Environmentalists outline legislative agenda

Monday, January 25, 2010 at 2:02pm

Environmentalists laid out their agenda Monday for this year’s legislative session, giving one of their top priorities to banning mountaintop removal coal mining.

Under pressure from coal companies, the legislature has refused for two straight years to prohibit this method of mining, in which ridgelines are dynamited to gain access to coal seams, but environmentalists said they will try again in 2010 to enact the ban.

“Our beautiful landscapes are as much a part of our Tennessee DNA as singing 'Rocky Top.' But sadly, some would steal our heritage and this natural beauty and leave us rocky topless,” said Mary Helen Clarke, a member of the Tennessee Conservation Voters board. “The time is now for our General Assembly to pass legislation banning mountaintop removal mining. This is an obviously needed protection with bipartisan support whose time has come.”

The environmentalists also called for the legislature to restore the state’s fund to buy and preserve wetlands and state parklands. The fund’s estimated $20 million annually was diverted two years ago to help balance the state budget and has yet to be redirected to land conservation.

“We have wonderful landscapes all over Tennessee at risk,” said Kathleen Williams, director of the Tennessee Parks and Greenways Foundation. “We need the full restoration of these funds. Land conservation cannot wait. This is the defining moment for our state.”