Members of environmentalist groups often have a variety of reasons for actively participating in their cause, some of which include wanting to help the environment, improve energy resources or simply make an impact on the world. For the Knoxville-based United Mountain Defense (UMD) group, the issues hit a little closer to home.
"I came to the meeting because I am fed up with the way these companies are treating us," Ivonne Belcher, first-time meeting attendee and Greene County resident, said. "They are putting a plant within a thousand yards of my house."
"They" are U.S. Nitrogen LLC, a subsidiary of Austin Powder, which provides explosives for mountaintop removal in order to get to the coal underneath. The company chose the Greene County area, about 80 miles east of Knoxville, for its next ammonia plant, making Greene County another Appalachian area impacted by big industry. For some UMD members, the cost is high.
"I live in Greene County and truly care about our community," participant Brad Lowe said. "I don't like the idea of such a dangerous plant being put in such close proximity to our children."
The Greene County ammonia plant is only one of the many issues UMD becomes involved with. Their purpose is to provide organization and assistance to Appalachian community groups who want to fight against mountaintop removal and the dangers it poses to the environment.
Currently, the group is interested in forming a partnership with the Davis Creek community in Campbell County. Eagan, where Davis Creek is located, is facing major mountaintop removal, along with other environmental threats. UMD is meeting with the community on Aug. 22 hoping to organize two days a month where UMD would go to Davis Creek and do projects around the area with its citizens.
"It's all about relationship-building," member Margaret Fetzer said. "That's where we make the biggest impact."
All of the groups that the UMD become involved with serve to inspire its members. For them, these issues are personal. It is their hometown, their state that is being destroyed.
"I grew up in these mountains," Fetzer said. "Playing in and exploring the Great Smoky Mountains as a child gave me strong ties to them as an adult."
Longtime Appalachia resident and UMD member Whitney Davidson brings another element to the table: her job and expertise. Davidson is both a paralegal and an environmentalist, and she uses her skills to help fight the government, TVA and other groups from a legal standpoint.
"A lot of times these small-town citizens don't have the resources or technology to do what they have to do to solve these problems," Davidson said. "That's where I hope to help."
UMD is always working on new projects, and there are many ways UT students and faculty can get involved. The Appalachian Public Interest Environmental Law (APIEL) conference, of which UMD is the main sponsor, will be held Oct. 20-25 in Knoxville. There will be many workshops to educate people on the issues affecting the Appalachian Mountains and communities.
Anyone interested in environmental issues and looking to get involved in UMD is welcome to attend the weekly meetings at 7 p.m. at Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria in the Old City.