Mountaintop Mining Boycott Sparks Backlash in Tennessee

If the out-of-state mining companies boycotting Tennessee for not allowing its mountains to be blown up expected sympathy for their lame-brained stunt, they got a wake-up call this morning in the form of blistering editorials in two of Tennessee's leading newspapers.

The Chattanooga Times-Free Press minces no words by labeling mountaintop removal coal mining "an irreligious and immoral assault on some of the most beautiful and valuable mountains and valleys in this country."  The editorial kicks off with a literary roundhouse kick:

Among the most destructive environmental abuses in this nation, the most deliberate, unconscionable and widespread has to be the form of coal-mining known as "mountain-top removal" mining.  Indeed, "mining" is hardly the word for this premeditated, callously calculated, man-made catastrophe.

A few men using enormous amounts of explosives essentially blow away the top of southern Appalachian mountains, sending tsunami-like cascades of rocks, trees and debris into the valleys below.  The crushing avalanche chokes and poisons streams and wells that long have nourished valley towns and farms and wildlife habitat -- all to expose coal seams that soon will be depleted.

And when they finish scrapping off the coal -- coal that should be mined by customary deep-shaft mine methods, and would employ far more miners if so taken -- the mountain destroyers merely shove back an unstable pile of rocks.  Where the mountain and forests and wildlife used to be, they end up planting Japanese bunch grass, the only vegetation that still may grow on theses pitiful sites.

The editorial rightly points out that coal companies opt to decapitate Appalachian mountains because there is more profit in simply dumping mining waste into streams -- thereby "dumping the costs onto the public and the environment."  As for the "nasty" campaign engineered by disgruntled coal companies, the paper calls on Tennesseans to reject it and instead to applaud Sen. Lamar Alexander for recognizing that "tourism is far more lucrative to mountain communities than mining."  The editorial closes with this clarion call of warranted redundancy:

Mountaintop removal mining should be banned.  It employs far fewer miners than traditional mining practices, and its environmental costs are vast.  It has already destroyed scores of mountain tops and over 2,000 miles of valley streams and the communities they support.  It should be banned as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the headline of the Knoxville News-Sentinel editorial says it all: Tennessee needs tourists but not threats.

The editorial lauds Sen. Alexander's legislation to ban mountaintop removal, saying it "strikes a mighty blow for environmentalism and Tennessee tourism in one big swing."  Noting that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains, the paper calls the ill-conceived boycott by miners a public relations disaster in the making.  The editorial further explains:

Tourism has a $14 billion impact in Tennessee, state tourism officials say, and the Volunteer State welcomes more than 50 million visitors each year.  Thus, any boycott or threat of a boycott deserves some notice, including one that is puzzling, even in difficult economic times: Let us blow up your mountaintops, mar your landscape and pollute those mountain streams, and we'll visit your state and its tourist attractions.

(This cartoon appeared on July 30th in Knoxville News-Sentinel. Republished here by permission of Charlie Daniel.)

During the doldrums of summer, it appears the slow news cycle that initially gifted the "mad miner" protest with undue attention is about to bite back with a slew of negative press coverage.  This ought to be fun to watch.  Thus far the score is Tennessee mountains = 1 and mountaintop-removers = 0.