Tennessee Minister Takes on Politicians Who Support Mountaintop Removal

Great op-ed today in The Tennessean written by Rev. Ryan Bennet -- of the Bethlehem United Methodist Church in Franklin, TN -- about holding politicians accountable who support mountaintop removal coal mining.

Rev. Bennet notes that he attended a recent gubernatorial candidate forum at which the four Republican candidates covered a range of issues, including mountaintop mining in Tennessee.  He writes that he was "dumbfounded by some of their responses and irreverent approach to serving as stewards of God's creation."

Apparently, one candidate -- Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey -- denied that this most destructive type of strip mining was even happening in the state, despite the fact that there are at least four active mountaintop removal sites with permits pending for several more such operations.  The reverand writes that the Lt. Governor's "denial is more troubling given that Ramsey openly took credit for blocking legislation in the Senate that would have prevented mountaintop removal on peaks above 2,000 feet.  If we are not doing mountaintop removal in Tennessee, then why block a bill to prevent it?"

Another candidate hoping to win the GOP nomination for governor, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, made the incredulous claim at the event that mountaintop removal mining is "actually good for the birds and good for the environment."

Rev. Benet's response: "How can blowing up the home of a living creature actually be good for it?"

The reverand expressed his frustration that mountaintop removal could even be seen as a partisan issue at all. 

"We are not talking extremism here -- simply a desire to have clean air, clean water and a respect for the beauty that is creation," he writes.  "The religious community has come to see this as an issue of stewardship, not partisan rhetoric."

As he notes, the Southern Baptist Church, Catholic Church, United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian USA Church have all taken official positions against this destructive mining practice.

He adds that the Tennessee tourism industry, hunting and fishing groups and local business groups have also come out against mountaintop removal for various reasons.

Rev. Benet also exposes the false dichotomy of the 'jobs vs. environment' argument:

"Tennessee mining operations produce .2 percent of our nation's coal and employ roughly 350 people.  Mountaintop-removal mining requires far fewer jobs because explosives take the place of traditional miners.  Compared with the $14 billion tourism industry that employs hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans, it is a no-brainer as to which is more important to this state.  Our mountains are an economic engine and should not be irreparably harvested by the profit-driven motives of Big Coal."

He concludes: 

"Whether you are a Christian who cares about creation, an outdoor enthusiast who values Tennessee's natural environment or a Republican, Democrat or independent who cares about the future of our state, you should hold these candidates accountable for their position on this issue.  Political wounds will heal, but the scars left behind by mountaintop-removal mining are permanent."

Rev. Benet gets it: Only God should move mountains.