Mountaintop removal ban killed in Tenn. Senate

Lucas l. Johnson Ii, Associated Press
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Sponsors of a measure to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee say they plan to bring the legislation back next year after a Senate panel killed it Wednesday.

The proposal sponsored by Sen. Lowe Finney of Jackson and Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, both Democrats, failed in the Senate, Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee for lack of a motion.

"I'm disappointed that the committee did not at least want to talk about it," Finney told reporters outside the hearing room. "We'll be back next year. This is an issue that's not going to go away simply because it did not get a motion this year."

The practice involves blasting apart mountain ridge tops to expose multiple coal seams. The resulting rock and debris is dumped in streams, creating what the industry calls valley fills.

The legislation, called the "Scenic Vistas Protection Act," is similar to others that failed in the past. It would ban any mining that alters ridgelines more than 2,000 feet above sea level. The bill would exclude mines with current mining permits.

Supporters of the legislation say it's necessary because mountaintop removal is harmful to the environment and could hurt the state's tourist industry.

"If we do nothing to protect our mountaintops, we will be left with nothing," Johnson said. "Our irreplaceable mountains will be destroyed ... and our multi-billion dollar tourism industry will be left in shambles."

Lloyd Daugherty is chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union, the state's oldest conservative group. He said in a news release earlier this week that TCU is "100 percent pro-coal, but our organization does not support destroying our mountain heritage."

Opponents worry the proposal is a first step toward ending Tennessee coal mining. Members of the mining industry crowded into the hearing room on Wednesday to oppose the bill.

"We've got three permits right now that are above 2,000 feet that we are about to go to work on," Tennessee Mining Association President Chuck Laine told reporters after the hearing. "That would have been 350 jobs right there."