published Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Mountaintop removal looms

When coal companies go to blast the tops off Tennessee's mountains and high-line ridges to extract coal once gotten by underground miners, they generally use the coal industry's whitewash euphemisms. They talk of "mountain top removal" and clearing a mountain's "overburden," as if a mountain's higher elevations and ecosystems can be surgically excised without destroying its life.

What they actually do in Appalachian states, including Tennessee, with the mountain's "overburden" is this: They clear-cut the forest and then use tons of dynamite to blast off the top of the mountain and all its remaining meadows, wildlife, boulders and earth, which typically slide down into the streams and valleys below, poisoning downstream waters, habitat and extended ecosystems.

Or, as a Republican bill now due for a vote tomorrow in Tennessee's Legislature would provide, they push the raw earth into a corner of the flattened mountain's barren and lifeless stump, and after extracting the coal, push this rubble back across the stump into a shape intended to suggest the "approximate original contour" of the mountain that has been utterly destroyed. Where an ancient majestic mountain or high ridge line actually once stood with all its diverse forest and wildlife, there would be just a pile of raw earth with humps and bumps, more like an overseeded dirt high-rise.

This bill is a travesty for many reasons. Foremost is the pending loss of a larger portion of Tennessee's heritage mountains and high ridges, now underway in the northern reaches of the Cumberland Plateau. Another reason to oppose it is the stunning bald-faced lie used by Tennessee Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to describe the legalized destruction of our mountains.

When the bill (SB577) passed out of the Senate's Energy and Environment Committee last week, Ramsey issued a gushy and totally untrue statement. He said the bill "outlawed" mountaintop mining in Tennessee and he called it an act to "protect the beauty and integrity of Tennessee's mountains." Both claims are patently untrue.

After years of controversy over blowing off the tops of mountains, he continued, "...We have finally reached a point that all honest stakeholders in this process can be proud of. The language adopted today would remove all doubt and make clear that mountaintop mining will not be allowed in Tennessee." This is utter malarkey.

His grossly dishonest statements are meant only to deceive Tennesseans. The bill, moreover, outrageously trades on the name of a bill, the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, that the Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship has fought for five years to pass.

The original bill actually would have barred mountaintop removal mining on Tennessee's mountains and ridges above 2,000 feet high. Speaker Ramsey's sycophants gutted that bill and substituted language that would formally approve of mountaintop removal mining if the debris of exploded mountains is bulldozed into a pile of dirt that can be loosely said to "approximate" the contours of the mountain that once reigned above its mined stump.

Ramsey has long been the state's most dedicated advocate of coal mining. The industry, in turn, has pumped tens of thousands of dollars into his campaign funds. With his controlling grip on the Senate, and the new Republican right-wing majority in both chambers, this bill is now likely to sail through the Legislature and become law.

Tennesseans who wish actually to protect the mountains of Tennessee, some of the oldest and most beautiful in the world, would serve their state well by calling and emailing their legislators today. Time is short, and action is needed to prevent the travesty that now looms. To contact your state senators, see

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mountainlaurel said...

TFP Commentary: “When the bill (SB577) passed out of the Senate's Energy and Environment Committee last week, Ramsey issued a gushy and totally untrue statement. He said the bill "outlawed" mountaintop mining in Tennessee and he called it an act to "protect the beauty and integrity of Tennessee's mountains." Both claims are patently untrue.”

There has to be a way to either sue or prosecute crooked and deceitful lawmakers like Ron Ramsey who scheme against the public and blatantly lie to the public about laws.

March 7, 2012 at 9:58 a.m.
holdout said...

Could do a recall. Those seem to work well ;)

March 7, 2012 at 11:05 a.m.
mountainlaurel said...

I know, but the bottom line is that Ron Ramsey is intentially working to deceive the people of Tennessee about this law, and fraud is both a crime and a civil law violation.

March 7, 2012 at 12:29 p.m.
maisymop said...

Wow! Way to hit the nail on the head. Best editorial on the subject yet. Our politicians are so deep in King Coal's pockets that it doesn't matter how many people scream. But scream we will. Call your senators.

March 7, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

Coal mining kills more people and destroys more land than nuclear has so far.

March 8, 2012 at 10:16 a.m.
limric said...

It is beyond clear that the risks of mountaintop removal mining greatly outweigh any benefits. It destroys entire ecosystems, wipes out extensive amounts of wildlife, and it robs people of a clean and healthy environment. It poisons waterways which inherently poisons local community’s drinking water; affecting both animal populations and people alike. It infringes upon property rights of nearby residents, while mining companies exploit these same property rights for their collective benefit. The only noteworthy benefit of this destructive process ends up in the wallets of big coal company executives. The claims made that mountaintop removal produce a massive amount of jobs and pump money into the surrounding areas economy just is not true. Those jobs are, no jobs, or low wage jobs that will put a little food on the table. We must ask ourselves what we would do. Starve, or work for a few dollars an hour, and dig up our mountains - and haul them away.

What the hell is the matter with us?

So why are we still using such a destructive method to unearth yet more environmentally harmful substances? The risks are just too great. Mountaintop removal is creating environmental catastrophe in our nation and we are losing a treasure trove of biodiversity that is the mountains of Appalachia. We can't let this continue, mountaintop removal must be stopped.

March 8, 2012 at 11:05 a.m.
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