available for press statement throughout the day. **

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Appalachian Voices is an award-winning, environmental non-profit committed to protecting the natural resources of central and southern Appalachia, focusing on reducing coal’s impact on the region and advancing our vision for a cleaner energy future. Founded in 1997, we are headquartered in Boone, N.C. with offices in Charlottesville, Va.; Nashville, Tn. and Washington, D.C.

WEB: www.AppalachianVoices.org
FACEBOOK: www.Facebook.com/AppalachianVoices
TWITTER: www.twitter.com/appvoices

Organizational Roundup

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 - posted by Jil

Teaming Up For Virginia

Appalachian Voices’ Virginia campaign team partnered with Downstream Strategies to help in their research for a report that details how the coal industry is reaping huge benefits from the Commonwealth of Virginia each year. Released in mid-December, “The Impact of Coal on the Virginia State Budget” reveals that Virginia taxpayers have been boosting profits for the coal industry with tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies every year — and costing the state $22 million in 2009 alone. The study also included several recommendations for shifting the state’s funding priorities to diversify the economy of coal-dependant southwest Virginia, projecting that $320 million funneled from the current coal subsidies over the next two decades could instead go to much-needed community economic development projects. To see the full report, visit appvoices.org/press.

Young Advocates Raise Their Voices for the Mountains

Eight young advocates from Appalachia teamed up with Appalachian Voices and iLoveMountains in December to produce a special video about mountaintop removal coal mining. In impassioned pleas, the youngsters spoke of how kids and adults living near mountaintop removal have a lower life expectancy, a higher risk of birth defects and a greater chance of contracting life-threatening illnesses than residents of other areas in the country. Watch this important video and take action to ask President Obama to end mountaintop removal mining NOW. Visit appvoices.org/no-more-excuses.

Finding the Coal Ash Ponds Near You

In a project critical for the health of all Americans, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, Appalachian Voices, Southern Environmental Law Center and NC Conservation Network have launched a comprehensive new web-based tool that allows residents to find specific information about coal ash impoundments near their communities. The site includes information on the health threats, safety ratings of individual impoundments and how residents can advocate for strong federal safeguards. Visit: southeastcoalash.org.

App Voices Supports State Solutions

In Tennessee and Virginia, Appalachian Voices is supporting legislative efforts to end mountaintop removal and expand renewable energy. The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act was recently reintroduced by Rep. Gloria Johnson, a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. With broad bipartisan support, the bill could lead the Tennessee state legislature and Gov. Bill Haslam to be the first state to ban mountaintop removal. In Virginia, Appalachian Voices supports changing the state’s voluntary Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to require to wind and solar energy be constructed in Virginia. The state’s 2007 voluntary standard has benefited utilities more than ratepayers by awarding them bonuses without expanding renewables in the commonwealth.

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

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 - posted by Appalachian Voices

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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State Legislature Kills Mountaintop Removal Ban Through Delays

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 - posted by Madison

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.

Newsbites

Fly Ash Lawsuit Refiled Against Dominion Virginia Power

More than 400 residents near the Battlefield Golf Club in Chesapeake, Va., refiled a lawsuit this February asking for $2 billion in damages related to water contamination from the coal ash on which the course was built. The Virginian-Pilot reported that court records show well water testing with elevated levels of toxic substances — including lead, vanadium, cobalt and cadmium.

Coal Plant Shutdowns

GenOn Energy will shut down seven coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania and Ohio after a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruling forced the utility to greatly reduce the plants’ sulfur dioxide emissions. In Chicago, Midwest Generation agreed to shut down its two plants in exchange for community groups dropping lawsuits against the company.

Coal’s Share of U.S. Electricity Generation Falls to 35-Year Low

Competition from natural gas and mild weather contributed to a 35-year low in the share of U.S. power generated from coal. Although coal still generates the largest share of electricity in the country, its share of monthly power generation dropped below 40 percent in November and December, 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Premium Coal Fined For New River Damage

In response to a Jan. 1 coal slurry spill into Tennessee’s New River, the state Department of Environment and Conservation has levied a fine of up to $196,000 against Premium Coal. The company has until April 21 to appeal the fine.

OSM/BLM Merger Moves Ahead

On March 12, the U.S. Department of Interior announced it would move forward with the consolidation of the Office of Surface Mining into the Bureau of Land Management. Proponents say the move will generate savings, while critics say OSM needs to remain an independent agency to be effective.

Alpha Named Most Controversial Mining Company

Alpha Natural Resources took the top spot recently when RepRisk, a firm specializing in environmental and social risk, released a report ranking the world’s most controversial mining companies. The report was released just days after Alpha Chairman Michael J. Quillen announced he was stepping down.

Penn Students Pass Resolution Against Mountaintop Removal

The University of Pennsylvania Undergraduate Assembly passed a resolution on Feb. 21, urging the university to reevaluate its relationship with longtime partner and coal supporter PNC Bank. The resolution by the Penn Community Against Mountaintop Removal, passed with a vote of 20-4.

UBB Mine Manager Charged

Massey mine superintendent Carl May was charged with conspiracy in February for violating mine safety laws in the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch facility in Raleigh County, W.Va. Federal prosecutors allege that May and others knowingly put coal production ahead of worker safety on numerous occasions.

TN Legislators Miss Another Opportunity to Protect State’s Mountains

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012 - posted by Appalachian Voices

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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