Fri
Mar 28 2008
07:40 am

The Tennessee Senate Environment and Conservation Committee had a somewhat confrontational hearing Wednesday on the bill to ban mountaintop removal. Chair Tommy Kilby blocked a vote on the measure.

There was some good news, though. See the LEAF update after the jump. Also see this report at Facing South.

Leaf Action Alert March 27th 2008

It was a good week in Nashville. The best news is a new Attorney General's opinion. As you remember, last week the Tennessee Attorney General said that regulation of mining was preempted by federal mining law. Bills rarely pass with a bad AG's opinion, so last week our sponsors amended the bill and asked the Attorney General to take another look. We were on pins and needles all weekend hoping for an answer by Monday, but the call didn't come. Tuesday was a long day; we had to prepare for our Senate hearing the following morning, but still had no answer.

Finally, shortly after 4 p.m. on Tuesday, we got the new AG's opinion. It was not just good, it was great! The new opinion said our amendment had corrected the earlier problems and that Tennessee could regulate mining so long as our state laws did not conflict with Federal law. In particular, the new opinion agreed that more restrictive state mining laws were fine.

This by itself is a victory for Tennessee's mountains. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is now even more empowered to protect our beautiful mountains.

In the Senate, we had good news and bad news. The good news is that on Wednesday, the day we were told to expect a vote, we had the necessary votes present and ready to vote for the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act. At the hearing, we provided the Senate committee members with lots of ugly pictures (again) and the list of Office of Surface Mining violations (long and scary).

The bad news is that the committee chairman, Senator Tommy Kilby, once again blocked a vote. This first happened about a month ago and is beginning to get tiresome.

The idea, we suspect, is to prevent us from going into the House sub-committee next week (recognized by everyone as the real pinch point for this bill) with the bounce of having just passed in the Senate committee. That is now the scenario we're facing.

We are on the calendar for the House subcommittee at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, April 2, and in the Senate committee on that same day at 10:00 a.m. If we don't pass in the House subcommittee that morning, our supporters in the Senate will never get to vote on our legislation because any loss along the way in either legislative body will kill the bill. This is crunch time.

But there is more good news. The House subcommittee is still too close to call, and we have all of you helping. The press continues to watch and report favorably on our legislation, and we have come to expect miracles daily.

At this point, Pat and I are optimistic about our chances.

If we win in the House subcommittee on Wednesday (which we expect to be our toughest vote) the odds are that the bill will pass within the next month. If that happens, our beautiful, high mountain peaks will survive for future generations of Tennesseans to enjoy.

So here's every one's "To Do" list for the coming week:

1. Call, write, e-mail the House subcommittee members, listed here:

John C. Tidwell (615) 741-4324 john.tidwell@legislature.state.tn.us
David Hawk (615) 741-7482 david.hawk@legislature.state.tn.us
Joe McCord (615) 741-5481 joe.mccord@legislature.state.tn.us
Frank Niceley (615) 741-4419 frank.niceley@legislature.state.tn.us
George Fraley (615) 741-8695 george.fraley@legislature.state.tn.us [Due to Rep. Fraley's recent illness, e-mails are the best way to reach him.]

2. Stay after the Governor. Call, write, or email his office. Ask him to publicly endorse our bill. If he won't publicly endorse our legislation, ask him to at least make calls to key members of the House to ensure that our bill gets out of the House Environment subcommittee.

3. Take the beautiful letters and emails that you have sent to these politicians, modify them slightly, and then send them to newspapers as letters to the editor. We heard many comments this week on how your letters and comments were varied and heart-felt. They are having an impact.

4. Add to the buzz: encourage media, call radio shows, post comments on media websites, call your friends, forward this Action Alert to as many people as possible, and ask interested organizations to weigh in with support for our cause. We are reminded, for example, of the growing list of fishermen who have expressed concerns about the effects of coal mining on rivers they passionately care about. And what about your pastor, your scout troop, your family reunion list? If you belong to such a group, invite them to participate.

We were recently accused of being funded by "big money" because we have been so effective at contacts to the legislature as well as the media. Pat and I had to laugh. So far we've spent less than $2,000. I think our big inside edge is that, as Tennesseans, we love our mountains and we expect our government to hear us.

You are all invited to attend the legislative committee meetings on Wednesday, April 2. Having supporters in the hearing rooms would be wonderful. See you in Nashville!

Dawn Coppock
LEAF Legislative Director

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