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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 8/6/09

Our mountains are not for sale

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Message Don Williams
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(Note: To support the cause, scroll to the end and click a link--DW.)
Senator Lamar Alexander walked in on my young wife and me one night while smooching in the kitchen. It was autumn of 1982 at a place called Blackberry Farm, an upscale lodge nestled yes in the Smoky Mountains. Jeanne was working as an assistant chef and I was trying to write a book.

Alexander was our youngest governor ever at the time, having won lots of votes by virtue of walking across Tennessee in hiking boots. A multi-dimensional man, he's famous for playing classical piano in the great outdoors.

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Our politics have diverged and bent together since that night in a pattern as whimsical as meandering rivers separated by mountains, yet headed for the same sea. We disagree on many things, such as nukes (which he supports) and windmills (he opposes). But a shared love for Tennessee's mountains won't let me write him off as I do some politicians. There comes a fork where rivers blend.

I say that to grant Alexander this. He's got guts and he's got convictions. I hope he has clout when it comes to mountaintop removal.

Environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr., has called the practice of blasting tops off whole mountains and dumping the slag in the nearest valley, America's worst environmental disaster. Like him, Alexander believes this gross technique must come to an end. The Cumberlands are among the most bio-diverse and beautiful eco-systems on earth.

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Lands where mountaintop removal occurs become nearly lifeless in comparison to their pre-blasted state. Most of the flora and fauna that existed there for thousands or millions of years can no longer survive in the slag-heap once it's been "reclaimed" by invasive species. The travesty sullies headwaters of dozens of streams that flow into the Tennessee, the Cumberland, the Obed and many other rivers.

Alexander and seven other legislators are co-sponsoring a bill that would ban coal companies from blasting away mountaintops to unearth coal.

Now here's where it gets interesting. In a move about as cynical as it gets, a company called Coal-Mac, Inc., in West Virginia, has asked its 300 employees not to vacation in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains anymore, and is urging fellow mountain blasters in Virginia and Kentucky to join them. They claim it's because Alexander's bill would eliminate lots of jobs.

The Sierra Club of Kentucky has responded in support of Alexander's proposal by calling on members nationwide to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and other Tennessee tourist sites. The Sierra Club has about 800,000 members nationwide.

Three points:

First, we're not talking about multitudes of downtrodden miners having bread taken from their mouths. That's because mountaintop removal is about as job-friendly as robotic assembly lines. All one needs to set up shop are a few trucks, dozers and lots of dynamite. Only a few thousand miners work in mountaintop removal mines where many hundreds of thousands once worked in more traditional mines.

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Second, coal thus ripped from the earth mostly serves to line pockets of coal company owners and Chinese manufacturers. Such coal leaves the state bound for Asia, where it sullies the air and encourages the building of hundreds of new but old-fashioned power plants in China burning dirty coal.

Third, I'd urge senators and representatives to consider the world they want for our children and theirs. Is it a world in which we're willing to trade off one of the most bountiful eco-systems in exchange for temporary prosperity for a few? Or do we want a world in which concepts such as "balance of trade" and "gross domestic product" take into account the unprecedented drawing-down of resources and the huge cost in damage to our rivers, lakes, streams, the air we breathe and the very contours of our earth.

As far as boycotters of Tennessee tourism go, to them I can only say, yes, please stay home, and keep your trucks and dynamite well away from our beloved mountains. They're not for sale. Not at that price.

To help end mountaintop removal, by contacting legislators, click the following link and scroll to the bottom.

or visit


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Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, short story writer, freelancer, and the founding editor and publisher of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of literary stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the (more...)
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