By Chas Sisk, The Tennessean
A bill that would have restricted surface mining at high elevations was killed for the year Wednesday in the Tennessee Senate.
meant to prevent new "mountaintop removal" mining projects in Tennessee
failed in the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources
Committee when members declined to take up the measure. The decision
snuffed out any debate on the bill, despite a plea from its sponsor to
hold a hearing on the measure.
"I was hoping for at least a
discussion," said state Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson. "If they're not for
it, that's one thing. ... I think the committee should have at least
taken it up and studied it."
Senate Bill 99
would have denied water permits for new mining projects that disturb
ridgelines higher than 2,000 feet. Existing mines would have been able
to continue under their current permits, as well as mines that use
underground mining techniques, supporters said.
There was little
chance the bill would clear the state legislature, which has rejected
such measures repeatedly in the past. But witnesses for both sides were
on hand to debate the bill, if necessary.
About 30 people wearing
hard hats, work jackets and black shirts with pro-coal slogans filled
three rows at the front of the hearing room. Committee members - six
Republicans and one Democrat - welcomed them warmly at the start of the
"This bill was an attempt to do away with coal mining in
Tennessee," said Chuck Laine, president of the Tennessee Mining
Association. "It didn't do anything to timber, windmills, cellphone
towers. Nothing else was included but coal, because this was an attempt
to do away with coal."
High-elevation surface mining does take
place in Tennessee, though supporters and opponents of the bill differ
on whether this constitutes "mountaintop removal."
Foes of the
legislation say coal companies use techniques in Tennessee that are less
disruptive to ridgelines than those employed in other states, such as
West Virginia. But environmental groups and others say these techniques
also spoil scenic vistas and pollute groundwater in the valleys below.
Finney said he plans to try again next year.