(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.
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….
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.]
The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, introduced by state Sen. Eric Stewart, was designed to stop surface coal mining that alters or disturbs a ridgeline over 2,000 feet of elevation, effectively banning mountaintop removal coal mining in the state.
On Wed., Feb. 29 the State Senate Energy and Environment committee voted 8-1 to approve an amendment that gutted the bill. The amendment changed the definition of mountaintop removal coal mining to exclude all except the most extreme cases from falling under the “prohibited” category as defined by the original bill.
“In a disappointing move for the Tennessee mountains, special interests in the Tennessee Senate voted today to allow the continued devastation of the state’s scenic peaks and cultural heritage. The amendments to the Scenic Vistas Protection Act removed the original language of the bill and replaced it with a definition that will essentially do nothing to protect the citizens of Tennessee. But, as state Sen. Eric Stewart said, this bill will be back every year until Tennessee mountains are protected.
Tennesseans won’t be fooled by smokescreens and are not concerned by technical definitions of mountaintop removal coal mining. They want to see the destruction of their mountains stopped. The political power of the coal industry in Tennessee has long outlived its ability to create jobs or prosperity in the region. Coal mining actually costs Tennessee taxpayers a net loss of $3 million a year, while the state’s mountain-based tourism industry employs 175,000 people and brings in more than $13 billion to Tennessee annually.
The Tennessee legislature has passed on a historic opportunity to stop the destruction of its mountains and cultural heritage. Citizen advocates and folks in the grassroots who want to protect the mountains will take this fight to the senate floor to ensure that this bill that Tennesseans have been clamouring to pass is meaningful in protecting Appalachian mountains and communities.”
– J.W. Randolph, Tennessee Director of Appalachian Voices
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.
(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
Mountaintop Removal is Destroying Our Proud Mountains. Now TN is Fighting Back.
Advocates of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act are raising the bar with a powerful new television ad asking Tennesseans to contact their state elected officials in support of the bill. The ad will be running statewide on Fox News, with heavy buys in strategically targeted legislative districts.
See the ad for the first time here:
If you live in Tennessee, call Governor Haslam (615-741-2001). He opposed mountaintop removal in the campaign. Tell him that now is the time to act to protect our mountains from mountaintop removal.
In addition please call your TN State Senator(1-800-449-8366) and ask them to support the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act.
The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection act would eliminate high-elevation surface mining techniques – such as mountaintop removal – above 2,000 feet of elevation in the state of Tennessee. The legislature is expected to take the bill up later this session.
Tennessee has got the ball rolling as many anti-mountaintop removal allies are writing in to their local newspapers to get their voices heard.The mountains of Appalachia are some of the oldest and most beautiful found in the U.S., and they are being slowly destroyed by mountaintop removal.
The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act is a bipartisan bill that will prohibit surface mining at elevations higher than 2,000 ft. If this bill is passed, there will be NO more mountaintop removal in Tennessee, and it will also be the first state to ban mountaintop removal.
Tennessee State Senator Berke and Representative McDonald Introduce Legislation That Will Protect Tennessee’s Mountains, Waters, and Public Health. Appalachian Voices Urges TN Legislature to Support This Bill.
Appalachian Voices and other allies across Tennessee, including “Statewide Organizing For Community eMpowerment” (i.e. “SOCM“) were successful in working with the Tennessee Legislature to file a bill that will ban surface coal mining on the Sewanee coal seam. The Sewanee seam runs from Kentucky to Alabama and is the most toxic seam east of the Mississippi River. So far, there has been no way to mine on the seam that protect citizens and waterways from acid mine drainage.
There is currently no coal production on the Sewanee, all the more reason for the legislature to act now. Appalachian Voices believes that the Sewanee seam should stay undisturbed, mainly due to potential hazardous impacts on waterways and on the health of those of us living downstream.
Wanda Hodge, who lives on Walden’s Ridge, says:
The communities that would be impacted by acid mine drainage from the Sewanee can not afford the thousands and thousands of dollars it would take to lobby the Water Quality Board or can they necessarily afford to take off from work to address the board if the Commissioner decides that mining could happen in the Sewanee.
One foreign company (Novadx from Canada) is already speculating on the Sewanee seam. Tennesseans can not afford another out-of-state, out-of-country company that comes in and leaves our communities with nothing but poisoned water while sending our mountains and our money out of state.
SOCM’s Landon Medley gives an overview of the impacts from previous mining on the Sewanee coal seam:
There are presently four water treatment trust fund sites in the state of Tennessee. A trust fund site is where the water has to be treated “in Perpetuity” because of impacts from mining. Not every single trust fund site is a result of acid mine drainage, but of the 22 sites identified as “future Trust Fund” sites, 17 are in the Sewanee coal seam.
Tennesseans can take action by calling their state Senators and asking them to become a sponsor of Senator Berke’s Sewanee Coal Seam Prohibition bill.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam opposed mountaintop removal during his gubernatorial campaign. Now is the time for him to put action to those words
Appalachian Voices is working around the clock to pass the Tennessee Scenic Vistas legislation. This bill would make Tennessee the first state to ban mountaintop removal by ending surface mining over 2,000 feet of elevation. We sent the following letter to Governor Haslam urging him to put action to his words against mountaintop removal
Tennessee has lost 85% of its mining jobs since 1985 due to an increase in the percentage of production that comes from surface mining, as well as an overall decline in production. 95% of the high-elevation surface mines in the state are owned by out of state coal operators. Meanwhile, our mountain-based tourism industry employs 175,000 people and brings in more than $13 billion to Tennessee every year.