Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Legislature Bows to King Coal Once Again: House Kills Bill Banning Mountaintop Mining

Posted By on Tue, Mar 30, 2010 at 12:53 PM

click to enlarge What's left of Zeb Mountain
  • What's left of Zeb Mountain

After eloquently discussing the benefits of blowing the tops off our mountains, the inaptly named House environment subcommittee adjourned for the year today without voting on legislation to stop coal companies from doing it.

That effectively kills the bill for the third straight year, which is a really good thing if you believe what its opponents say.

Take Zeb Mountain, which has been flattened by mountaintop removal mining. The once-proud peak in the Upper Cumberland looks devastated but, according to Tennessee Mining Association president Chuck Lane, it's a tourist attraction now:

"We're creating tourism places. Those of you who have visited Zeb Mountain, you've seen what we're doing to Zeb Mountain. We've taken that from a cesspool and, within a year, it'll have trees growing. It'll be green. The intent of the owner is to sell houses up there. You couldn't sell anything up there prior to this."

That's right, they should erect signs on the interstate: See the Amazing Ecological Disaster. Three-toed Frogs. Winged Salamanders. Zeb Mountain: Share the Wonder!

But leave it to Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, to come up

with the best reason to let coal companies destroy our natural heritage.

According to Niceley, we need to flatten our mountains to give elk

places to graze. Otherwise, the killer beasts will descend upon us,

wreaking havoc on our highways and farms, in the greatest wildlife

migration since the buffalo roamed the fruited plains. Said Niceley:

"If we're going to have elk, you gotta have somewhere for

them to stay. If they don't stay up in these highland balds, they're

going to be down on the highways and they'll be down on my farm and

spreading disease and tearing down fences and getting out on the road

killing people. An elk weighs 1,500 pounds. A deer weighs 300 pounds. If

you hit an elk, the people in the front seat are probably dead, at

least one of them."

The subcommittee took a coward's way out in the end. They voted

unanimously for an amendment to strengthen the legislation, then decided

to adjourn for the year. That lets lawmakers tell constituents they

voted for banning mountaintop removal when actually they voted against

it. Aren't they crafty?

"This is a tactic to kill the bill," fumed the sponsor, Rep. Mike

McDonald, D-Portland, in a statement of the obvious. "Tennesseans should

be outraged."

In the past, lawmakers would brazenly kill such bills without batting

an eye. This year, the state's major newspapers have editorialized in

favor of banning mountaintop removal, and Channel 5's Ben Hall just did a

scathing report on how the legislature is in the coal industry's back

pocket. Now, our lovable legislators have been forced to resort to

trickery to do King Coal's bidding. That's progress!

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