Maysilles, David Duncan
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Copper smelting in the Ducktown Basin of southeastern Tennessee created one of the most dramatic environmental disasters in the South. At the same time, it gave rise to a quarter century of smoke litigation that ultimately led to the Supreme CourtÕs first air pollution case. Local copper ore contained a high percentage of sulfur which miners removed by roasting the ore on open heaps. The method consumed huge amounts of timber as fuel, resulting in the logging of fifty square miles of forest. At the same time, it liberated vast quantities of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere of the Basin, where it often remained trapped by weather conditions and the surrounding mountains. Sustained exposure to sulfur dioxide killed local crops and forests, and prevented reforestation of cutover areas. The combination of smelting and logging created a barren landscape exposed to the powerful erosive effects of the regionÕs high annual rainfall. The result was an expanse of over thirty square miles of barren red badlands, an alien landscape set in the midst of the lush hardwood forests typical of the Southern Appalachians. The same processes gave rise to a quarter century of litigation from the mid-1890s to the end of World War I. The claimants were mountaineer farmers, timber barons, and later, the state of Georgia. The venues ranged from local district and chancery courts to the United States Supreme Court. The litigation occurred in a highly charged political context within which farmers, industrialists, loggers, the National FarmersÕ Union, and even the War Production Board battled to shape law and policy. In Tennessee, litigation and legislation changed TennesseeÕs law of nuisance to reflect the problems of scale presented by modern industrial enterprises. At the Supreme Court, GeorgiaÕs suit was transformed when Will Shippen, a local timber baron, encouraged collaboration between the state and the forest conservation movement. Government foresters, geologists, and chemists helped to transform a case sounding in traditional nuisance law into what became the Supreme CourtÕs first recognition of a stateÕs sovereign right to protect its natural resources from trans-border pollution.