Mountaintop removal is a sin, like slapping the face of God.
If we believe -- as so many Tennesseans do -- that the natural world around us was wonderfully and fearfully made by the hands of a creator, then mountaintop removal may be the most insulting, disrespectful, turn-your-back-on-the-Divine act we could imagine.
Mountaintop removal is the practice of dynamite-scalping tops of Appalachian mountains and ridges and cracking open the land like a ribcage in order to extract coal from inside.
More than 1.5 million acres of Appalachia have been destroyed in the process, and 13 ridges in Tennessee are affected by current mining.
Mountains are like miniworlds, green mysteries, home to more diverse life and species than there are hairs on our head. Mountains are ever present in literature, religion and poetry as the places where this life and the next seem to dance together.
Had Moses sojourned through Appalachia, he would have received his 10 Commandments vision atop a mountain. Had Jesus lived in Tennessee, his 40 days in the wilderness would have been spent on a mountain.
Where else would he go? Hamilton Place mall?
Mountaintop removal is massively destructive: Anything below the ridgeline is buried in sediment, waters are polluted and communities poisoned. A 2011 study found that it's safer -- by a lot -- for pregnant mothers to smoke than live near mountaintop mining.
"For babies born specifically with defects of the circulatory or respiratory system, smoking increased risk by 17 percent," said West Virginia University's Dr. Michael Hendryx, "and living in a mountaintop mining area increased risk by 181 percent."
Mountains are more than just mountains. How many tourism dollars do we receive in Chattanooga simply because of the mountains and ridges that surround our city like a green bowl? The three counties -- Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne -- where nearly all mountaintop mining takes place receive $165 million each year in tourist dollars.
The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act originally was designed to stop all surface coal mining on any land above 2,000 feet. Plus, it exempts all current mines, so that no jobs will be lost.
That bill was polluted by Sen. Mike Bell, who wrote an amendment that pleased the coal industry. And last week, like a political hot potato, the Senate -- including Sen. Bo Watson -- tabled the third version of the Act -- which reads like the original -- until April 2.
They could have voted for Creation, for common sense, and for the thousands of constituents that have reportedly contacted their politicians about this issue.
Tennessee could have been the first state in America to ban mountaintop removal.
Imagine how proud we would have felt. Imagine the press, the tourism, the peace that passes understanding. It could have been like 1920, when the Tennessee legislature bravely cast the deciding vote, allowing American women the right of suffrage in the 19th amendment.
But money -- the villain in so many stories -- got in the way. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, for example, received nearly $195,000 in 2009 from the coal industry, according to Nashville's News Channel 5 investigation.
There's still a chance.
The House version of the bill sits in the Conservation and Environment Subcommittee and is expected to be voted on this Tuesday or the following. Our own Rep. Richard Floyd is a leader in the subcommittee. A good, reasonable and honest man, Floyd has been known to listen -- and respond -- to constituent requests.
His number: 615-741-2746.
His email: email@example.com.
"I've had lots of [elected officials'] offices tell me that they have gotten more contacts by far on this issue than any other," said Dawn Coppock, legislative director for Lindquist Appalachian Environmental Fellowship.
LEAF bases its work on the religious belief and Scriptural call that Christians are called to be its stewards of Creation.
"This has become a religious issue for thousands of Tennesseans," Coppock said.
"This is our best shot. This is the closest we've been. We could be the first state in the nation."
God will be so proud.
David Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...