NASHVILLE - A bill banning so-called "mountaintop" coal mining in new areas died in the Senate Energy, Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee today when the measure failed to get a single vote to be heard.
The bill's sponsor, Senate Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, vowed "to keep working on this bill.
"It is a jobs bill that directly affects the tourism of this state, one of the biggest industries that we have if not the biggest industry," Finney later said. "I'm disapointed that the committee wouldn't at least want to talk about that and hear about that.
He said while "I understand there are concerns on the other side, the committee should at least be willing to talk."
The Senate Committee's members include Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga.
About 25 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 company is being bought out by a Chinese-financed company. Housley said he was relieved the bill didn't go anywhere.
Triple H, which operates in Campbell County, plans to gear up operations soon, Housley said.
"Hopefully, beginning next month, we'll employ about 30 people" about the same as the previous owners, he said. But he said the company hopes to employ 400 to 500 workers in the next two years.
When Finney began presenting the bill, he faced six Republican lawmakers while three potential supporters were absent, including two Democrats, Sens. Charlotte Burks of Monterey, and Sen. Ophelia Ford of Memphis. Burks, who has supported similar legislation in the past, had been in the committee earlier.
Also missing was Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, who had supported the bill in the past.
JW Randolph, Tennessee director of Appalachian Voices, and Ann League, a resident and property owner in Tennessee's coal-bearing region, had been scheduled to testify.
Randolph said in a later statement that "just as we were called up to speak to the committee, the chairman stopped us short" and let it die without discussion.
"Despite the fact that Tennesseans from the left, right and center, and from a broad array of interests have come together to protect our mountains, our voices were silenced," he said.
This week, the Tennessee Conservative Union announced its support of the ban on mining above 2,000 feet, charging that the state will "become the first state in American to permit a communist Chinese company to destroy our mountains."
The House companion bill is scheduled to come up in a House committee this afternoon.