Mountaintop removal looms

Mountaintop removal looms

March 7th, 2012 in Opinion Times

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