In 1972, a group of activists in the isolated coalfield communities of northern Tennessee started Save Our Cumberland Mountains. SOCM was formed from a legislative win. A year earlier, fed up residents won an appeal to require absentee corporations to pay taxes on their mineral-rich land. Emboldened, the nonprofit began to take on other problems: unregulated strip mining of coal that blasted the sides of steep mountains onto homes, roads, and streams; and insufficient revenue for schools,...

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