"Tennessee should be a leader in protecting our mountain way of life, not for sale to the highest bidder," she said.
When she finished, Republican Rep. Andy Holt—a pig farmer from Dresden whose presence on a panel that hears environmental protection bills is an outrage—quickly demonstrated why it remains legal in Tennessee for coal companies to dynamite our mountains.
"I'm more than willing to bring this bill up today and kill it if that's what you want," Holt fumed, proceeding to portray mountaintop removal mining as a life-saving technological advancement.
"Can you name for me any industry that hasn’t adopted new technology over the course of multiple years, multiple decades? Is the coal industry ... instead of having 900 people out in a hole somewhere digging out coal, is it somehow or another, is it wrong for them to adopt a new technology that can use machines in place of human beings in those dangerous situations?"
"It’s not wrong to adopt new technology," Johnson replied. "What is wrong is to blow the tops off our mountaintops. We need to protect our ridgelines. The only thing this bill does is protect our ridgelines and our mountaintops. It doesn’t prevent any mining of coal. You’re right, we are creative and there’s new technology all the time. And I think what we can do is figure out how to get to this coal without taking the tops off of our mountains."
Here are excerpts from Johnson's speech to the subcommittee:
The Senate killed this bill this morning, but I wanted to speak on behalf of those who have prayed, called and gathered here from all around the state. I think there’s a lot of passion for our mountains in this state, and a lot of agreement in this room. We all want to protect our homes, our livelihoods and create a better future for our mountain communities. Tennessee should be a leader in protecting our mountain way of life, not for sale to the highest bidder. What symbolizes our state more than our mountains, the mountains that were crossed by Davey Crockett, Daniel Boone and of course Jack Daniel.
Over the last three decades, while the portion of our coal that comes from surface grows, we’ve watched our mining jobs plummet and our miners be replaced by machines. Over the same period, Tennesseans from all walks of life—Republicans and Democrats, hunters and fishermen, conservatives and liberals and people from all religious backgrounds—come together in support of this legislation, the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, and one of our greatest assets, our mountains.
Since it was first introduced, this bill has been sent twice to summer studies that have never occurred, including this last year, despite the pleas, prayers and phone calls of thousands of our brave citizens. As reported in today’s Wall Street Journal, Tennessee has also become the first state in America to permit a Chinese company to blast apart our mountains and take our coal. Not only are the eyes of Tennessee on us, but the world is watching.
The health impacts of this type of mining have been documented in nearly two dozen peer-reviewed studies showing higher rates of cancer, heart and lung disease and the fact that unborn children in these communities are 42 percent more likely to be born with birth defects. This is a problem that we need to work together to address. For half a decade, our state legislature has chosen not to address this issue. Over that time, more of our proud mountains have been destroyed, leaving us with fewer jobs, poisoned water, and a bleak economic future. Ladies and gentlemen, I won’t stand for it.
More from Johnson:
It’s clear that big special interests control too many politicians in legislature. If we do nothing to protect our mountaintops, we will be left with nothing. Our irreplaceable mountains will be destroyed, the economic benefits will be shipped to China, and our multi-billion dollar tourism industry will be left in shambles.
It’s past time the politicians who run the legislature put the interests of everyday Tennesseans above the concerns of corporate special interests. Regardless of today’s outcome, we will carry on this fight. As long as there are mountains in Tennessee, I will be standing beside the business owners and families who are working to protect our mountains for the future.