Coal Company Tells Workers Not to Vacation in Tennessee

In the latest sally in the war between pro-coal-at-any-cost and anti-mountaintop mining (MTR) advocates, Arch Coal subsidiary Coal-Mac, Inc., of Holden, West Virginia, has “recommended” that its 300 employees not vacation in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. It’s also asking other coal firms to enforce the (dare we call it) ban.

The move is reportedly in response to testimony given at a recent U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on MTR, a form of coal mining that rips the tops off mountaintops to get at the underlying coal, destroying entire ecologies, poisoning water supplies and leaving the landscape devastated.

At that hearing, Tennessee Dept. of Environment & Conservation’s Deputy Commissioner, Paul Sloan, said he supported legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), to ban MTR.

Coal-Mac has also reportedly sent a letter to regional (Smoky Mountain) Chambers of Commerce pointing out that the legislation, if passed, would weaken the coal mining industry and spell a loss of tourism dollars in the area.

In fact, MTR accounted for less than 5 percent of United States coal production in 2001. The method has only become popular because it’s largely mechanized, thus the cheapest way for coal companies to get at the coal. The environmental costs are externalized on the public sector in the form of environmental degradation and pollution. 

In support of Coal-Mac’s boycott, two other out-of-state Arch subsidiaries, in Kentucky and Virginia, have canceled annual company picnics that normally bring about 3,120 employees and their families to Dollywood, a Dolly Parton-themed amusement park in the Great Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Pro-MTR group Citizens for Coal is apparently joining the boycott as well. The organization is the brainchild (or perhaps merely the brain fart) of Roger Horton, a truck driver for Patriot Coal Corp.’s Guyan mine, located in Logan County, West Virginia. The Guyan MTR site, operated in part by Apogee Coal Co. (another arm of Arch Coal) has already been targeted by environmentalists. Citizens for Coal, a startup, doesn’t even have its own website. Nor is information on membership available. Dare we call it astroturf?

Targeting tourism in retaliation for a ban on mountaintop removal seems rather silly, especially since the absence, or decline, of coal mining may leave tourism as the only viable financial alternative in many areas like the Smoky Mountains.

The Sierra Club of Kentucky has since retaliated by encouraging its members to take up the tourism slack, and the Sierra Club, with its approximately 1,300,000 members worldwide, two-thirds of them in the U.S. alone, is undoubtedly capable of meeting the challenge.

Dare we say, “Nah nah nah nah, hey, hey, hey, goodbye” to the pro-MTR faction?