Volunteer State Steps Up to Save Mountains

Today the Tennessee legislature will hold its first hearing on a bill to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in the state.  The Scenic Vistas Protection Act would outlaw mining on ridges in Tennessee over 2000 feet, but places no restrictions on underground mines or traditional strip mines.  Last year, a similar bill came close to passing and this year the bill's supporters are stepping up their efforts.  As I've noted before, key proponents pushing to pass the legislation include the faith community, led by volunteers with a local church-affiliated group called LEAF.

NRDC is pleased to be partnering with LEAF on a public awareness campaign that officially launches this week in Nashville.  The message is simple and compelling: Only God Should Move Mountains.  As Dawn Coppock, LEAF's legislative director explains:

"As Christians, we are told through scripture to enjoy and respect God's Creation.  Blowing up mountains for an extremely small amount of coal forever damages God's handiwork, and we must put an end to it.  Man should not permanently alter Creation.  Only God, through our faith in Him, should move mountains."

At tomorrow's kick-off press event, Dawn will be joined by Bishop Wills of the United Methodist Church and other prominent faith leaders from across the state.  They will announce their unified support of the legislation, which embodies the very spirit of stewardship as outlined in the Biblical tenets of Creation Care, and then they will deliver an official letter calling for an end to mountaintop removal to all state legislators.

Earlier this week, The Tennessean featured a column written by another pastor, Rev. Ryan Bennett, which passionately made the case for stewardship of Tennessee's beloved mountains and the environment.  Noting that "a disregard for the state of God's creation shows a lack of love for the creator", Rev. Bennett urged that steps be taken to prevent "God's mountains" from being blown up for the sake of "business".  The good reverand also added this:

"From the very beginning, humanity is given the charge to 'be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves over the face of the earth.' (Genesis 1:28, The Message)  Adam was put into the garden to care for it, not to exploit it (Genesis 2:15).  And in the 24th Psalm, the Psalmist writes 'the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.' This creation we live in belongs to God.  Our job is to rule over it wisely."

Surface coal mining in Tennessee currently employs less than 400 people.  Most of these workers are employed in traditional surface mines, not mountaintop removal mines which require fewer employees. Proponents of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act contrast the coal industry from the state's lucrative tourism industry, which employs 177,000 Tennesseans and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues.  Mountaintop removal, they say, is a direct contradiction to the very reason why millions of tourists from around the globe visit the mountains of East Tennessee every year.

Bikers Backing Scenic Vistas Bill Too

The faith community, environmental groups and tourism industry aren't the only ones working to protect Tennessee's mountains from the worst strip mining on Earth.  Today, a contingent of bicyclists from cities and towns all over Tennessee will ride into Nashville to ask state legislators to stop mountaintop removal.  Leading the cyclists is Sam Evans, who earlier this year completed a similar 11-day ride to Washington, D.C., to ask EPA to make a rule prohibiting mountaintop mining.  (I blogged about Sam's previous trek.)   

As he pedals his way to Nashville, Sam is informing people that mountaintop removal is already happening in Tennessee, in places like Zeb Mountain near the Kentucky border.  He wants legislators to know what's at stake, lamenting that the coal companies "want to do to Tennessee what they've done in West Virginia and Kentucky."  Fortunately, the Scenic Vistas bill would put a stop to it.

If you live in Tennessee, you can help by contacting your state legislators and urging them to save your mountains by supporting the Scenic Vistas Protection Act when it comes up for a vote.

If you're not a resident of the Volunteer State, you can still make a difference.  Simply contact your members of Congress and encourage them to support the Clean Water Protection Act, a bill that would help put a stop to mountaintop removal coal mining.

With a little faith and a lot of hard work, we can put an end to mountaintop removal.