Mar 31 2011

#mountainsrock – Senate Update

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

via @thecountyseat

It was a four hour marathon. I think the only meeting I’ve been involved in that was longer involved Memphis City Schools, and Councilman Shea Flinn assures me that record will be beaten this budget season.

After what seemed to be a forever of Tourism testimony, which was interesting but seemed like a stalling tactic, we got another three hours of testimony from a couple of scientists, and a coal industry advocate, who, as one might expect, wasn’t too keen on the proposal.

There was talk of “reclaiming mines” a process whereby old surface mines abandoned from the era before the Feds got involved in mining, are restarted under current guidelines, which everyone seemed to agree left the mountain in a better state than it was after the first round of mining. Some on the committee seemed to say that mining activity was good for all mountains, something Zach Wamp alluded to in the GOP primary, a position that defies logic.

There were offers and counter offers and tries to make the thing go. The Chairman of the committee said that if the two sides could get together and come up with a compromise that he’d reopen the committee to get it to the floor. One member seemed to ask the coal advocate if there was any chance of a compromise, to which he replied no, a sure signal that no matter what happened, it wasn’t going to pass anyway.

But Sen. Eric Stewart put in a valiant effort, with some pretty awesome assists from Sen. Beverly Marrero whose pointed wit at times, seemed to tell the members engaging in a cat and mouse game, where the could stick their ball of yarn.

Ultimately, the bill failed on a party line vote. Sen. Herron left before the vote occurred, citing another appointment and the unusually long time frame of the committee session.

The House version of the bill is scheduled to come up in committee on April 12th. I’m not sure what Rep. McDonald has in mind for the bill. I’ll contact his office and see what’s on the horizon.

I want to thank all the people who took time out of their day to call or write the members of the House and Senate Committees about this. We didn’t win this round, but I am convinced that if we persevere and continue to advocate for common sense reforms like this one, we will be successful in our push to preserve the natural beauty around us.

As was noted in the meeting, this is the fourth year a version of this bill has come before this committee. Truth be told, from the very beginning it was evident to me here in Memphis, and friends in the audience in Nashville that folks had made up their minds before they even got there. The three hours of testimony was more about choking out the bill than anything else. It’s a time tested tactic to make things that folks don’t want to vote on go away.

That this bill hasn’t passed yet is not an indication that there’s something wrong with the bill, but that there’s something wrong with the people voting on the bill. Republicans have ruled the roost in the State Senate since 2006 when the balance of power shifted dramatically. Until that balance of power shifts again, bills like this are going to be next to impossible to pass.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It simply mean that elections matter…a whole lot more than we often think they do. Every battle lost today is a lesson learned for tomorrow, and should re-ignite our resolve to elect officials that are more in line with our Tennessee values.

I want to give a shout out to TN LEAF who I am in no way affiliated with, but became acquainted with in the process of learning about this issue. You can follow them on on the twitter @tnleaf. Their direct advocacy inspired me to encourage others to do the same. Keep the faith folks.

This isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning. I think you’ll be seeing more of this kind of advocacy in the future seeking to build coalitions on issues of common cause. That’s the way things are supposed to happen, and hopefully, through this hard work they will.

Mar 30 2011

#mountainsrock – Today in the TN State Senate

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

The buck doesn't stop here, there's still more to do.

Well yesterday didn’t turn out quite as planned. Who knew that deer farming would draw such a crowd? I sure didn’t.

The House Conservation Sub rolled HB0291 until April 12th. That means that there’s still time to contact the Representatives on the House Committee, as well as your own Representative even if they’re not on the committee. It also means that there’s plenty of time to plan a trip to Nashville in support of this bill, something I highly recommend. Nothing says support quite like a room full of supporters.

Of course, what happens today in the Senate Committee is also very important. Based on the calendar it doesn’t look like there are any deer farming bills on the agenda, so, if all goes well, we should be able to see where they stand. But don’t wait to find out, give them a call, send an email. Heck, you can even fax some of them (you can find their fax numbers by clicking on their names).

Let them know how important it is that we protect not only the mountaintops, but also the streams, plants and animals that live on those mountains.

I’ll have another update on this after the committee meeting this evening.

Senate Environment, Conservation & Tourism

Committee Meeting – Wednesday, March 30, 3:30PM – Room 12 LP

Steve Southerland – Phone (615) 741-3851 – email
Jack Johnson – Phone (615) 741-2495 – email
Jim Summerville – Phone (615) 741-4499 – email
Mike Bell – Phone (615) 741-1946 – email
Mike Faulk – Phone (615) 741-2061 – email
Roy Herron – Phone (615) 741-4576 – email
Beverly Marrero – Phone (615) 741-9128 – email
Kerry Roberts – Phone (615) 741-1999 – email
Eric Stewart – Phone (615) 741-6694 – email – Bill Sponsor

Mar 29 2011

Rocky Top Update

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

via @thecounttseat

The picture on the right is probably one of the best illustrations I’ve seen that describes the issue. You want pretty green mountains, scenic vistas that attract thousands of visitors that will sleep in our hotels, eat in our restaurants and shop in our stores, or do you want Tennessee to look like some post-apocalyptic wasteland that would make Tim Burton shiver?

This morning at 10:30 the Tennessee House Conservation Subcommittee takes up HB0291/SB0577, a bill that would prohibit surface mining on mountains higher than 2000 ft. above sea level. The contact information for all the legislators on this committee can be found below. I also added in the Senate Committee members that will be hearing the bill on Wednesday. Shoot all of them a note or make a call to their office. Tell your legislators that Tennessee’s natural beauty is one of our greatest assets and we need to do everything we can to preserve it.

This isn’t going to happen on its own. If this bill is to become law, we’ve got to show our support. There are some pretty powerful people that have opposed this in the past. Not least among them, current Lt. Governor, Ron Ramsey. As Newschannel 5 reported last March, the Lt. Governor exerted some pressure on the former sponsor of the bill.

Clip is about 5 min long, with an ad at the beginning.

Don’t let him stop this one. Contact the legislators below and tell them you support the passage of HB0291/SB0577.

House Conservation and Environment Committee

Conservation Subcommittee – Tuesday, March 29th, 10:30am, Room HHR30

David Hawk – Phone (615) 741-7482 – email
Ron Lollar – Phone (615) 741-7084 – email
Richard Floyd – Phone (615) 741-2746 – email
Sheila Butt – Phone: (615) 741-3005 – email
Charles Curtiss – Phone (615) 741-1963 – email
Brenda Gilmore – Phone (615) 741-1997 – email
Andy Holt – Phone (615) 741-7847 – email
Mike Kernell – Phone (615) 741-3726 – email
Pat Marsh – Phone (615) 741-6824 – email
Michael McDonald – Phone (615) 741-1980 – email – Bill Sponsor
Frank Nicely – Phone (615) 741-4419 – email
Art Swann – Phone (615) 741-5481 – email
John Tidwell – Phone (615) 741-7098 – email

Senate Environment, Conservation & Tourism

Committee Meeting – Wednesday, March 30, 3:30PM – Room 12 LP

Steve Southerland – Phone (615) 741-3851 – email
Jack Johnson – Phone (615) 741-2495 – email
Jim Summerville – Phone (615) 741-4499 – email
Mike Bell – Phone (615) 741-1946 – email
Mike Faulk – Phone (615) 741-2061 – email
Roy Herron – Phone (615) 741-4576 – email
Beverly Marrero – Phone (615) 741-9128 – email
Kerry Roberts – Phone (615) 741-1999 – email
Eric Stewart – Phone (615) 741-6694 – email – Bill Sponsor

Mar 28 2011

United Coal, The Quiet Company

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

via Tennessee Tourism

There’s a lot of things about East Tennessee that I don’t know, but I’m learning. Living on the exact opposite end of the state presents some challenges to that learning, but I’ve made a couple of trips over there, and have a couple more planned in the relatively near future.

In researching last night’s post I came across a lot of information that I honestly knew nothing about. For instance, I knew there were some strip mining sites in Tennessee, but I didn’t know there were only four active ones. That’s a lot better than I initially thought. Hopefully it will stay that way.

Another thing I didn’t know is that one of the largest European conglomerates in the world has its US headquarters in Bristol, TN. In fact, they just moved there about 18 months ago from the VA side of the state line. Now United Coal doesn’t sound European at all, but it’s owned by a company called Metinvest Group a Ukrainian based holding company that’s into all kinds of stuff worldwide.

In fact, the guy who really owns Metinvest, Renat Akhmetov, is reportedly the wealthiest guy in the Ukraine. Not too shabby for someone that didn’t get started until after the Soviet Union fell in 1991.

At the rate this guy is going he may surpass Bill Gates and Warren Buffett pretty soon. Think about it, 20 years, $31b, that’s $1.5b/year. Straight out of a former Communist country. Man, I wonder what it takes to get something started like that.

According to the report [“Overview of the Most Dangerous Organized Crime Structures in Ukraine”] Renat Akhmetov, born in 1966 in Donetsk, is listed as the leader of the “Renat’s” organized crime group. According to the document, “the group dealt with money laundering, financial fraud, and controlled a large number of both real and fictitious companies.” The group is listed as one whose activities “have been stopped,” and says further that their criminal natures “have not been confirmed.” (Source)

Wow, I hope they’re not all up in things like that here.

Since 2009, people with an interest in coal contributed more than $300,000 to people running for office in Tennessee. We found that more than $195,000 went to the powerful leader of the state senate, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey or his political action committee. (Source)

Oh wow. Then there’s this…

Point A: United Coal Headquarters

Point B: Ron Ramsey Auctions

Distance: 1.4 mi

Point C: Ron Ramsey Home

Distance between B and C: .9 mi


View Larger Map

Probably just a coincidence…right?

Mar 27 2011

Can You Still Sing Rocky Top,

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

When All the Rocks on Top are Gone?

Just because it isn't happening in your backyard now, doesn't mean it couldn't

That’s a question folks on the east side of Tennessee have been asking themselves for a long long time. While surface mining may not dominate the landscape as it does in Kentucky and West Virginia, there are a few sites here, and the potential for quite a few more as the image to the right shows. Thankfully, for a long time legislators have been loathe to loosen state regulations on the practice, which has saved countless mountains from basically having their heads shaved.

Sure, there have been other bills in the past, like the drink more selenium bill that comes up like acne on a teenager just about every year, but most of those have fallen by the wayside too. With the change in leadership, and the huge shift in the balance of power in the State House, the fate of bad bills like the selenium bill was very much in question.

For the most part, this legislative session this year has been a disaster. As Tennesseans struggle to make ends meet in an economy that’s making it harder and harder, many legislators in Nashville are spending their time on frivolous legislation. There was an unconstitutional anti-sharia law, a bill that requires Presidential Candidates provide a long-form birth certificate even though the sponsor didn’t know what one was, and a bill that would have Tennessee issue its own currency, a violation of Federal Law.

Yep, some of these guys have been busy, just not on doing anything that might help you. So when there is a diamond in this rough, it’s a sight to behold.

Behold, SB0577/HB0291 sponsored by Sen. Eric Stewart and Rep. Michael McDonald.

This bill would stop any new surface mining operations in the state of Tennessee that are 2000 ft above sea level. There are other provisions and you can read them all here. The thing is, this would actually do something for people by ensuring that one of our natural resources isn’t squandered, and that our most precious natural resource, water, isn’t made undrinkable in the process.

The bill comes before State House and Senate Committees this week, and will likely have an unfriendly presentation from a coal industry group in at least one committee.

Give all the members a call, an email, or show up to the meeting and tell them how you feel. Here’s how you can:

House Conservation and Environment Committee

Conservation Subcommittee – Tuesday, March 29th, 10:30am, Room HHR30

David Hawk – Phone (615) 741-7482 – email
Ron Lollar – Phone (615) 741-7084 – email
Richard Floyd – Phone (615) 741-2746 – email
Sheila Butt – Phone: (615) 741-3005 – email
Charles Curtiss – Phone (615) 741-1963 – email
Brenda Gilmore – Phone (615) 741-1997 – email
Andy Holt – Phone (615) 741-7847 – email
Mike Kernell – Phone (615) 741-3726 – email
Pat Marsh – Phone (615) 741-6824 – email
Michael McDonald – Phone (615) 741-1980 – email
Frank Nicely – Phone (615) 741-4419 – email
Art Swann – Phone (615) 741-5481 – email
John Tidwell – Phone (615) 741-7098 – email