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Regional advocacy group enjoys Catholic backing for justice agenda

Save Our Cumberland Mountains, which observed its 25th anniversary in 1997, boasts 2,500 members, most of whom live on Tennessee’s rugged Cumberland Plateau. The advocacy group is organized into eight chapters along geographic lines.

Operating on an annual budget of about $325,000, the group’s income in 1997-98 included a grant of $40,000 from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Save Our Cumberland Mountains tackles a variety of environmental, economic and social justice issues affecting its constituency. In addition to the coal-mining controversy at Fall Creek Falls, it is lobbying the Tennessee Legislature for passage of a forest practices act that was drafted by the advocacy group’s forestry committee.

The state has no enforceable forestry laws and depends on voluntary “best management practices.” Members of the advocacy group and other environmentalists are especially concerned about the problem because of widespread clearcutting and a recent proliferation of chip mills on the heavily wooded Cumberland Plateau and elsewhere in Tennessee.

Another of the group’s committees is studying toxic and radioactive waste in the state, looking at how much and what kinds of toxic wastes are being shipped in and what inspection and licensing procedures are in place for waste treatment facilities.

The organization did a similar study of landfill enforcement in Tennessee in 1995.

Save Our Cumberland Mountains “is truly a grassroots social justice organization, run by its members for the good of the community,” said Sr. Anne Hablas, a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Fargo, N.D. In August she completed a three-year stint as a VISTA volunteer assigned to the advocacy group’s office in Lake City, Tenn. Hablas, a member of Save Our Cumberland Mountains since 1984, plans to stay in Tennessee and continue her work. She recently was elected as an at-large delegate to the group’s board of directors.

National Catholic Reporter, October 16, 1998