by Jeff Woods
Did you know that, contrary to popular opinion, coal mining is a boon to the environment? Woodland creatures love to frolic on the devastated land, and the sun-dappled streams of Appalachia are burbling clear and clean through the mining rubble and debris. Why, even on the tomahawked Zeb Mountain, schoolchildren are planting American chestnut trees, and they’re surviving! Oh Chestnut tree Oh Chestnut tree we miss your mighty branches. King Coal is turning Tennessee into a scene from Bambi. Who knew?
“It’s a positive situation,” Baird said.
The Scenic Vistas Act, which senators refused to even think about today, would have abolished coal mining in Tennessee, according to Laine, and why? He says there’s no such thing as mountaintop removal mining in this state.
“This bill is intended to do away with coal mining in Tennessee,” Laine said. “It was a blatant attempt to do that. The citizens of Tennessee won today.”
“We don’t do mountaintop removal,” he explained helpfully. “If you go to West Virginia, where they do it, their topography is not like ours. The mountains are so close together that you can physically take the top off a mountain, shove it in the valley and create an undulating plateau. Our mountains aren’t that close together. So to begin with, we couldn’t do it just because of our topography here.”
That’s good to know. But what about Campbell County’s scalped Zeb Mountain, which looks like the moon?
Well that happened “back in the ‘60s before there were laws” when coal companies didn’t love the environment so much, Laine said.
“A coal company went up there and took the top off the mountain and threw everything down. We have been going back and using modern mining, we are restoring it. They have satellite photos of it and there’s like three knobs. We put three knobs back on. As we mine, we’re restoring that mountain. So that’s not a mountaintop removal job. That’s a mountain restoration job.”
Why do coal companies say mountaintop removal doesn't happen in Tennessee? We suspect the coal industry is playing word games. Let's check LEAF's Mountaintop Mining Fact Sheet:
State regulators permit coal operators to blow up to 1000 vertical feet of fully forested mountaintops as long as they agree to replace them with piles of rock and rubble and sediment ponds. While the industry prefers to call this cross ridge mining, the mountaintops are nonetheless removed. The decision to attempt to grow trees on reclaimed sites in Tennessee is left up to the Federal Office of Surface Mining, on a permit-by-permit basis. Typically only nonnative grasses will grow on these sites and the sediment ponds must be maintained forever.