Next governor must protect the state’s resources

October 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Environment

Cute Kid Holding The second in a series of op-eds ( read the first with Tennessee Disability Coalition) from Tennessee Citizen Action’s Kris Murphy and friends. This time it’s Penny Brooks from the Sierra Club and Tennessee Conservation Voters asking the next governor to protect the state’s valuable resources:

“There is still some­thing to save in Ten­nessee” said the head of a local branch of a national con­ser­va­tion orga­ni­za­tion to the House Envi­ron­ment Com­mit­tee, explain­ing why he moved here from the Midwest.

“Yes, there is,” would be the echo of every cit­i­zen of Ten­nessee who vis­its the coun­try­side or state parks or boats our abun­dant streams and rivers. Yet each Jan­u­ary, when the state leg­is­la­ture con­venes, mil­lions of Ten­nesseans should hold their col­lec­tive breaths. The fate of the state is at stake and any­thing can happen.

For exam­ple, our leg­is­la­ture con­tin­ues to allow coal com­pa­nies to use moun­tain­top removal to mine coal. It lit­er­ally takes the tops off of moun­tains and dumps what is extracted into the val­leys below, destroy­ing streams and habi­tat and vistas.

The bills to limit this prac­tice come up every year in the leg­is­la­ture but are defeated by leg­is­la­tors who are beholden to the big money lob­by­ists of the coal indus­try, or even leg­is­la­tors’ own inter­ests in some of the biggest pol­luters. Will our next gov­er­nor fight against leg­is­la­tors who care only for the pol­luters and not the Ten­nessee fam­i­lies who suffer?

Fif­teen hun­dred streams in Ten­nessee are “impaired,” mean­ing that they are pol­luted beyond accept­able lim­its for healthy and safe use.

Will our next gov­er­nor sup­port those leg­is­la­tors who fight for the reg­u­la­tion and enforce­ment nec­es­sary to keep our waters clean?

Coal ash seems like an inno­cent byprod­uct of burn­ing coal — like the ashes left from a fire in your fire­place, except, instead of wood, the ashes are from burn­ing coal.

Think of wet coal ash, instead, as a soupy mess of gunk laced with cad­mium, sele­nium, arsenic, mer­cury, lead, thal­lium, beryl­lium and arsenic. About 1,000 tons were released from the Kingston plant every day until the con­tain­ment pond broke and released its con­tents into the Emory River. The full extent of effects on human health are still not fully understood.

The good news is that so far, some of the dam­age to our envi­ron­ment can be reversed with great effort, but how many moun­tains can we afford to lose while the leg­is­la­ture pro­cras­ti­nates in fix­ing the laws and the regulations?

How many streams will we let be pol­luted? How many lives can we sac­ri­fice? Yet every year we get closer to fix­ing these prob­lems, thanks to the lob­by­ing efforts of envi­ron­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions and the involve­ment of thou­sands of Ten­nesseans who care.

Until then, moun­tains are gone for­ever, fam­i­lies have been forced to move because of coal ash spills, and chil­dren are drink­ing tainted water. These are just a few of the effects of Tennessee’s poor record of envi­ron­men­tal protections.

For far too long, our leg­is­la­ture has let pol­luters poi­son the air our chil­dren breathe and the water they drink; they have let min­ing com­pa­nies blow apart moun­tains that have stood since the begin­ning of time; and they have let coal com­pa­nies destroy our land with toxic byproducts.

It is time for our next gov­er­nor to stand up to the com­pa­nies destroy­ing Ten­nessee and fight to make sure our chil­dren have a safe and beau­ti­ful place to grow up.

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