Statement to media from Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship:
LEAF is very disappointed with SB 577 as amended by the Senate Energy and Environment committee on Feb. 29, 2012.
The sponsor, Mike Bell and the Lt. Governor both say the amended bill simply codifies current practice. Current practice includes blasting off Tennessee’s ridgelines. For five years, citizens of this state have asked the legislature just to put a buffer zone around the highest elevation ridgelines. Now they have passed a bill which they admit does not change the status quo and call that a “point all honest stakeholders can be proud of.” The bill was not discussed or shared in advance of the committee meeting with any stakeholder other than industry. Industry does seem to be proud of the bill as now written.
As to the substance of the bill:
LEAF must take exception with the claim that SB 577, as amended by the Bell Amendment #0137872, is a ban on mountaintop removal.
LEAF’s request to stop mountaintop removal, is not a shell game or semantics. We mean, do not let coal companies blow the top off mountains to get the coal out. LEAF is not working for a bill like the current amendment that relates to what happens after the mountain is blown up. We are concerned with the only time that matters for Tennessee’s virgin mountains, before the permit is issued.
The bill voted out of committee repeats federal law on what coal companies do with “overburden,” a sad industry pseudonym for the little pieces the mountain becomes after it has been blasted apart. LEAF is not working for a bill about where to put the little pieces. LEAF seeks and will continue to seek protection of the natural ridgelines.
The bill, as amended, says that there is no mountaintop removal so long as the coal industry molds the rubble into the “Approximate Original Contour.” The Northern Cumberland Plateau is not known for “Approximate Original Mountains.” It is known for some of the oldest and most beautiful mountains on this earth, molded not by engineers and bulldozers, but by the hands of God himself.
If a state has no mountaintop removal, it has no need to reaffirm federal law regarding molding rubble. On the floor, LEAF calls on the Senate to redeem this weak deception by voting for the bill as proposed by the sponsor, the bill that requires the coal companies to leave the original ridgelines on Tennessee’s mountains.
Legislative Director, LEAF
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey:
(March 1, 2012, NASHVILLE) – Lt. Governor Ramsey (R-Blountville) praised action taken yesterday in the Senate Energy and Environment Committee to protect the beauty and integrity of Tennessee’s mountains while ensuring continued economic growth in the energy sector.
As amended by Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Senate Bill 577 outlaws mountaintop mining in Tennessee. The measure codifies the current regulatory practices that prohibit mountaintop mining in Tennessee.
“After years of controversy on this issue, I believe we have finally reached a point that all honest stakeholders in this process can be proud of,” said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. “The language adopted today would remove all doubt and make clear that mountaintop mining will not be allowed in Tennessee.”
Senate Bill 577 as amended adopts the United States Department of Interior’s definition of mountaintop removal mining. This ensures that Tennessee’s treasured mountains are protected from practices which could damage our environment or the state’s tourism industry.
“I have always rejected this false choice between economic growth and responsible conservation. My goal as Lt. Governor has always been to make Tennessee the best state in which to own and operate a business. We continue to take steps that will bring and keep high quality jobs to Tennessee,” Ramsey continued. “At the same time, we need to respect and protect the majesty of our hills, mountains, streams and rivers. With this amendment, this bill will do that.”
The bill passed out of committee by a vote of 8 to 1 and will next appear on the floor for a vote by the full Senate.
A last-minute amendment gutted a bill intended to ban the blowing off of Tennessee mountaintops and ridges, during the Senate Energy and Environment Committee meeting Wednesday, reports Anne Paine. Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, offered the change that deleted the language of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act to protect ridgelines above 2,000 feet from a practice often called “mountaintop removal.” A paragraph was substituted saying that leftover rock, dirt and debris that is blasted away could not be placed in streams.
Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, (the sponsor) who said the bill was no longer what he had proposed, noted that support for protecting the state’s mountains and ridges had “taken on a life of its own.” Churches held a series of 40 days of prayer for the mountains, for one, he said.
“If we truly want to put this to bed, we’re going to have to sit down and talk about it,” Stewart said, referring to parties on all sides. The bill, as amended, passed 8-1, with most supporters of the bill as originally written approving it. Stewart said he wanted to keep it alive to have discussion.
JW Randolph of Nashville with Appalachian Voices said while the amendment left the bill with little if any impact, he hoped its passage would allow a healthy discussion of the issue on the Senate floor.
News release from Tennessee Conservation Voters:
Nashville, TN – Tennessee Conservation Voters (TCV), a non-partisan conservation organization committed to voter education, advocacy and holding elected officials accountable for safeguarding Tennessee’s environment, announced today the launch of a statewide television ad campaign focused on the destructive practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.
The ad supports a broad-based effort to pass the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, a bill that would only ban the process of mountaintop removal mining on peaks above 2000 feet in Tennessee.
The 30-second ad opens by describing the connection Tennesseans have with the mountains – hunting, fishing, hiking and embracing God’s creation. This reflects the broad range of support that exists statewide for the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act and speaks to the non-partisan nature of the issue. The ad also describes how more than 500 mountains, 2000 miles of streams and tens of thousands of mining jobs have already been destroyed across Appalachia by mountaintop removal mining. The ad closes by asking viewers to support the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act and encourages them to call Governor Bill Haslam. The ad is designed to be modified to direct contacts to various TN policy makers throughout the campaign.
News release from Statewide Organizing For Community Empowerment:
Knoxville, Tenn. (July 21) – Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its final guidance on conductivity standards for creeks and streams affected by Mountain Top Removal (MTR) coal mining in the mountains of Central Appalachia. Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM) insists that a regulatory “guidance” does not carry the same weight as a rule, and as such cannot ensure full and adequate protection for the communities of Central Appalachia.
The final guidance excludes application of the conductivity benchmarks in Tennessee; limits the scope of the guidance to Kentucky and West Virginia.
“I understand the science-speak about why application of the benchmarks should be limited until more data is available,” said Cathie Bird, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. “Unfortunately, we already see excess selenium discharge and other problems in streams near large surface mines. I think people and nature in Tennessee might be better protected with a more precautionary ‘bad-until-proven-otherwise’ approach.”
Ms. Bird lives near the Zeb Mountain mine site where mine owner National Coal was found to be discharging toxic selenium pollution into Tennessee waterways, a clear violation of the Clean Water Act.
A more cautious approach may also be supported by a recent peer-reviewed study that found significantly higher rates of birth defects in mountaintop removal coal mining areas compared to non-mining areas in Appalachia.
“The link between mountaintop removal mining and birth defects in Appalachia is a good example of just how much families are forced to sacrifice so a few coal company owners can get richer,” stated SOCM member Vicki Terry of Campbell County.
“This guidance leaves the interpretation and enforcement of the conductivity standards to the discretion and interpretation of the states. We’ve seen time and again that regional and state offices just aren’t interested in protecting the people here-they are interested in protecting industry and profits,” said Landon Medley, member of the SOCM E3 Committee (Energy, Ecology, and Environmental Justice).
SOCM has a long history of working to prevent destructive mining practices that harm Tennessee land and people. In 2010, SOCM joined the Sierra Club and Tennessee Clean Water Network in filing a complaint against National Coal Corporation, owner of the mountaintop removal mine site at Zeb Mountain, after toxic levels of selenium were found in Tennessee water sources near the mine site. SOCM members will continue to support efforts to protect Tennessee land and preserve the natural beauty of the state.
SOCM is a 39-year-old community organization working for social, economic and environmental justice issues.
The EPA news release on the action is below.