FRANKFORT, Ky. – Angry Appalachian coal miners are refusing to vacation in Tennessee because they say one of that state's political leaders wants to eliminate needed jobs by banning mountaintop removal.
Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander is sponsoring legislation that would bar coal companies from the controversial mining practice that involves blasting away mountaintops to unearth coal and dumping dirt, rock and trees into the valleys beneath. Such a ban would effectively halt the destructive form of mining.
Miners in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia are taking part in the protest, said Roger Horton, director of Citizens for Coal, the pro-coal advocacy group that organized the boycott.
Horton, a miner on a mountaintop-removal operation in West Virginia, said some 5,000 coal miners already have joined the week-old boycott, which he hopes will spread to involve all of the nation's 81,000 coal miners.
The boycott will continue, Horton said, until Alexander relents.
"He needs to mind his own business," Horton said. "Why fool with us? We have good congressmen and senators here who know what's best for West Virginia. We don't need his interference."
But Alexander said Appalachia's mountaintops should be preserved, not destroyed.
"I understand their feelings," Alexander told The Associated Press on Friday. "But I have feelings, too. And my feelings are that millions of people come to Tennessee to see the beauty of the mountaintops and not to see mountains whose tops have been blown off with the waste dumped in our streams — which is all I am trying to stop."
Coal isn't the huge employer in Tennessee that it is in other Appalachian states. Tennessee has just over 500 miners. West Virginia has more than 20,000. And Kentucky has about 17,000.
Horton said he believes if enough people forgo trips to the Great Smoky Mountains and to popular tourist destinations around Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, including Dollywood, that Alexander would feel pressure to abandon the legislation.
Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Caylor said he expects the boycott to grow.
"We're hoping that people will stop giving business to a state that wants to eliminate the coal industry," Caylor said. "That's just common sense. If somebody wants to end your livelihood, then why should you give them business?"
Democratic state Rep. Fitz Steele, a former miner in the eastern Kentucky coalfields, said the boycott is gaining steam beyond the miners themselves. Store clerks, waitresses, even politicians whose livelihoods are affected by mining are taking part.
"I won't be going to Tennessee," Steele said. "Mining has benefited our area. It's given our people jobs."
In Logan County, W.Va., county administrator Rocky Adkins has canceled a planned visit to Pigeon Forge later this month. Adkins serves one of the nation's largest coal-producing counties.
"Because of the stance of the senator has taken to abolish my job, I could not in good conscience spend my money in the great state of Tennessee," he said.
Mining communities along the Kentucky-Tennessee border, where interstate trade is the norm, don't appear as eager to join the boycott.
TECO Coal, with headquarters near the Tennessee border, initially announced that it had joined the boycott, saying the legislation hurts miners and businesses in the region. Days later, however, the company relented, and spokesman Jim J. Shackleford issued a statement of apology.
"We regret our previous action, which was an emotional response that doesn't benefit our 1,200 employees, the eastern Kentucky communities we support, the environment we work to protect or our neighbors in Tennessee."