Tennessee: Tourists Welcome, Not Mountaintop Removal

It's pretty clear the coal industry is getting some professional PR help to fan the flames of its flimsy protest against Tennessee for refusing to let mining companies level the beloved Smokeys.  The latest coverage of the bone-headed boycott over mountaintop removal comes courtesy of the Washington Post.

What this boils down to is a few disgruntled out-of-state mining companies urging their employees to forego vacations to Dollywood unless the Volunteer State volunteers to let them blast and bulldoze mountaintops -- leaving dead stretches of forests and poisoned streams.

As much as I'm loathe to give this fruitless flap any more attention, I figure I might as well offer some perspective on the economic benefits of tourism versus coal mining.  Aside from the horrendous environmental impacts of this extreme strip mining, the numbers simply don't add up:

  • There are fewer than 6,000 miners in Tennessee whereas the tourism industry employs more than 177,000
  • Tennessee's tourism contributes roughly $14 billion to the state's economy every year
  • Kentucky spends an estimated $115 million more public money to support and subsidize the coal industry than it receives in state revenues from the industry
  • The coal industry actually ends up costing the Appalachian region roughly $42 billion (in terms of the value of premature deaths attributable to the mining industry across the coalfields)

Fortunately, Tennessee's leaders aren't eager to cook their golden goose.  In fact, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is a proud co-sponsor of bi-partisan legislation that would effectively ban mountaintop removal by amending the Clean Water Act to prohibit coal companies from dumping mining waste into valley streams.  Now the mining industry is targeting Sen. Alexander for having the gall to try to halt the flattening of Appalachia. 

"I understand their feelings," Sen. Alexander told the Associated Press.  "But I have feelings, too.  And my feelings are that millions of people come to Tennessee to see the beauty of the mountaintops and not to see mountains whose tops have been blown off with the waste dumped in our streams -- which is all I am trying to stop."

If you live in Tennessee, take a moment to thank Sen. Alexander for standing up for America's "purple mountain majesties."  And no matter where you  live, urge your senators to support his bill, the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696). 

What the mining companies don't realize is that the mountains belong to all Americans, not the industry.  Good thing Tennesseans get that there is far greater profit in treasuring our mountains than in plundering Appalachia's buried treasure.  As the Knoxville News-Sentinel editorialized: "We want to see -- and we want visitors to our beautiful state to see -- our mountains, not a moonscape."

So why not show some love for a state that truly loves its mountains?  Volunteer to spend some of your summer vacation in Tennessee -- catch a show at the Grand Ole Opry, take a tour of Graceland or ride Dolly's rollercoasters.  Better yet, head there this fall when the leaves turn and enjoy the scenic vistas provided by the Great Smokey Mountains.