Front Porch Blog

What Happened in the Tennessee Legislature Today?

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.]

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Senator Bell’s marshmellow amendment to what was once the Scenic Vistas Protection Act.





Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Ross on March 5, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Wow, that is really watered down. This language only addresses the placing of overburden in streams, and does not even prohibit MTR outright above any particular elevation. Technically, they could place overburden outside of streams and still even perform MTR. There are not many scenarios that they could do this, but it is still legal.

  2. jw on March 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    Hi Carol,

    A few folks have reported that the embedded video is not working. I’m not sure why, but the GA video codes seem a bit buggy.

    Regardless, you might try the original site here:

    Best luck, and thanks for your readership!


  3. Carol L on March 1, 2012 at 8:18 pm

    3/1/12 @ 8:17 pm: I can’t see or hear the video of the full committee meeting. Is it a browser issue? Can others see and hear it?


  4. jw on March 1, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Enviro, you raise a good point. We’re not trying to play semantics. Some coal companies are removing our mountaintops here in Tennessee (see:, and whatever you want to call it, that is what we are working to stop. Thats what the original version of the Scenic Vistas bill would do on peaks over 2,000 feet. As amended, the new bill – by admission of the amendment’s sponsor – has little (if any) effect on destructive mining practices in Tennessee.

  5. Enviro on March 1, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I don’t understand the concern. The bill bans MTR as defined by SMCRA. That is what MTR is.

  6. jw on March 1, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Agree vibinc. Senator Marerro is a phenomenal human being, and always a wonderful person to be around. We’ll continue to push hard in the media, and thanks for your good work.

  7. vibinc on March 1, 2012 at 6:57 am

    A couple of things:

    1. Getting a bill, that the majority party doesn’t want out of committee is huge. Sure, they gutted it with the amendment, but that’s a test. If you keep the pressure up, they’ll break, this was the first bend.

    2. Part of keeping that pressure up is OWNING the media on this. Don’t allow opponents of the bill you’re supporting (the original language) to falsely claim they’re “doing something about MTR”. They’re not. This is how they try to take the wind out of your sails. Make sure the public knows that this bill, as amended, does next to nothing.

    3. Hold ’em accountable. Make sure everyone knows who’s for real protections and who’s not.

    4. Most importantly, keep pushing. You guys are doing great.

    ** Big ups to my State Senator, Beverly Marerro. She’s never afraid to call it like she sees it.

  8. gloria on February 29, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    Good to get the bill out of sub committee, at last.

  9. jw on February 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Thank you Heather. That should be fixed.

  10. Heather on February 29, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    The video is only 58 seconds long.

Leave a Comment