"Do we have a motion on the bill?" asked the chairman, Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown. "Do we have a motion on the bill? Do we have a motion on the bill? The bill dies for lack of a motion."
One Democrat on the committee, Sen. Charlotte Burks, fled the room before the bill came up. Another one, Sen. Ophelia Ford, was missing in action, too. That left the sponsor, Democratic Sen. Lowe Finney, to twist in the wind. He knew what was coming and pleaded with the committee to listen to testimony against blowing the tops off our mountains. But the committee refused as coal miners in attendance burst into cheers.
"I hope the committee will be open to what we’re bringing before you today," Finney said. "And if there’s a way to make it better, I’m all for it. I hope we can start with the basic approach that we have a real treasure in East Tennessee, and this is one way we can work to protect what we have."
With some conservatives hopping aboard the bill this year, environmentalists hoped for a different result. But this idea is going no where as long as King Coal is playing Senate speaker Ron Ramsey like a Grand Ole Opry fiddle.
Update: In a press release, Appalachian Voices singled out the committee's missing Democrats for criticism, suggesting they sold out to the coal industry despite their past support for the bill.
J.W. Randolph, the Tennessee director of Appalachian Voices, and Ann League, a resident and property owner in Tennessee's coal-bearing region, had been scheduled to testify.
“Just as we were called up to speak to the committee, the chairman stopped us short," said Randolph. He said committee members failed to put a motion on the bill, and so let it die without discussion. "Despite the fact that Tennesseans from the left, right and center, and from a broad array of interests have come together to protect our mountains, our voices were silenced.
"Instead, the senators chose to side with the coal industry whose political influence has long outlasted its ability to grow jobs in our state or protect the health and well-being of citizens in the coal region."
Randolph noted that two senators who have generally supported mountain protection, Ophelia Ford and [Republican] Jim Summerville, were not in attendance, and a third, Charlotte Burks, who has voted for the bill in the past, left the committee meeting.