NASHVILLE - Legislative sponsors of a ban on new "mountaintop" removal coal mining vow to return next year after their Tennessee Scenic Vistas Mountains Protection Act measure died in a Senate committee Wednesday.
Six Republicans on the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee refused to bring the bill up for discussion when Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson came to present the measure.
Two of Finney's fellow Democrats serve on the committee and could have moved and seconded the measure, forcing a hearing on the bill, which bans mining above 2,000 on ridges and mountains.
But Sens. Charlotte Burks of Monterey and Ophelia Ford of Memphis were nowhere in sight.
Finney later called the measure, which has failed in years past due to coal industry opposition, "a jobs bill that directly affects the tourism of this state, one of the biggest industries that we have if not the biggest industry."
"I'm disappointed that the committee wouldn't at least want to talk about that and hear about that," Finney said, adding he will be back next year.
Later in the House, members of Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee moved the measure to next year.
Knowing the bill was in trouble, Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, scolded colleagues, telling them, "Tennessee should be a leader in protecting our mountain way of life, not for sale to the highest bidder."
But Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, retorted he was "more than willing to bring this bill up today and kill it if that's what you want."
About 25 to 30 executives and employees of coal mining companies in the Upper Cumberland Plateau region, wearing hardhats and black tee-shirts supporting coal, packed the Senate hearing room.
Among them was Triple H's operations manager, Alex Housley. The Campbell County company is being bought out by a Chinese-financed firm. Housley said he was relieved the bill didn't go anywhere.
Triple H hopes to gear up operations soon, initially employing about 30 people but would like to have 400 to 500 workers in the next two years, Housley said.
Tennessee Mining Association lobbyist Chuck Laine later charged the bill was a "veiled" attempt to ban coal mining statewide, at a cost of hundreds of jobs.