NASHVILLE — A bill that would ban surface mining on ridge lines above 2,000 ft. in elevation has been reintroduced in the Tennessee state legislature.
The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act has been attempted — and failed — in the legislature for several years running. It is aimed at preventing cross-ridge mining in the Cumberland Mountains, such as the Zeb Mountain mine in western Campbell County.
Cross-ridge mining is Tennessee's version of mountaintop removal mining that is prevalent in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia. Currently, state law provides guidelines for surface mining on those ridge lines, requiring that the ridges be rebuilt to their original contour once mining operations are complete. Several mountain tops and ridge lines in eastern Scott County have been identified as potential sites for cross-ridge mines. The Tennessee Valley Authority owns the mineral rights on a number of those ridges, many of which lie in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.
The legislation is pushed by the Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship (LEAF), a Knoxville bipartisan, faith-based environmental organization.
This year's attempt at the mining ban is sponsored in the House of Representatives by freshman legislator Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville. The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Lowe Finney, D-Jackson.
Efforts to ban mountaintop removal mining in Tennessee date back to 2007, when then-Sen. Tommy Kilby, D-Wartburg, who represented several of the counties where mining is prevalent, successfully prevented the bill from reaching the Senate floor for a full vote.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has remained neutral on the issue, but there appears to be little support for stricter mining regulations among Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and the Republican leadership in the legislature.
Last year, Ramsey hailed a compromise on the issue that was swiftly passed by the General Assembly. However, proponents of the mining ban said it was anything but.
Advocates of surface mining say it provides jobs while offering a reasonable method of extracting the coal necessary for cheap energy with safeguards in place to prevent environmental damage.
Opponents say that mountaintop removal mining creates fewer jobs than deep mining while unnecessarily polluting streams, contaminating wells and forever altering the landscape, which is crucial to tourism. A recent study found that tourism is Tennessee's No. 1 industry.
While support for a mountaintop removal mining ban in Tennessee comes primarily from a coalition of Democrats in the legislature, LEAF maintains that it has bipartisan support for the ban.
"Supporters of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act come from both parties," LEAF executive director Patricia Hudson said. "This year, we hope to build on the bipartisan coalition."