Coker: Governor, please veto primacy bill

Coker: Governor, please veto primacy bill

April 26th, 2018 by D.J. Coker in Opinion Columns

D.J. Coker

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

The Primacy and Reclamation Act of Tennessee, sponsored by state Sen. Ken Yager and Rep. Dennis Powers, just sailed through the General Assembly despite the substantial fiscal note attached. The intent of this legislation is for Tennessee to assume regulatory authority, or "primacy," over coal mining in Tennessee from the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.

This legislation weakens oversight of coal mining in our state and threatens the health and safety of our communities, water resources and the environment. The Office of Surface Mining has regulated coal mining in Tennessee under the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 since then-Gov. Lamar Alexander had the previous state mining statutes repealed in 1984.

Related Article

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to weigh state oversight of coal mining industry

Read more

Acquiring primacy in Tennessee would amount to a state subsidy to keep a dying industry on life support. Gov. Haslam, please veto this bill.

The bill's sponsors and the Tennessee Mining Association would like us to believe that taking over the coal program would cost the state little to no money. They say federal government funding, fees from mine permit applications and the coal severance tax would pay for the program. The reality is that coal mining has drastically declined in Tennessee and will therefore be unable to provide adequate funding for a new regulatory program.

Transferring regulatory authority to the state will do nothing to revive coal mining in Tennessee. Market-wide economic forces are responsible for the decline in coal production seen across Appalachia, and more mines being idled or closed every week.

Coal production in Tennessee has plunged 90 percent from its peak of 11 million tons in 1972 to about 0.5 million tons in 2017. Domestic coal consumption fell over the last two years and in 2017 power generation from coal was just 30 percent — the lowest ever recorded. According to the Energy Information Administration, coal exports are expected to decrease in 2018 and 2019.

There are only 3 mines actively producing coal in Tennessee today. Supporters of this legislation say mining would increase as soon as the state takes over the program, but the decline of the coal industry in our state is due to a shrinking market for the state's undesirable, high-sulfur coal, not regulatory hurdles.

A state program would cost taxpayers a lot of money. It would require hiring expert hydrologists, geologists, and field inspectors to create a new bureaucracy that replicates staff already in place at the federal Office of Surface Mining's Knoxville field office. In addition, the federal office will continue to monitor state compliance.

The federal mining act allows states to write state mining regulations that protect public health and safety and the water, air, and environment better than the federal minimum. This legislation, however, would forbid state regulations from protecting our communities more than federal law does now. This is a bad precedent, and the authority of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation to protect our health and safety should not be restricted.

This legislation is an attempt to subsidize a failing industry that is being out-competed by natural gas and renewable energy. Instead, our government should focus on finding new ways to diversify the economy in our coalfield communities.

Gov. Haslam, please veto this bill.

D.J. Coker, a resident of Campbell County and a member of SOCM and the Alliance for Appalachia, is a coordinator with the Citizens Water Monitoring Project.

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315