This spring, MTSU’s Students for Environmental Action stayed busy lobbying for a bill that would make an aspect of high-ridge strip mining, or mountaintop removal, illegal.
Now the group has scheduled an Earth Week observance that includes a special “Meditate for the Mountains” event on Tuesday, April 17, on the University campus.
The bill, known as the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, was intended to outlaw any new surface mining above 2,000 feet in Tennessee. It was killed in March, but if the bill returns to the state Legislature next year and is passed, Tennessee will become the first state in the country to outlaw the practice.
MTSU’s S.E.A. spent many days at the Capitol in Nashville, lobbying and attending hearings. Its “Meditate for the Mountains” event, planned for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Keathley University Center Knoll, supports restoring the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act to its original content, which would protect the Appalachians from the use of machinery and explosives to access the coal inside.
The particular bill, under varying names, has been in the state Senate for five years, but this was the first time it had moved out of the subcommittee and onto the floor. S.E.A. activists attended protests and workshops on lobbying and extreme energy extraction and even sent handmade Christmas and Valentine’s Day cards to their senators.
MTSU S.E.A. President Kayla Connelly insists that even though the bill didn’t pass this year, it will be reintroduced during the next legislative session and the group will continue with even more determination to ban high-ridge strip mining.
Giant before-and-after photos of mountains that have undergone this process help explain why the S.E.A. members chose this issue. Connelly says mountaintop removal does more than leave an ugly mark on the land; it could hurt Tennessee’s tourism industry.
More importantly, she says, high-ridge strip mining also affects the water supply of those living outside Appalachia.
“When they [coal companies] expose heavy metals like arsenic, mercury and lead from the mountains, water meets those toxins and runs down the mountains and flows into our watersheds, so we are drinking those poisons that are coming from hundreds of miles away,” Connelly says. “So just because we can’t hear it or see it or feel the shakes in the Earth, it’s still affecting our water supply and lives in middle Tennessee.”
In fact, the bill was classified as a water-regulation matter in the Legislature.
Connelly is urging community members to become involved.
“We have a responsibility as Tennesseans to set a precedent for the rest of the nation, especially for Appalachia,” she says, explaining that Tennessee only has five to seven active sites, but Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia are being “devastated.”
“King Coal has been ravaging Appalachia for over a century, leaving poverty and disease in his wake,” Connelly says. “The transition to highly mechanized and explosive mountaintop mining in the past few decades marks a noticeable increase in community oppression and job loss. Families are torn apart over this issue.
“It’s a touchy subject, because coal mining has historically been the source of many people’s livelihoods. It is our hope that we can stop this monster from doing to Tennessee what it has done to neighboring states like Kentucky.”
She says community members can help by contacting their elected officials and voicing their concern. There’s also still an active petition online at www.gopetition.com/petitions/support-the-tennessee-scenic-vistas-protection-act.html.
In the meantime, the group’s Earth Week events through April 20 also include workshops, presentations from local “green” businesses on April 18, a weeklong recycled art show in the Todd Gallery, an April 20 “ECOuture Fashion Show and more. For more information about the S.E.A. Earth Week events, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
S.E.A. meets every other Monday at 7 p.m. in the Business and Aerospace Building in Room S-315 and is always accepting new members. Any questions on how to further help campaign for the TSVPA or join S.E.A. can be sent to the group’s email address, email@example.com.
— Rachel Nutt (firstname.lastname@example.org)