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Cost to mine coal still too high

More than 3,000 homes are powered with electricity from the TVA’s wind farm on Buffalo Mountain near Oak Ridge.
Visiting there after the first turbines had been put in operation left a strong impression.
A formerly forested ridge, as the surrounding ridges still were, the mountain’s strip mine history was reflected in scarred and partly barren, acid-leaching soil, “reclaimed” areas of rough grass and a few patches of young trees coming up here and there.
The forest would take many decades to recover, understory and wildflowers a century, as research has shown.
Viewing this desolate mountain, the turbine blades’ slow turning and gentle swishing sound seemed a particularly appropriate alternative to surface mining to produce the electricity needed in our homes and businesses.
Permit granting and oversight over coal mining had been state functions until three decades ago.
Ceded to the Department of the Interior in 1984, the Knoxville Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation — with its geologists, hydrologists and other, highly trained specialist staffers — now provides the mining-related regulatory services.
With two bills introduced in the Legislature, Tennessee’s mining industry is seeking to revert the “primacy” for oversight of its operations to the state.
In an amendment to the respective bills (SB1998 and HB2207), it claims that “surface mining of coal within the state of Tennessee provides a significant present source of energy and employment.”
Therefore, presumably, it should no longer be burdened by some of the protections, especially for water bodies, of current regulatory standards.
The jobs-and-energy-importance argument doesn’t hold up. Note the Tourism Development commissioner’s statement that “more than 146,200 Tennesseans” are employed in that industry alone.
Surface coal mining on the other hand, given its now highly mechanized nature, employed just 188 people in Tennessee in 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration.
Even with possible quadrupling of mining, as the coal industry predicts from the legislation, would the job increments outweigh damage to the far greater revenue benefits from tourism, which increased mountaintop mining in the Cumberland region would likely entail?
Further, though slightly less than one-third of the TVA’s power generation is coal based, only 3 percent of this coal is produced here.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation would be charged with setting up this new, regulatory bureaucracy.
Toward the resulting expenses, per the legislation, the industry would contribute as little as a 20 cent fee per ton of coal. Considering the $4 million budget of the Knoxville OSM field office last year, supplied by the federal government, this fee level would generate less than a tenth of needed costs, or $218,000 at current coal production, as the Tennessee Clean Water Network has calculated.
The bills, promoting coal instead of renewable-source fuels for energy production, would come at very high cost to the state and taxpayer. Through eliminating federal oversight and weakening environmental standards, it would reap profits for the mining industry but risk endangering water quality and mountain communities, and the scenic beauty and tourism assets of the state.