In the war over the destructive coal-mining practice known as mountaintop removal, one of the fronts is being fought in Tennessee, between advocates for regional tourism and mining interests.
The Daily Green named Appalachia's scenic byways as one of 10 Endangered Vacations, because the scars created by mountaintop removal can so decimate the beauty of a landscape. (Beyond the scars, mountaintop removal obliterates forest habitat, which is typical of strip mining, but also fills in vast stretches of mountain streams, destroying trout habitat and polluting downstream waters. That, and mountaintop removal only further distorts the artificially cheap cost of coal, creating a perverse incentive to burn the most highly polluting fossil fuel for electricity when cleaner sources are available at far less long-term cost to the environment and human health.)
Nowhere has the debate between the advocates of tourism and strip-mining been as fever-pitched as in Tennessee.
At the center of the debate is Sen. Lamar Alexander, the only Republican who supports the Appalachia Restoration Act, an effective ban on mountaintop removal mining. The coal industry, trying to undermine his political support, has urged people to boycott Tennessee when planning their vacations. The Natural Resources Defense Council, today, has countered by encouraging its 1.2 million members to plan a vacation there.
(Hardly the coal industry's only effort to boost its fortunes, it is also lobbying hard -- with a $1 million campaign -- to win further concessions from the Senate in the debate over climate change and energy policy legislation. It has also been wrapped up in the recent controversy over forged letters to House members purporting to be from grassroots groups opposed to climate legislation.)
Tennessee not your first choice of vacation? Well, it has the nation's most popular national park, the Great Smoky Mountains, among its natural treasures, historic sites like the Abraham Library and Museum, along with unique (one might say oddball) destinations like Dolly Parton's Dollywood ... not to mention the home of country music, Nashville. If none of that sways you, Tennessee is the Volunteer State -- so let's assume they'd do it for your state, if called upon.
"We are now calling on our members to stand up to the bullying tactics of the coal industry and to support Tennessees economy," said Frances Beinecke, President of Natural Resources Defense Council and the winner of The Daily Green's 2009 Heart of Green award for lifetime achievement. "On behalf of NRDC, and our 1.2 million members and activists, we commend Senator Lamar Alexander for his leadership and we will continue to support his home state and its irreplaceable natural resources."
She added: "Were certain that all of NRDCs members recognize that the Appalachian Mountains are a diverse, ecological biogem with remarkable wildlife and natural resources that must be protected from destructive mountaintop coal mining. There is clearly a direct connection between the health of Tennessees mountains and the health of its tourism industry and economy. These natural resources are the backbone of economic growth in the state."
For Tennessee tourism ideas, visit tnvacation.com, or check back with The Daily Green soon for more ideas.
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