Defending Dolly from Big Coal Bullies

Everyone knows that Dolly Parton is still working 9-to-5, just to try to make a living.  But some Big Coal bad-guys, out to make a political statement, are aiming their fire at the reigning queen of country music. 

A few weeks ago, a handful of coal companies based over the border from Tennessee launched a boycott of Dollywood -- and other popular Volunteer State vacation spots -- in order to send a message to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), co-sponsor of the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696), a bi-partisan bill that would effectively ban the world's worst strip mining: mountaintop removal.

Sen. Alexander told the Knoxville News-Sentinel that he's just trying to save Tennessee's beloved mountaintops, which attract tourists who spend millions each year to come and see them.  His bill would do nothing to stop coal mining; it's meant to protect water quality by stopping coal companies from dumping toxic mining waste into valley streams, which is poisoning drinking water and killing fish throughout Appalachia. 

Ever the Southern gentleman, Sen. Alexander put this petty coal industry protest in perspective:  "Sounds like they are saying we are not going to see you unless you let us blow off the top of your mountains and dump them in streams and that's a pretty unusual message."

This misguided boycott is akin to a neighbor refusing your dinner invitation unless you agree to let him break the dishes and steal the silverware. 

At a time when so many are hoping for a way out of their economic hardship, it's downright shameful that out-of-state coal companies are encouraging employees to further inflict harm on Tennessee's local tourist-based businesses.

It's especially outrageous to single out Dolly Parton -- not just because she's an American icon, a successful singer/song-writer, an award-winning actress, and a savvy businesswoman who still retains her small-town values, but because she herself hails from the coalfields.  Indeed, the life of the "first lady of country music" started out in the kind of abject poverty that sounds like a country song.  She grew up alongside 11 siblings in East Tennessee's Appalachian Mountains, in a tin-roofed shack with no electricity, running water or phone.  By sheer talent and hard work, she succeeded beyond her own wildest dreams as an entertainer.

Recently, I enjoyed watching Dolly interviewed on "60 Minutes" about her career, her humble beginnings, and her efforts to use her business skills to help improve the lives of others in the surrounding mountain communities where she still makes her home.

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To attack Dolly Parton, and all she means to her millions of fans and the hard-working, patriotic values she embodies, is not just rude and selfish -- it's frankly unAmerican.

Lest anyone think I'm exaggerating the scorn heaped upon her, the self-proclaimed boycott organizer has admitted to his group's calculated attack.  "I'd like very much to speak with Dolly herself," Roger Horton of Citizens for Coal told the Knoxville News-Sentinel.  "Our miners spend a lot of money down there. Dollywood is a beautiful place to go and we would like to continue visiting, but in good faith we just can't do it right now."

Well, that's fine.  A handful of miners hell-bent on turning mountains into moonscapes may not visit Tennessee, but you can.  Whether you're a fan of Dolly's or someone who believes that America's mountains are worth saving, NRDC urges you to show your love by showing Tennessee the money.  Visit Dollywood...hike the Great Smokey Mountains...tour Graceland...hit Nashville's "music row"...there's so much to see and do!  And after you visit, be sure to mail a postcard, your receipts or even ticket stubs to Sen. Lamar Alexander thanking him for all he's doing to protect the Appalachian Mountains for future generations of Americans. 

Send to:

The Honorable Lamar Alexander

U.S. Senate

455 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Whether you live in Tennessee, visit the state or just appreciate what Sen. Alexander is doing, take a moment to email him a note of thanks.  And be sure to urge your senators to support the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696). 

Do it for Dolly.