Press Release from Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, June 7, 2010:
Will call for vote on vital environmental issue after months of delay
NASHVILLE – State Sen. Andy Berke (D-Chattanooga) will attempt this week to revive a proposed ban on coal mining mountaintop removal in Tennessee after Republican lawmakers tried to sweep it under the rug this legislative session.
“We should not use parliamentary tricks to help special interest groups. It’s time to take up a real issue that Tennesseans care about,” Berke said. “Our mountains and way of life are too important to be bullied by a small group of people any longer.”
After Senate Republicans launched a controversial attempt last week to force through unconstitutional legislation concerning healthcare, Berke vowed to present the mountaintop removal ban through the same manner.
The bill to ban mountaintop removal (Senate Bill 1398) was scheduled for weeks in the Senate Environment Committee but the Committee never voted on it. Instead, the Committee never met, even though SB1398 and other bills still await action on its calendar. A week later, the House Subcommittee of Conservation and Environment held its last meeting and used a parliamentary rule to adjourn subject to the call of the chair, without voting on the House version of the mountaintop removal bill.
Under SB1398, surface coal mining above 2,000 feet – also known as ridge line mining, or mountaintop removal – would be illegal in Tennessee. Dr. Dennis Lemly, a research professor of biology at Wake Forest University, testified before a Senate committee that similar mountaintop mining has resulted in mutated and sickly fish born well downstream from mining sites. The selenium doesn’t disappear in fish; it compounds over time and works itself all the way up the food chain. Tennessee already allows mountaintop mining at Zeb Mountain in Pioneer, where pollution is showing up in water supplies.
The ban on mountaintop mining has won widespread approval from a range of Tennesseeans, including conservation advocates, tourism industry leaders, and faith-based groups who argue that mountaintop removal destroys God’s creation. Mountaintop removal mining employs fewer than 400 people in Tennessee, and actually takes away jobs by replacing people with dynamite. Tourism in Tennessee, meanwhile, generates a $14.2 billion economic impact and employs more than 184,700 Tennesseans.
Berke plans to call for the bill to be presented on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
“I’m fed up with the political games being played up at the state Capitol,” Berke said. “We’re supposed to be up here doing what’s right for Tennesseans instead of special interest groups.”