Mountaintop removal ban killed in Tenn. House

Friday, March 23, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 12

NASHVILLE (AP) - A House subcommittee Tuesday killed a bill seeking to ban mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee.

The House Conservation Subcommittee voted 6-4 to send the measure sponsored by Rep. Mike McDonald to a study committee after the Legislature adjourns for the year.

Republican Rep. Richard Floyd of Chattanooga made the motion to put off a vote on the bill because he said the panel needed more information about the measure.

McDonald, a Portland Democrat who is retiring from the Legislature this year, noted that versions of the bill have been before Tennessee lawmakers since 2008, and that opposing views have had ample opportunity to be heard.

A busload of members of the mining industry crowded into the hearing room in black t-shirts reading "Legalize Coal." Earlier in the day they held up signs near the entrance of the legislative office complex.

"We're here to rally for our jobs," said Barry Thacker, pres ident of Knoxville-based Geo Environmental Associates Inc. "We just don't understand how folks in this type of an environment would want to take our jobs from us."

The bill sponsored by McDonald and Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Winchester, would ban any mining that alters ridgelines more than 2,000 feet above sea level. Supporters call the measure the "Scenic Vistas Protection Act," and have been running television ads to drum up support for the bill.

Opponents argue that Tennessee doesn't practice mountaintop removal mining. 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 mining we're doing now is on land that was strip mined back in the 60s and 70s," Thacker said. "And coal companies are now going back and reclaiming that land using the forestry reclamation approach, which is that we plant trees on it."

The bill wou ld exclude mines with current mining permits, but opponents worry that it is a first step toward ending Tennessee coal mining.

"It will eventually impact and cause most if not all coal mining in the state to leave," Thacker said. "And we need coal mining."