A publication of Appalachian Voices

A publication of Appalachian Voices

State Legislature Kills Mountaintop Removal Ban Through Delays

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.


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.

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