Tennessee is a red state, and like so many other red states in our country, it has a challenged relationship with environmental issues like climate change, clean air and how to preserve their natural land. Mountaintop removal mining is one of the main industries of the state and if anyone there cared too deeply about their hills and dales, the image above would not be a gut-wrenching part of Tennessee’s legacy. But it is. They’ve had no problem blowing apart their mountains and destroying their terrain for years and don’t really like anyone telling them not to, but suddenly of late they’ve become very protective of those same mountains. What’s up? Sudden-onset environmental guilt?
Chinese mining concerns want Tennessee’s mountains for their coal and, though up till now it’s been acceptable for Tennesseeans to blow up the mountains of their red state, damned if they’re going to let “red China” come in and do the same. From Mother Jones:
On Tuesday, the Tennessee Conservative Union, which bills itself as the state’s “largest and oldest conservative group,” started running anti-mountaintop removal coal mining ads on television throughout the state. Their complaint? The Chinese company Guizhou Guochuang Energy Holding Group announced last year that it is acquiring Triple H Coal Mining, which does mountaintop removal. The Tennessee Conservative Union ad warns that they will become “the first state in our great nation to permit the red Chinese to destroy our mountains and take our coal.”
“We’re proud that Tennessee is a red state,” the ad concludes. “But just how red are we willing to go?”
That’s putting it bluntly. And not just a little un-pc. In a drawling, southern cadence, the narrator says “red Chinese” with a sneer so audible you can practically see it and the jingoistic point is made. Here’s the ad; see what you think:
But these are conservatives! They’re generally more concerned with money, industry, and profit margins than saving forests and wildlife habitats. Have they gone soft? Turns out, surprisingly, that whatever they might have thought on the topic before, the very idea of the Chinese coming into a southern state to blow up their mountains was a tipping point… though they’re parsing it a little differently:
“The Tennessee Conservative Union is 100% pro-Coal, but our organization does not support destroying our mountain heritage,” TCU Chairman Lloyd Daugherty said in a statement Tuesday. “Mountaintop removal mining kills jobs because it takes fewer workers to blow up a mountain.” [Source]
OH. So it’s about the number of jobs. Now that sounds more like a conservative than worrying about trees! But still, the stance has activists around the state cheering. But what about that decidedly anti-Chinese ad?
The Scenic Vistas Protection Act is a bill being considered this week by both the Tennessee House and Senate. It would offer protection for any “ridgeline above 2000 feet elevation about sea level” and in a state being decimated by mountaintop mining, this is no small thing. And it just so happens the Tennessee Conservative Union supports the bill. Which means environmentalists fighting to save their mountains will swallow any antipathy for drawling anti-Chinese rhetoric and welcome the support and collaboration of TCU with… open arms.
JW Randolph, Tennessee director of Appalachian Voices, a group that has been working to pass the anti-mountaintop removal law, welcomed the ad. “We don’t care if you’re from Bristol or Beijing, blowing up the oldest mountains in America for a few tons of coal is a bad idea,” he said. [Source]
Which, according to Chattanooga website, Nooga.com, is exactly what has been happening. While Tennessee is not the worst purveyor of mountain destruction in Appalachia, it has lost 6 of its mountains so far:
Just a few hours north of Chattanooga, mountaintop removal—a form of surface mining for coal—is destroying the very mountains that Tennesseans cherish, impacting an area the size of metropolitan Chattanooga (roughly 80,000 acres).
It seems you really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone and, in Tennessee, those who’ve started paying attention to just how much they’ve lost, a group which appears to include not only environmentalists but the Tennessee Conservatives Union, are no longer willing to let anyone continue blowing up their terrain.
But let’s be honest – if you ask the TCU – that particularly applies to the “red Chinese.” Ah, the price of compromise.