Tennessee: Mining bill flounders

On June 9, 2010, in News 2010, by Mark Norris

By: Andy Sher, TimesFreePress.com
June 9, 2010

NASHVILLE — Efforts to pull a bill banning a method of coal mining known as “mountain top removal” from committee directly to the Senate floor failed today.

Proponents questioned whether the General Assembly was under control of the state’s small coal industry and contended pro-coal forces and their legislative allies quashed a vote in the Senate Conservation Committee.

“We have a simple choice here today,” said Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, who led the effort. “Are we in the hands of a few people in the coal lobby or are we with Tennesseans asking to vote aye on this motion?”

Efforts to bring the bill failed with 12 senators voting yes and 14 voting no.

The prime sponsor of the bill, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, likened the state’s failure to regulate the practice to the ongoing ecological disaster resulting from BP’s deep water oil well’s explosion and subsequent spill.

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, who has coal mining operations in his district, opposed the Jackson bill, which would have made surface coal mining above 2,000 feet illegal in Tennessee.

He noted lawmakers heard from a panel of scientists who asserted mountaintop removal endangers health “with the understanding that proponents would be able to have their say as well … Unfortunately, the committe shut down.”

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, also said the bill wasn’t moving in the House and the Senate’s practice is not to take those types of measures up.

Sen. Jackson said the committee never did shut down. Sen. Berke noted the House Conservation and Environment Committee took no action, citing its Senate counterpart’s refusal.

Sen. Berke said he was encouraged to bring the bill up after Senate Republicans, who have a 19-14 majority, called another bill from committee last week dealing with the federal health care law. That took a simple majority of votes.

Republicans hope to amend the bill with another measure in an effort to nullify the federal law and require the state attorney general to sue.

Earlier this year, Nashville television station WTVF reported that Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who is running for governor, received more than $195,000 from coal-related interests in 2009 and 2010.

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