Nashville – State lawmakers and religious leaders joined the faith-based Creation Care organization Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship (LEAF) today at a press conference at Legislative Plaza to launch “Only God Should Move Mountains,” a campaign to end the harmful practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in Tennessee.
A bill currently moving through the legislature, known as the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act, would prohibit surface coal mining that alters or disturbs ridgelines at elevations higher than 2,000 feet above sea level. High-elevation surface coal mining is a method of extracting coal from mountains by using explosives to provide easy access to coal seams, but irreparably damaging the mountain.
“Our message is simple,” said Dawn Coppock legislative director of LEAF. “As Christians, we are told through scripture to enjoy and respect God’s Creation. Blowing up mountains for an extremely small amount of coal forever damages God’s handiwork, and we must put an end to it. Man should not permanently alter Creation. Only God should move mountains.”
Senate sponsor Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) was joined by House sponsors Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and Rep. Michael Ray McDonald (D-Portland) at the press event to show support for LEAF’s effort and to address the significance of a bill that is drawing support from both sides of the political aisle. Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) is also sponsoring the bill, but was unable to attend the press event.
“Some issues surpass political affiliations, and this is certainly the case for the issue of mountaintop removal,” Ketron said. “While I respect the coal industry in Tennessee, it needs to be done using responsible methods. The consequences of high-elevation surface mining far outweigh the benefits. Once the coal is gone, the few jobs it provides go with it. But the mountains are damaged forever, the water and air is polluted and the local communities are left with the consequences.”
Surface coal mining in Tennessee currently employs less than 400 people. Most of these workers are employed in traditional surface mines, not mountaintop removal mines, which require fewer employees.
Proponents of the Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act contrast the coal industry with the state’s lucrative tourism industry, which employs 177,000 Tennesseans and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues. Mountaintop removal, they say, is a direct contradiction to the very reason why millions of tourists from around the globe visit the mountains of East Tennessee every year.
Statewide religious congregations have also joined the cause to end mountaintop removal in Tennessee. The Reverend Ryan Bennett, senior pastor of Pleasant View United Methodist Church in Cheatham County, called on all Tennessee faith-based denominations to take a stand for the environment.
“Stewardship of the environment should be something all Christians are concerned with as it is an integral part of our faith,” Bennett said. “A disregard for the state of God's creation shows a lack of love for the creator. We enjoy the majesty of God's mountains so we take steps to prevent them from being blown up in the name of business. This earth is on loan from God so we are responsible to show our love of God by how we care for it.”
To date, more than 1.5 million acres of Appalachia have been flattened, more than 700 miles of streams polluted and several communities displaced as a result of mountaintop removal. Tennessee currently has at least four active and 13 proposed mountaintop removal sites in Anderson, Claiborne, Campbell, Fentress, Morgan and Scott Counties.
Lindquist Environmental Appalachian Fellowship (LEAF) is a Christian fellowship whose faith leads them to take action for Tennessee’s environment. Established as a memorial to Kathy Lindquist’s deep religious faith and dedication to environmental stewardship, the organization is rooted in the belief that concern for God’s Creation is not a matter of being liberal or conservative. Lindquist believed that people of faith can and should look beyond such distinctions and do the Lord’s work together.
For additional information, visit www.tnleaf.org