Tennesseans Blast Mountaintop Mining Boycott

The tide of public opinion continues to turn against the coal industry's boycott of Tennessee.  As ludicrous as it seems, what's ticking off the mining companies  is that Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is co-sponsoring bi-partisan legislation to protect Appalachian waterways from mining pollution.  The industry sees this -- rightly so -- as a threat to its ability to blow up mountains to access thin coal seems, and then to dump the leftover tons of rubble, dirt and debris directly into valley streams.

So, in effect, the out-of-state mountaintop miners are trying to economically punish Tennessee for not allowing its precious mountains -- a significant source of the state's annual $14 billion tourist industry -- to be sacrificed for the sake of Big Coal's short-term profits.

This is a great time to express your appreciation to local business in Tennessee for supporting efforts to protect the state's mountains. Go here to take action.

Fortunately, today the Tennessean newspaper tore into the mining industry with not not one, not two, but three denunciations of the short-sighted coal bullies' boycott.

Tennessee's Natural Treasure

In an editorial, the paper declares:  State won't give up natural treasure.  It goes on to say that that Tennessee's mountains "are not only a source of state pride; they are a national treasure" and points out that "the sight of  these peaks, far older than the Rockies, makes it almost inconceivable that anyone would want to blast away their mountaintops, dumping the debris into the verdant valleys below."

The editorial calls mountaintop removal coal mining "deplorable" and praises Sen. Alexander for "standing in the way" of those who wish to destroy Tennesse's prized peaks.  Also noted is the fact that only about 500 coal miners work in Tennessee, producing just 2.3 million tons of coal last year -- compared to 158 million tons in West Virginia and 120 million tons in Kentucky.

The editorial also explains that Alexander's bill does absolutely nothing to stop other types of surface mining:  "Coal companies can extract plenty of coal through those means, but many prefer mountaintop removal because it's quicker and cheaper."  Therefore, far from hurting coal miners, Tennessee "simply doesn't feel that irreparable damage to its scenic beauty and valley ecosystems is a fair exchange for coal companies boosting their profits."  The piece also raises the question of how reducing mountaintops to rubble could do anything but discourage visitors to Tennessee?

The editorial ends powerfully:

The mining industry is powerful in West Virginia and Kentucky, which together are home to nearly half of the nation's 81,000 miners.  More than any others, those states bear the scars of their sometimes-harmful practices.  Tennesseans, with the help of Sen. Alexander, are signaling that they will reject destruction of its mountains.  They will still be standing, when miners are ready to relent and visit the Volunteer State once again.

Mountains Are Irreplaceable

Also featured in the Tennessean is a guest column by Walt Baker, chief executive of the Tennessee Hospitality Association.  Mr. Baker invokes the 75th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the country and "the heart of Tennessee's $14.2 billion tourism industry."  That park was designated by a Knoxville couple who were inspired by a trip to several U.S. parks in the West to protect the beautiful mountains in their own back yard. Now, the park is a federally protected area that has spawned tremendous economic growth for the state. 

Mr. Baker writes:  "Ironically, 75 years later, history is repeating itself and other mountainous areas of East Tennessee are facing another challenge -- mountaintop removal coal mining."  He dismisses the notion by point out that "unlike trees, mountains do not grow back. The damage is permanent." 

Mr. Baker briefly desribes how Tennessee has become a national leader in preserving the state's unsurpassed natural beauty while encouraging the growth of the tourism industry.  This begs the question:

And now people are talking about destroying the very natural assets we are trying to protect.  Have they lost their minds?

The way I see it, if we blow off the tops of our mountains and destroy the aesthetics of our great state, those boycotting will not be the only ones staying away.

Kudos to Mr. Baker for understanding that "the economic gain of cheaper coal is short-lived while the negative economic impact of the lost beauty, lost natural resources and the diminished quality of our lives, will be felt forever."

Boycotting the Boycotters

In another guest column in the Tennessean, the title of the piece sums up the situation: This mining will only boost profit, harm lands.  The author is Kathleen Williams, president of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation.  Ms. Williams starts out with a thank-you:

Sen. Alexander, on behalf of our ancient mountains, our irreplaceable water supply and the millions of people who treasure both, thank you for your willingness to stand up against the bullying tactics of the manipulative and desperate coal companies.

Straightaway, she tells the miners what they can do with their protest:

If a handful of miners choose not to visit our state because we value our lands more than a dollar, that's OK.  Let them stay home and enjoy their scarred half-mountains, run-off flooding, former creek beds and poisoned drinking water.

Ms. Williams defends "responsible" mining, noting that her grandfathers were Tennessee coal miners and one even served as the statewide mine inspector at one time.  Her grandfathers also grew up hunting and fishing in and around the Cumberland Plateau, which imbued in each of them "a spiritual connection with the land and an appreciation for the resources the mountains provide."

Whereas her grandfathers' underground mining jobs lasted for decades, she correctly points out that highly-mechanized mountaintop removal "creates a few short-term jobs, destroys communities and yields only one thing: higher profit margins for coal companies at the expense of irreparable damage inflicted on everyone and everything in its wasteful way."

Rather than yield to pressure from what she labels an ill-conceived boycott, Tennesseans should strongly reject such bullying tactics because "once Tennessee's coal and mountaintops are gone, you can rest assured the industry will continue its devastating path along the remaining peaks of the Appalachians unless laws like Sen. Alexander's Appalachia Restoration Act are enacted." 

Ms. Williams makes this excellent point:

Mountaintop removal mining does not occur in the Rocky Mountains or in the Adirondacks. Are these ranges more valuable than our Appalachians?

Our mountains harbor rare life, scenic waterfalls, natural bridges and spectacular bluffs. They attract tourists from all over the world to the "greenest state in the land of the free," as the Davy Crockett theme song made famous.

Given the coal industry's lack of respect for Tennessee's treasures, she urges the boycotters to "by all means, stay away."  And she caps her column this way:

The coal industry's public display of irreverence for Tennessee says a lot about its motives. Tennesseans see through its cloud of smoke and we will stand behind Senator Alexander until the Appalachia Restoration Act is signed into law.

Brother in Arms

It just so happens that Ms. Williams' brother, Don, is a Knoxville-based columnist, and he also weighed into the fray today with a piece entitled: Our mountains are not for sale.  He starts by recounting his long friendship with Sen. Alexander and his deep appreciation for the senator's "guts and convictions":

Our politics have diverged and bent together since that night in a pattern as whimsical as meandering rivers separated by mountains, yet headed for the same sea. We disagree on many things, such as nukes (which he supports) and windmills (he opposes). But a shared love for Tennessee's mountains won't let me write him off as I do some politicians.  

Mr. Williams goes on to paint a picture of the moonscaped apolocalypse that mountaintop removal leaves in its wake:

Lands where mountaintop removal occurs become nearly lifeless in comparison to their pre-blasted state. Most of the flora and fauna that existed there for thousands or millions of years can no longer survive in the slag-heap once it's been "reclaimed" by invasive species. The travesty sullies headwaters of dozens of streams that flow into the Tennessee, the Cumberland, the Obed and many other rivers.

He then deftly exposes the industry's empty threat about lost jobs if the world's worst form of coal mining were to end: 

First, we're not talking about multitudes of downtrodden miners having bread taken from their mouths.  That's because mountaintop removal is about as job-friendly as robotic assembly lines.  All one needs to set up shop are a few trucks, dozers and lots of dynamite.  Only a few thousand miners work in mountaintop removal mines where many hundreds of thousands once worked in more traditional mines.

Second, coal thus ripped from the earth mostly serves to line pockets of coal company owners and Chinese manufacturers.  Such coal leaves the state bound for Asia, where it sullies the air and encourages the building of hundreds of new but old-fashioned power plants in China burning dirty coal.

Third, I'd urge senators and representatives to consider the world they want for our children and theirs.  Is it a world in which we're willing to trade off one of the most bountiful eco-systems in exchange for temporary prosperity for a few?  Or do we want a world in which concepts such as "balance of trade" and "gross domestic product" take into account the unprecedented drawing-down of resources and the huge cost in damage to our rivers, lakes, streams, the air we breathe and the very contours of our earth.

And, like his sister, Mr. Williams' message to the boycotters "yes, please stay home, and keep your trucks and dynamite well away from our beloved mountains.  They're not for sale.  Not at that price."