U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R. Tenn.), at a Senate hearing today on mountaintop removal, said that “coal is an essential part of our energy future, but it is not necessary to destroy our mountain tops and streams in order to have enough coal.”
Alexander, a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, urged his colleagues to enact legislation he and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) are sponsoring that would end the practice of dumping coal mining waste into streams. “Millions of tourists spend tens of millions of dollars in Tennessee every year to enjoy the natural beauty of our mountains—a beauty that, for me, and I believe for most Tennesseans, makes us proud to live here.
“Saving our mountaintops is important whether we are talking about cleaning up air pollution, stopping the practice of putting 50-story wind turbines atop our most scenic ridges, or ending the practice of blowing off the tops of mountains and dumping the excess waste in streams,” the senator continued. “People live in and come to visit Tennessee to see natural beauty of the mountains -- not to see smoggy air, massive ridge top towers and excess waste piled in streams.”
With Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Alexander has introduced legislation that would stiffen air pollution requirements for sulfur, nitrogen and mercury emissions from coal plants. As ranking member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, he has urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to develop a plan for “appropriate locations of massive wind turbines to protect scenic Appalachian mountaintops from Georgia through Maine.”
Alexander said that dumping excess coal waste into streams does not now occur in Tennessee today, but that he wants to “make sure that it never starts. This legislation does not ban surface mining as it is presently practiced in Tennessee, but it does help to make sure that the beauty of our mountains and our streams will continue to be protected for us and for our visitors.”
Alexander said, “The United States produces 50 percent of our electricity from coal, and coal will continue for the foreseeable future to be a primary source of energy. We need a lot of electricity and we have plenty of coal. We don’t have to import it from unfriendly nations. Electricity from coal is much cheaper than electricity from the wind and the sun—and it’s reliable. And we know how to burn coal cleanly—except for carbon.” Alexander has called for a “mini-Manhattan project like our effort in World War II to find ways to capture carbon from existing coal plants.” He once told Energy Secretary Steven Chu that “a Nobel prize in science should be reserved for the scientist who figures out how to capture carbon emissions from existing coal plants.”
The Cardin-Alexander Appalachian Restoration Act would amend the Clean Water Act to define a material to be a pollutant if it replaces water with dry land or changes the depth of the body of water for any purpose. It would allow “cross-ridge mining” where a mountain’s top is moved, the underlying coal mined, and then the mountain top restored.
Witnesses at the hearing included:
• John “Randy” Pomponio, Director of Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division (EAID), Region Three, United States Environmental Protection Agency
• Maria Gunnoe, Organizer, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
• Dr. Margaret Palmer, Laboratory Director, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences
• Paul Sloan, Deputy Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation
• Randy Huffman, Cabinet Secretary, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection