All eyes are turned to Tennessee, where the State Legislature is set to vote on a bill to ban mountaintop removal coal mining. Tomorrow the Senate Environment Committee will hold a final hearing on the Scenic Vistas Protection Act -- so NOW is the time to contact the committee members to urge passage of the legislation to safeguard Tennessee's beloved mountains.
Apparently, the fate of the legislation hangs on ONE vote in the committee. You see, there are 9 members of the Senate Environment Committee, so 5 “yes” votes are required to pass the bill out to the full Senate. Our local allies tell us that, as it stands, there are 4 solid “YES” votes and two likely “NO” votes. That leaves 3 committee members who either say they have not decided or who haven’t gone on record yet. These three senators are key to the outcome of this bill.
If you love mountains and want to lend a hand, then please contact the following state legislators RIGHT NOW and urge them to SUPPORT the Scenic Vista Act:
- Senator Steve Southerland, Committee Chair 615-741-3851 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Senator Jamie Woodson, Speaker Pro Tempore 615-741-1648 email@example.com
- Senator Jack Johnson 615-741-2495 firstname.lastname@example.org
For background on the political fight raging right now over the removal of Tennessee's rocky tops, read this excellent story in last week's Nashville Scene. It begins...
You are filthy. You can taste the grit as it flies into your face, through your nostrils, hits the back of your throat and drapes your body like a gauzy pall. One dump truck passes you on a dirt road, then two, then three. You're not sure what they're filled with, but it's probably overburden, the coal industry's term for all the organic stuff that's skimmed off the top of a mountain before it's blown to dust. You wonder where you are; you thought you were in the middle of a forested mountain range. Now, it seems, you're in a twilight-zone desert. There is green on the borders — you know it's there — but you're losing it for the pockmarked ground, the burned-out earth, the utter pollution of everything that's around.
A mountaintop removal coal mining operation is as difficult to hide as it is to overstate. It can cover many square miles, involves the use of explosives cocktails not unlike that which Timothy McVeigh whipped up to obliterate a federal building in 1995, makes loud noises associated with such explosions, displaces thousands of pounds of soil and rock, disrupts water supplies tapped by animals and people alike, and leaves a once-forested mountain looking like the set of a Cormac McCarthy adaptation. The highwalls — jagged cliffs that reveal layer-cake patterns of rock and coal — stretch stories high and make right angles where none should occur.
Only God Should Move Mountains
Leading the charge to ensure that Tennessee doesn't experience the leveling of Appalachia like neighborhing states is a plucky band of volunteers led by a faith-based group called LEAF. This group has been actively engaging its supporters to call, e-mail, meet with and write letters to key legislators. They have done an amazing job organizing churches and mobilizing faith leaders around the state. It's safe to say that LEAF's heroic efforts in Tennesse have inspired other faith groups throughout Appalachia in the campaign to end destructive strip mining. Just last week, in fact, a coalition of 28 Christian groups from across denominations sent a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for immediate action to stop further mountaintop removal coal mining. No matter what happens in the Tennessee legislature this session, the battle to safeguard the state's scenic vistas -- and all of Appalachia's majestic mountains -- will continue.
(Zeb Mountain, Tennessee / photo by Chris Irwin, United Mountain Defense)