The Bush administration has launched an attack on laws and regulations protecting the environment that has most environmental watchdogs on the defensive. One grassroots organization in Tennessee, true to its nature, is anything but.
While administration policy has been especially kind to the coal industry, Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM) is fighting back. Recently, members of the group requested a public hearing with the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM) to voice their concerns about a proposed 2,139-acre strip mine in Elk Valley, Tennessee. If approved, this would be the largest strip mine ever opened in Tennessee.
SOCM members are concerned because the proposed mine is within a half mile of the local elementary school and about 75 homes. Besides safety issues related to blasting, SOCM is concerned over the mine's potential to contaminate wells, cause landslides and flooding, and create hazardous driving conditions along haul roads. In addition, the mine threatens the federally protected Cumberland blackside dace fish downstream from the blasting zone. The project is now on hold until an environmental impact study is completed.
SOCM has been working on issues of environmental, social, and economic justice since 1972. Such longevity is rare among grassroots citizens groups.
In 2000, the organization succeeded in saving the Fall Creek Falls watershed from the potentially devastating effects of strip mining. Group members fought for the preservation of the watershed for 25 years. Perseverance paid off, and the watershed was the largest area ever declared unsuitable for mining by the OSM.