Among the most destructive environmental abuses in this nation, the most deliberate, unconscionable and widespread has to be the form of coal-mining known as "mountain-top removal" mining. Indeed, "mining" is hardly the word for this premeditated, callously calculated, man-made catastrophe.

A few men using enormous amounts of explosives essentially blow away the top of southern Appalachian mountains, sending tsunami-like cascades of rocks, trees and debris into the valleys below. The crushing avalanche chokes and poisons streams and wells that long have nourished valley towns and farms and wildlife habitat -- all to expose coal seams that soon will be depleted.

And when they finish scrapping off the coal -- coal that should be mined by customary deep-shaft mine methods, and would employ far more miners if so taken -- the mountain destroyers merely shove back an unstable pile of rocks. Where the mountain and forests and wildlife used to be, they end up planting Japanese bunch grass, the only vegetation that still may grow on theses pitiful sites.

This abuse, in reality an irreligious and immoral assault on some of the most beautiful and valuable mountains and valleys in this country, is neither necessary nor sensible, sustainable nor efficient.

It is merely more profitable for rapacious coal mining executives who are allowed to shave labor and avoid payment for their environmental destruction. They are simply allowed to dump those costs onto the public and our environment.

For all its destruction, the practice of mountain-top-removal mining has seeped from its initial captive state of West Virginia into Kentucky and, in recent years, into northeast Tennessee, where four such mines now operate, and many more are planned.

Now that Tennessee's senior senator, Lamar Alexander, has had a chance to get to see the effects first hand, he has introduced legislation in the Senate to ban the practice of mountain-top removal mining. Companion legislation has also been introduced in the House by Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland.

That has riled coal company executives, who, in turn, have rounded up West Virginia miners to sign petitions pledging to retaliate against Sen. Alexander's legislation by mounting a boycott of Tennessee's tourism industry. That's akin to hostage-taking, of course. The state's tourism industry, particularly the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge-Dollywood areas around the Smokey Mountains, is an innocent bystander in the miners' dispute.

The campaign, and its nasty component of threatening calls to tourism facilities, should be rejected. People who love visiting our mountains should be appreciative of Sen. Alexander's efforts. Indeed, tourism is far more lucrative to mountain communities than mining.

Mountain-top removal mining should be banned. It employs far fewer miners than traditional mining practices, and its environmental costs are vast. It has already destroyed scores of mountain tops and over 2,000 miles of valley streams and the communities they support. It should be banned as soon as possible.

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