Update: Please contact the members of the House Environment committee and tell them you support the Scenic Vistas Protection Act.
Tennessee General Assembly – House Environment Committee Link
Original Post follows…As reported by the AP, yesterday the Tennessee State Senate delayed a vote on Scenic Vistas Protection Act, sponsored by Senator Eric Stewart – Belvedere.
The bill, which has been buried for the past five years was delayed once again in an attempt to kill it, despite claims by the Senate Majority Leader to the contrary.
In fact, they’re trying to do it on the anniversary of successfully killing it last year. I’m sure its just a coincidence.
Coal mining in Tennessee isn’t one of our core industries. In fact, Tennessee ranks 21st in the nation in coal production (25 states produce none, meaning there are only 4 states in the US that produce less). There are fewer than 650 people employed in the coal industry in Tennessee. These individuals typically operate specialized equipment or have specialized explosives expertise. In short, opening up the coal industry in Tennessee isn’t going to produce any real jobs.
In fact, while Tennessee was producing the greatest amount of coal in its history, jobs were being cut due to increased mechanization. This was 1972. I guarantee it hasn’t gotten any better, despite the empty rhetoric of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
Last week, a Senate committee voted to gut the bill with an amendment. This week they’ve sought to delay that gutted bill until April 2. The GOP leadership in the Senate is terrified of having a vote recorded in the full Senate on this measure. I seriously doubt there will be any vote on it April 2nd either.
That said, if you want to see this bill passed, I suggest you make plans to be in Nashville on April 2nd. We need to fill the Senate gallery to overflowing, and make a show of support for this bill. And if they try to delay it again, we need to make sure they know we’re not happy about it.
Barring any bill schedule changes, I’m planning to be there. Hopefully you will too.
So why does a guy in Memphis, hundreds of miles away from the affected mountains care about this bill? Because even though its not in my backyard, it impacts me. If water quality suffers in East and Middle TN, then the health of folks in those areas suffer. Legislators intent on reducing water quality standards will use water quality levels in other areas to lower the standards here, which means we’ll have more undesirable things in our water. It’s a downward spiral that I don’t want to happen to anyone. Not here in Memphis, or Monteagle, or Mountain City.
Tak a moment to call or write every one of these State Senators. Tell them you support the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, that you’re upset that the bill was watered down in committee, and that you’re going to be there April 2nd to make sure they do the right thing: restore the original language, and pass the bill.
Getting this done is going to take a show of strength. I hope you’ll take a little time out of your day this week, and make plans to be in Nashville on the 2nd.
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.