Ohio History Journal


Montrie
Winter-Spring 2002
pp. 44-63
Copyright 2002 by the Ohio Historical Society. All rights reserved.
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Agriculture, Christian Stewardship, and Aesthetics: Ohio Farmers' Opposition to Coal Surface Mining in the 1940s

By Chad Montrie


In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more than a few American farmers took up coal surface mining as a secondary occupation. During the winter months, between the harvest and planting seasons, they worked local seams to provide fuel for their families or to sell in area markets. This strip mining, which was done on a small-scale with picks, shovels, and mule-drawn scrapers, fit easily within the patterns of daily life and had only minimal impact on the land. In the twentieth century, however, coal surface mining mechanized and expanded. Profit-seeking operators introduced steam shovel technology to improve mine efficiency, the number of mines grew, and stripping increasingly came into conflict with agriculture as a competing land use. This generated opposition within farming communities and led to some of the first state regulatory legislation. In Boonville, Indiana, for example, on the eve of World War I, farmers, coal miners, and local businessmen began a campaign to stop strip mining by passage of a state law. They objected to stripping because it made hundreds of acres of "fine farming land" unfit for cultivation, undermined the tax base, and threw deep miners out of work. In the decades that followed, opposition spread beyond Boonville and, in 1941, Indiana became the second state (after West Virginia) to enact a control law. This legislation was meant to head off growing support for a ban by requiring "the conservation and improvement" of lands that had been strip mined, setting up permitting and bonding procedures, establishing penalties for violations of the law, and prohibiting classification of stripped areas as forest lands for taxation purposes.1


Chad Montrie teaches at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. This article is drawn from his book, To Save the Land and People: A History of Opposition to Surface Coal Mining in
Appalachia (University of North Carolina Press, forthcoming).

1. Coal Age, 6 (December 1914), 965; Ind. Acts 1941, ch. 68, 172; Robert C. Meiners, "Strip Mining Legislation," Natural Resources Journal, 3 (January, 1964), 442-69.


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Farmers also played an important role in the early opposition to coal surface mining in Ohio. Between World War I and the end of World War II, strip mining caused extensive social and environmental devastation in the eastern part of the state, ranging from massive out-migration of local populations to acid mine drainage and sheet and gully erosion. Responding to these adverse effects, farmers and other rural people organized and lobbied for passage of the first state controls on stripping in 1947. Their argument for regulatory legislation was threefold. They claimed that coal surface mining threatened agricultural productivity and the communities that farming sustained, violated God's injunction to be stewards of the land, and destroyed the aesthetic virtues of a pastoral scene. In the 1950s and 1960s, when the first legislation proved to be inadequate, strip-mining opponents used similar arguments to pass stricter control bills and improve enforcement by the state regulatory agency. By the 1970s, however, farmers and their concerns were no longer prevalent in the opposition, and the focus of coal surface mining opponents shifted from state to federal action.

Although Ohio farmers' interest in the issue eventually diminished, reconstructing their early opposition to stripping contributes to the sparse literature detailing farmers' involvement in conservation and modern environmental movements in general. Most histories of U.S. environmental policy neglect to mention farmers at all, or they lump them together with timber and mining companies dedicated to largescale resource extraction. Some standard environmental histories, such as Donald Worster's study of the Dust Bowl and Ann Vileisis' history of American Wetlands, portray those who labor on the land for a living as too blinded by a desire for material gain to accept ecological limits. But as environmental historians make a greater effort to bring questions about class and equity into their work, a modified interpretation is beginning to emerge. In his examination of the roots of conservation in northern New England, Richard Judd contends that some of the earliest concern about the physical and organic environment actually came from nineteenth-century farmers. Combining a belief in democratic access to and common stewardship of the land, an aggressive approach to reshaping nature to serve human needs, and a pietistic, perfectionist vision of natural order, farmers took the first steps in redressing New Englanders' relationship to nature. The nineteenth and twentieth century conservation movement did not originate with a social elite alienated from the natural world, Judd argues, but with rural common people who had a complex relationship to the land that was their home and livelihood. Similarly, the early opposition to coal surface mining in Ohio came from farmers and other rural people who depended on the land and


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its productivity to sustain viable communities, who believed that its stewardship was mandated by God, and who appreciated its beauty. They sought controls on stripping because the mining threatened these aspects of their relationship to the land, and in pushing for regulatory legislation they made a small but important contribution to modern environmental policy.2

Early Impact and Initial Responses

Strip mining for coal probably began in Ohio in the late eighteenth century, just as Americans began to move westward from New England and the mid-Atlantic states. An advertisement in the Pittsburgh Gazette, 12 August 1797, mentioned coal as an inducement for settlement near Steubenville. "Sale of Lots," it read, "In the new County Town of Fort Steuben, in the new county called Jefferson, on the bank of the river Ohio. There is a Sawmill close to the town-and the abundance of Pitt Coal, will render fuel a very cheap article forever." Since many of the Ohio coal beds were near the surface, including the ones around Steubenville, they could be mined by simply stripping off the overlying soil and rock, known as the "overburden." Throughout the nineteenth century, many Ohio farmers mined coal this way from seams on their own land, or nearby. In the early twentieth century, however, coal surface mining underwent important changes. Operators started buying or leasing land for the express purpose of stripping it, and they began using fixed-boom steam shovels and diesel draglines, which maneuvered large buckets by steel cables. This technology, as well as the extension of railroad tracks into pits and the use of large trucks, allowed for a dramatic expansion of the industry. In the early 1930s, Ohio had eighteen strip mines, which produced 800,000 tons of coal. By the end of the decade the number of surface operations increased fourfold and production tripled, making Ohio the fourth leading coal surface mining state in the country. Expanded production during World War II boosted output even more dramatically, to twenty million tons, and strip mining

 

2. "To farmers, loggers, and miners, and to mining and manufacturing businesses," explains Richard Andrews, "nature was at best the ordinary raw material of economic commodities and livelihoods, and at worst a resistant or even threatening adversary, though as individuals they might also enjoy hunting and fishing." Richard N. L. Andrews, Managing the Environment, Managing Ourselves: A History of American Environmental Policy (New Haven, 1999), 210; Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s (New York, 1982 [1979]); Ann Vileisis, The Unknown Landscape: A History of America's Wetlands (Washington, D.C., 1997); Richard Judd, Common Lands, Common People: The Origins of Conservation in New England (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997).


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edged closer toward eclipsing less efficient deep mining. Between 1926 and 1947 the percentage of coal mined by stripping in Ohio increased from 9 percent to 46 percent.3

As coal surface mining spread in the eastern part of the state, it had a significant impact on land, water, and human communities. Between 1921 and 1945, coal stripping in twenty-two counties directly affected at least 22,750 acres and indirectly impacted nearly 5,000 acres. In southeastern Ohio, where the topography ranges from hilly to steep, the surface-mined land had little agricultural value, selling for as low as $4 to $8 an acre. But the land in eastern Ohio proper was highly developed farm and dairy land, especially in the wide fertile valleys of the river basins, with a value of $100 an acre. Much of the strip mining in the state was in this area, particularly Harrison and Jefferson Counties, the leaders in production, as well as Columbiana and Tuscarawas Counties. In these counties especially, unregulated strip mining ruined land for future crop production and grazing. Early on, some strippers admitted as much. In 1916 an anonymous author for Coal Age explained: "[T]he coal stripping absolutely destroys the land for farming purposes. The overburden, which is made up of soil, hard shale, clays, and more or less solid limestone, is stacked up on the mined area by the big shovel in ridges higher than the level of the undisturbed formation. This ground is left so rough that it is extremely difficult to walk over it. The material in these stacks is bottom up, as far as the soil is concerned. It is hard to imagine what further use could be made of such land."4

Early twentieth-century strip operations in Ohio created a rippled

 

3. Howard Evanson, The First Century and a Quarter of American Coal Industry (Pittsburgh, 1942), 265; Geologists J.A. Bownocker and Ethel S. Dean make numerous references to farmers using surface mining techniques to extract coal for personal consumption and for local sale. J.A. Bownocker and Ethel S. Dean, Analyses of the Coals of Ohio, Geological Survey of Ohio, 4th Series, Bulletin 34 (1929), 6, 14, 20, 22-23, 27, 36, 173, 176, 182, 247, 273-74, 276, 284; Coal Age, 9 (January 22, 1916), 161-62; U.S. Bureau of Mines, Minerals Yearbook: 1939 (Washington, D.C., 1939), 791-95; U.S. Bureau of Mines, Minerals Yearbook, Volume II, Fuels: 1948 (Washington, D.C., 1950), 64, 310-11; The strip-mining operations in Ohio, from the early twentieth century to the 1970s, are more accurately referred to as "area strip mining." In the more mountainous parts of Appalachia strippers extracted coal largely by "contour mining," following a seam around the contours of a mountain. Beginning in the late 1940s, contour mining operations were performed along with "auger mining," using huge augers to bore further into a coal seam on a mountainside. Since the 1970s, operators in mountainous areas have relied increasingly on "mountaintop removal," taking the top of a mountain to expose a coal seam. In the eastern, unglaciated half of Ohio, however, the topography is generally one of rolling hills with some steep ridges. This terrain was and still is mined by area stripping methods, making alternate cuts in parallel strips, exposing a coal seam and placing the overburden of soil and rock in the previous cut.

4. Report of the Strip Mining Study Commission to the Governor and the 97th General Assembly of the State of Ohio (January 15, 1947), 10; Coal Age, 9 (January, 1916), 162.


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landscape and reshuffled the soil layers. They also exposed acid silt shales and increased erosion. Consequently, nearby streams were contaminated by acid mine drainage as well as silt, killing off aquatic life. Acid contamination of ground water also threatened local water supplies. Several small communities, including Cadiz, Wellsville, Sugar Creek, and Smithfield, took their municipal water supply from wells close to stripping operations, and some were forced to implement expensive filtration and chemical treatment. Where acid drainage was acute there was fear that communities would eventually be forced to import treated surface water, which would have been a considerable expense. In a few southeastern counties calcareous shales and limestone in the overburden neutralized the acid. But these spoils often had their own unique problem, containing clay and clay-forming shales that made for tight, impervious, poorly aerated soil after disintegration and settling.5

Because it degraded farm and dairy land, strip mining also affected the tax base of counties. Once mining was completed some operators simply abandoned mine sites and defaulted on their taxes. In other cases, depreciated property values reduced revenues. There were large increases in valuation when strip mining began, with new valuations ranging from $60 to $300 an acre. In tax dollars this could translate into an increase of more than $2 per acre. But after a year or two, with the mining finished, county auditors devalued the land to $5 and $15 an acre, and tax revenues declined precipitously to as low as five cents per acre. In the case of Tuscarawas County, none of the land which had been stripped up to 1947 was in tax delinquency. But between 1915 and 1940,

5. Acid mine drainage varied depending on the spoil-bank composition. There are three primary types of spoil banks in Ohio. Group One spoil banks, the glacial till soils, are above the line of glaciation, in Mahoning, Columbiana, Portage, Stark, Wayne, Holmes, the western part of Coshocton, and the northwest portions of Perry and Hocking counties. This overburden is primarily composed of noncalcareous till, residual sandstone, and acid silt shale. Group Two spoil banks are in the unglaciated portion of Ohio, including southern Columbiana, Carroll, Tuscarawas, Coshocton, Muskingum, Perry, Hocking, Vinton, Jackson, Scioto, western Harrison, and western Guernsey Counties. The overburden in these areas is formed by sandstone and silt shales. The resulting spoils have a low clay content and, due to their friability, water-holding capacity, and aeration, they hold out the possibility of reforestation. Group Three spoils are located in unglaciated counties of Jefferson, Harrison, Belmont, eastern Guernsey, Morgan, Washington, and Adams, where the overburden is comprised of sandstone, marly clay shales, and limestones in addition to the material of the soil profile. Percentages of the calcareous shales and limestones are great enough to produce highly calcareous spoils. Quantities of clay and clay-forming shale are sufficiently great in many places to effect a tight, impervious, poorly aerated material upon disintegration and settling. Report of Strip Mining Study Commission, 13-15; Julian Feldman, "The Development of a Regulatory Policy for the Coal Stripping Industry in Ohio" (Master's thesis, The Ohio State University, 1950), 28.


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coal-stripped land in the county suffered a 94 percent decline in assessed valuation. This compared with a 22 percent decline in the valuation of agricultural land.6

A survey of a strip-mined farm in Tuscarawas County, drawn from a set of four case studies done by Charles Victor Riley in the mid-1940s, is illustrative of the damage done as a whole to the land and its inhabitants. The land Riley labeled "Unit II" had a topography of rolling to hilly and in 1915 was a farm of 168 acres, with three orchards and two grazed woodlots of approximately fourteen acres. At the time the land was assessed at $7,290, or $43 per acre, but three years later the farm was sold to Wayne Coal Company for $16,800. By the late 1940s Unit II was classified as abandoned farmland, with fifty-five of the original 168 acres stripped or affected by mining operations. Full-time farming had been discontinued in 1918 and the fields were covered with poverty grass, goldenrod, cinquefoil, broom sedge, aster, sheep sorrel, and other opportunistic plants. All the fields suffered from severe sheet and gully erosion, with gullies varying from three to fifteen feet deep and from six to sixteen feet wide at the top. Soil samples indicated a pH ranging between 4.7 and 5.9, making it acidic, and available phosphorous and potassium were low. Of the two small streams crossing the unit, one was polluted by mine waste. In this condition, the assessed value of the land in 1940 was $1,059.46, or $10.29 per acre. In 1946, the gross income from the property was $115, most of which came from an oil lease. Typical of stripped land throughout eastern Ohio, Unit II was practically worthless after coal operators had finished with it.7

The devastating impact on farm land raises a question about why property owners would lease or sell to coal surface mining companies. Operators maintained that farms were being abandoned coincidentally at the same time they developed an interest in mining. This was probably true to some extent. Between 1935 and 1945, Harrison County alone lost 420 farms, and the number of acres farmed declined from 215,000 to 195,000 during the war.8 Not all of these and other losses of farm and dairy production in Ohio were due entirely to stripping, yet surface mining in a local area was often an important factor in a farmer's decision to sell off crop or grazing land. Residents frequently banded

 

6. HR. Moore and R.C. Headington, Agricultural and Land Use as Affected by Strip Mining of Coal in Eastern Ohio (Ohio State University Department of Rural Economics, Bulletin No. 135), 36, in Feldman, "The Development," 66; Charles Victor Riley, "An Ecological and Economic Study of Coal Stripped Land in Eastern Ohio" (Master's thesis, Ohio State University, 1947), 147.

7. Riley, "An Ecological and Economic Study," 47-57.

8. Cadiz Republican, 13 September 1945.


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together to resist selling out to strippers initially, but once isolated individuals began to sell the process could snowball until an area was nearly depopulated. H. L. Bower, the Master of the Harrison County Grange in the mid-1940s, explained one particular case of a dairy farmer: "I don't know as [Mr. Griffon] thought he could get more money [by selling to a strip operator rather than farming] but everybody else was selling, and it was to his advantage to get out of there and he moved to town, he was an elderly man, he was about past working, and he moved to town, and his son moved to the west part of the state."9 In other cases, farmers were hard-pressed just coming out of the Depression or were simply enticed by the money offered by strip mine operators. They were reluctant to insist on reclamation procedures, however, for fear the coal company would not buy the land or, in the case of a lease, lower the royalty payments. As a result, without a state law stipulating reclamation procedures, between a third and a half of the lands surface mined before 1947 were not reclaimed in any way. When operators did reclaim they often did little more than attempt typically unsuccessful reforestation, without leveling the spoil banks.10

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, reclamation of surface-mined lands was promoted by state agricultural experiment stations, while the problem of acid mine drainage was addressed largely by engineering experiment stations and the U.S. Public Health Service. These agencies carried on their own research and funded other studies, investigating the possibilities for establishing forests, creating wildlife havens, and constructing recreational lakes at former strip sites. In 1937, the U.S. Forest Service established the Central States Forest Experiment Station, which quickly took the primary role in research on reforestation of stripped lands. With its headquarters in Columbus, most of the work of the agency was concentrated in Ohio until 1946, when it began conducting studies in other states in the Central region as well, particularly Indiana and Illinois. In 1940, six large coal companies with operations in Ohio formed the Ohio Reclamation Committee to facilitate their participation in government research as well as to provide a cooperative forest planting service to its members. The organization was renamed the Ohio Reclamation Association in 1945, when it had a membership of thirty-one stripping companies, which combined performed 65 percent of the coal surface mining in the state. By 1947,

 

9. Report of the Strip Mining Study Commission, 12.

10. Feldman, "The Development," 85; Jack K. Hill, "Social and Economic Implications of Strip Mining in Harrison County" (Master's thesis, The Ohio State University, 1965), 61-62.


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the Association had planted 1.8 million trees on spoil banks and surrounding areas. Yet none of these spoil banks were leveled before planting and, rather than supply saw timber, the Association claimed that the forests were meant to produce mine props and posts for underground coal mining. Most of the agricultural land disturbed by strip mining could not be restored for crop farming by merely leveling spoil banks anyhow. It might be converted to grazing land that way, but even this was only being done on a very limited scale.11

Responding to the lack of reclamation in some areas and its inadequacy in many others, William F. Daugherty, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from Wellsville (Columbiana County), introduced the first strip-mine control bill in the Ohio legislature in 1937. The bill provided that future strip-mine contracts, for the extraction of coal as well as other minerals, include provisions for "the replacement and leveling up of the earth ... so that the land is left in substantially the same condition after the completion of the mining operations as it was before the mining operations began." By exclusively regulating strip-mining contracts, however, the act would not have affected operations in which the land was purchased outright. It also failed to establish administrative machinery to insure enforcement and some of its standards for reclamation were vague enough to be left open to wide interpretation by the courts. As weak as it was, Daugherty's bill never made it out of the House Conservation Committee. Two state senators from eastern Ohio proposed similar legislation in 1939 and 1941, with the added requirement of a performance bond equal to or greater than the tax assessment valuation of the land to be mined, but their bills also died in committee. Following these initial regulatory efforts, war-created demand led to the spread of unregulated coal surface mining and a dramatic increase in production.12

With peace declared in 1945, there was a renewed attempt to impose controls on the industry. In that year the state legislature considered five different bills to regulate strip mining, all of which dealt only with coal and each of which were introduced by legislators from eastern Ohio counties. Only one of the proposals reached the House floor, where it was debated and amended. This measure was sponsored by Representatives J. A. Gordon of Cadiz (Harrison County), Gilbert N. Frash of Malta (Morgan County), C. A. Craig of Cambridge (Guernsey

 

11. David Brooks, "Strip Mine Reclamation and Economic Analysis," Natural Resources Journal, 6 (January, 1966), 18-19; James Bristow, "Wildlife Havens from Strip Mines," Outdoor America (April-June, 1943), 42-44; Feldman, "The Development," 86-87; Report of the Strip Mining Study Commission, 11-12.

12. Coal Age, 40 (February, 1935), 60-62; Feldman, "The Development," 99-100.


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County)—all Republicans—and C. T. McCort, a Democrat of St. Clairsville (Belmont County). Their bill required operators to post a bond of $100 per acre, level mine sites to "pre-existing contour," and make a quarterly deposit of six cents per ton of coal mined with the county auditor, a small part of which was to fund reseeding. In June, when the proposal came up for debate on the House floor, amendments halved the bond requirements, weakened replanting provisions, and established safeguards for operators to the right of appeal from administrative decisions. Yet even in this watered-down form the bill was voted down 5853.13

Ten days after defeat of the Gordon proposal the legislature passed Senate Bill 344, establishing a Strip Mining Study Commission (SMSC) to investigate the need for controls on the industry and to draft another regulatory bill based on their findings. The Commission was to be composed of nine members, three from each house chosen by the president pro tempore, with no more than two of those of the same political party, and three public members designated by the Governor. Some of the members selected had ties to strip-mine operators while others were proponents of strong regulation, including Representative J. A. Gordon, Milton Ronsheim (the crusading editor of the Cadiz Republican), Edwin J. Bath (former Director of Legislation and Public Affairs for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation), and W. A. Stinchcomb (Director-Secretary of the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District). After holding its initial meeting in October, 1945, the SMSC conducted a number of inspection tours the following month in fifteen Ohio counties as well as areas in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, states which had already passed control legislation. Formal hearings before the Commission began in December in Columbus, providing an opportunity for both opponents and proponents of regulation, as well as supposedly impartial experts in the fields of agronomy, conservation, forestry, and taxation, to make their case. Twenty-five witnesses spoke in favor of regulation, sixteen appeared in opposition, and fourteen gave "neutral" testimony. Although tours and hearings did little to change the views of individual Commission members, in the following year they agreed on the draft of a report that included another control measure.14

The SMSC bill regulated surface mining operations producing 250 tons of coal or other minerals in one year. It required mine or quarry

 

13.Ibid., 100-06.

14. Ibid., 110-13; Report of the Strip Mining Study Commission, 6. Unfortunately, the testimony for the SMSC hearings has been lost and the arguments of the witnesses are available only second-hand, by way of the Commission's Report and Julian Feldman's thesis.


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operators to secure a license for a small fee, put up a bond of $100 per acre with a $1,000 minimum and a five-year liability, cover all exposed coal seams with a minimum of three feet of earth, bury all pyritic shale, seal off any breakthrough to underground workings in a coal seam, provide access roads for fire control, plant a cover crop of trees or grasses on the banks, and level off peaks and ridges of spoil banks to a minimum width of fifteen feet cross section. This last provision caused some controversy among SMSC members, with Gordon, Ronsheim, Bath, Stinchcomb, and Clingan Jackson in favor of it, and the four others opposed. But otherwise, the Commission reached a consensus on the legislative proposal. In a separate recommendation, the SMSC also suggested that the chief of the Division of Mines be charged with licensing and regulating the strippers and the director of the Agricultural Experiment Station be given authority to administer all planting and any other reclamation.15

The Commission delivered its report to Governor Herbert and, in January 1947, he presented it to the General Assembly and urged passage of the recommended control bill. Strip mining could not be prohibited, he said in an address to the legislators, but "it would be the height of folly for the people of Ohio to spend large sums of money to conserve natural resources and at the same time to permit unscrupulous operators to mine coal in a manner which is in complete conflict with the general policy of conservation." Bills modeled on the SMSC proposal were then introduced in each house, including one by Clingan Jackson, a senator and member of the Commission, and another by Ray White, a member of the House and Democratic newspaper editor from Holmes County. Their proposed legislation was virtually identical to one another except for the size of the bond and the financial liability of the operator in terms of revegetation. Jackson's bill called for a bond of $100 per acre and a replanting liability of $50 per acre, while White's bill set a $200 bond and $100 replanting obligation. In the House, efforts to lower the size of the bond failed, but amendments exempted operators mining less than 250 tons per year and allowed for replanting to be waived by the director of the Agricultural Experiment Station.16

When debate moved to the Senate Conservation Committee, Evert E. Addison, a Columbus (Franklin County) Republican and chairman of the SMSC, offered two amendments to eliminate the provisions that required coal operators to level spoil banks and cover exposed coal seams.

 

15.Ibid., 23-33.

16. Cadiz Republican, 30 January 1947; Feldman, "The Development," 43, 45, 116-18.


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Committee members rejected these changes but they did lower the bond to $100 per acre and set replanting liability at $50 per acre, in line with Jackson's bill and the recommendations of the Commission. Addison and several other lawmakers then walked out of the meeting before the Committee recommended passage of the modified act, House Bill 314, on a 6-0 vote. In June, the full Senate passed the proposed legislation on a 32-2 vote, with one of the "nays" cast by Coshocton Senator Carl Schurtz, who took the position that the bill was too weak. On June 14, the House concurred with the changes made and, shortly after, a conference bill went to Governor Herbert for his signature.17

In addition to setting bond amounts, defining the liability for revegetation, and exempting small operators, House Bill 314 included provisions explaining the need for the law and elaborating on what would be required of operators. The bill's preface deemed the legislation "an exercise of the police powers of the state for the public safety, the public health and the general welfare of the people" by providing for the conservation and improvement of stripped land, aiding in the protection of wildlife, decreasing soil erosion and floods, and aiding in the prevention of pollution of lakes and waterways. The law was to become effective January 1, 1948, after which all coal stripping companies would be required to apply to the chief of the Division of Mines for an annual permit and pay a $50 fee. The penalty for operating without a permit was $100 to $1,000, with each day counted as a separate violation. Operators were also required to submit a detailed report one month after stripping began and six months after completion of the mining. Bonds would be released after satisfactory restoration, as determined by the Experiment Station director on inspection of the site one year after leveling and replanting. Restoration standards were similar to the practices specified in the SMSC report, including leveling "off peaks and ridges of spoil banks to minimum width of fifteen feet cross section," planting trees, shrubs, or grasses (as recommended by the director of the Experiment Station), covering coal faces, and sealing breakthroughs to deep mines. Forfeited bonds, including those covering mines where restoration was not completed within five years after mining ceased, were to be deposited in a reclamation fund. Monies of the fund would be made available to the Agricultural Experiment Station for restoration of abandoned sites.18

 

17. Columbus Dispatch, 6 June 1947.

18. Ohio Laws 1947, p.730; Feldman, "The Development," 118-20.


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"The People" and Their Arguments

During the process leading up to passage of H.B. 314, proponents of regulatory legislation promoted their position in various ways, both as individuals and as groups. Milton Ronsheim, the Harrison County editor of the Cadiz Republican, was the sparkplug of the effort for controls. He routinely published stories and editorials on coal surface mining in his paper through the 1930s and 1940s, he convinced Frank Lausche to take up the issue of strip-mine controls during Lausche's successful campaign for Governor in 1944, and he served on the Strip Mine Study Commission. Throughout the debate and campaign for controls in the 1940s, Ronsheim tended to see the effort to pass a strip mine bill as a contest between vested coal interests and common people typically locked out of the political process. "The demand for legislation to regulate coal stripping has come from the people," he declared, "with no money, no organization and no lobbyists in Columbus, such as the operators have." The campaign was "a cry for self preservation."19

Once aware of the degradation caused by coal surface mining, Lausche himself began a personal crusade for regulation. Speaking in Cadiz, Ohio, in the summer of 1945, he described strip mining as "sheer butchery, disemboweling of the land and leaving its ugly entrails exhibited to the naked eye." The hillsides and streams, Lausche declared, "must be kept as the homes of the people." Earlier that year, during his first term as Governor, he had played an important role in the emphasis put on control bills during the legislative session. Later, in 1947, he was instrumental in passage of the bill establishing the study commission, and he selected its public members. His appointments to the SMSC—Ronsheim, Bath, and Stinchcomb—were ardent supporters of regulation of the strip mining industry and their presence certainly made for stronger legislation in the end. Lausche also set the tone for the work of the Commission when, prior to the organization meeting in October, the members met in his office and he told them that no problem in Ohio was "more acute and more deserving of attention" than the damage from coal surface mining.20

The most important groups involved in the campaign for regulatory legislation were farmers' organizations, particularly the Ohio State Grange, Ohio Farm Bureau, and their respective county chapters. Most

 

19. Cadiz Republican, 21 June 1945.

20. Senator Lausehe to Charles M. Perry, 14 February 1964, Box 165, Frank J. Lausche Papers, The Ohio Historical Society; Cadiz Republican, 39 August 1945, and 25 October 1945.


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of those who offered testimony before the study commission in December 1945, and at Senate hearings in March 1947, were farmers' representatives. Other prominent groups echoed the sentiments and arguments expressed by the Grange and Farm Bureau leaders, while also raising issues of their own. These others included national and local sportsmens' organizations, a statewide group of rural pastors, the state organization of County Commissioners and its Associations, the Federated Women's Clubs of Ohio, organized homeowners, and the Teamsters union. Both major political parties also adopted planks in their platforms supporting the creation of a study commission as well as regulation. Independent of these organizations and parties, members of farm families and sympathetic persons from their communities participated in lobbying for passage of strip-mine legislation by writing letters and sending telegrams to the governor and state legislators.

The arguments the Ohio farmers and other rural dwellers made for regulatory legislation in the 1940s can be grouped into three categories: economic, spiritual, and aesthetic. First and foremost, proponents of controls on stripping were interested in protecting the agricultural productivity of the land, not only to sustain individual material gain but also to preserve the integrity of rural life. As one Whipple, Ohio, resident simply put it, "I think our country would be better fit for farming." Those in favor of regulation maintained that farmers worked the soil with a long-term perspective and their ability to continue to use the land productively was intimately linked to the stability of local communities. Strippers, on the other hand, were purportedly motivated by greed and had little interest in either the health of the soil or the well-being of the surrounding communities. Support for state regulation was also based on a belief in the land as a creation of God, which carried with it a mandate for stewardship. Control advocates portrayed strippers as violators of this mandate, desecrators of sanctified land, and they counter-posed farmers as the more legitimate caretakers of the natural world. Finally, the push for regulatory legislation was a matter of aesthetics as well. The gouging of the earth to get at coal seams violated the beauty of the land. Unencumbered by any law requiring reclamation, the farmers and other rural dwellers maintained, mine sites were left as barren testaments to strippers' disregard for the aesthetic pleasures of the hills.21

The most common argument proponents of regulation made concerned agricultural productivity and competing land use, and the links these had to community stability. In 1943, the Ohio State Grange

 

21. James Lent to Representative O'Neill, 19 May 1947, Folder "Strip Mining," Box 2, William C. O'Neill Papers, The Ohio Historical Society.


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Conservation Committee noted that strip mining left "the land in a condition which is untillable and not suited to good agriculture and conservation practices," and it called for cooperation with unspecified agencies in solving this problem. Three years later the committee expressed opposition to "the needless destruction and wanton waste of natural resources being brought about by strip mine operations," and recommended immediate remedial legislation. In 1947, the Deputy Master of the Morgan County Grange, representing 200 members of twenty-two local Granges, explained his county organization's position. "We believe that strip mining is a menace to the agriculture and the very life of our county," he wrote, "unless some control measure is taken." As with apparently all other eastern Ohio County Grange and Farm Bureau chapters, as well as the state organizations, the Morgan County Grange favored H.B. 314 to save eastern Ohio agriculture. But even sportsmen's organizations emphasized the harm strip mining did to good farm land. "The membership of the Western Tuscarawas Game Association," its president explained to Governor Herbert, "feel that in the interest of the State of Ohio, our County and the heritage to be handed to our children, there must be some regulations provided for the Strip Mining of Coal ... Strip Mines must level their Spoil Banks and the land put in a tillable condition."22

Linked to the argument about land use was the notion that farming, unlike coal strip mining, sustained communities. A petition signed by forty-five people and transmitted by John E. Thompson, pastor of a church in Beverly, Ohio, made this connection. "We the undersigned," it read, "view with deep concern the vast strip mining operations being carried on in Noble, Guernsey and Harrison Counties. These operations [are] resulting in the disfigurement of the country side-causing valuable acres of farm lands to be taken out of agricultural productivity—reducing the population of these communities, and creating serious economic conditions in these communities." As H. L. Bower put it in the case of the Harrison County dairy farmer who sold out, mentioned above, "The community, as a whole, has suffered a very distinct loss because of the fact that, not saying anything about the money value, Mr. Griffon was a very good citizen of the community.

 

22. Journal of the Proceedings of the Ohio State Grange (1943), 85 (hereafter cited as JPOSG) ; JPOSG (1946), 119; John R. Schofield to Governor Herbert, 10 June 1947, and H.D. Gerber to Governor Herbert, 25 May 1947 Folder "HB 314 To Regulate Strip Mining," Box 23, Thomas J. Herbert Papers, The Ohio Historical Society (hereafter cited as Herbert Papers); County chapters of the Ohio Farm Bureau in support of HR 314 included: Ashtabula, Athens, Belmont, Columbiana, Delaware, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Knox, Meigs, Morgan, Morrow, Muskingum, Perry, Pike, Portage, Richland, Ross, Seneca, Stark, Trumbull, Tuscarawas, and Washington.


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That community, I might say, is almost wiped out." Farmers' organizations and rural eastern Ohioans argued that farming was better than strip mining for the community because it involved a long-term interest in the land, as opposed to a desire for short-term profits that was supposedly characteristic of strip operations. A hardware store owner in Athens County explained, "If the income from a ruined farm could be computed over the next hundred years in dollars and cents it would be many more times than the few quick dollars made by destroying absolutely the land." Other critics dismissed the claims made by surface miners that their motives could not be reduced to simple greed. Attempting to dispel the notion that strip operators had increased production during the war as an act of patriotism, a Perry County Commissioner and small-scale stripper told the Strip Mining Study Commission, "They did it for profits and nothing else." Somewhat along these lines, Morgan County Herald editor W. D. Matson brought the developing Cold War into the debate. "People of Morgan county," he wrote, "the Russians are not going to buzz-bomb us-we are to be mined out of our homes and our Fatherland despoiled by American coal barons who seem to care nothing for aught but the dollar sign."23

Proponents of regulation also made an argument that God had given people the land and its resources to use but not to destroy. Many called strip mining a crime against God, including the hardware store owner quoted above. These same control advocates also suggested that failing to be Christian stewards by disrupting the harmonies of the God-made land would bring retribution. As would be expected, rural pastors from eastern Ohio were most forceful in making spiritual arguments against strip mining. One resolution sent to the state Public Affairs Department by pastors from Harrison and neighboring counties stated:

Believing the Creation of the Human Family and the Sacred Soil to be the Divine work of our Father god; Believing that Life and the Fruits of the Soil are inseparable and that each are a trust in our hands from God; And recognizing the extensive and unchecked destruction of great areas of farm pasture land by the strip mining of coal, with its consequent undermining of community life and land values for generations to come in those areas of our State; We again advocate the control and regulation of strip mining by our state government.24

 

23. Petition sent to Governor Herbert from John E. Thompson, 19 March 1947, and Fred S. Wheaton to Governor Herbert, 24 May 1947, Folder "HB 314 To Regulate Strip Mining," Box 23, Herbery Papers; Feldman, "The Development," 31; Cadiz Republican, 20 December 1945; W.D. Matson editorial included with letter, Milton Ronsheim to Governor Herbert, 13 May 1947, Folder "HB 314 To Regulate Strip Mining," Box 23, Herbert Papers.

24. Cadiz Republican, 7 February 1945.


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From the pastors' point of view, farming was not a threat to a natural, God-designed equilibrium, but strip mining certainly was. Some of the same religious leaders also used their moral weight and positions of influence to make non-spiritual arguments against coal surface mining. In January 1945, the Annual Ohio Pastors Convention, with 2,300 Protestant Ohio pastors registered, unanimously passed a resolution demanding regulatory legislation. Controls were needed, the resolution explained, "to provide for public health and safety and to properly protect both private and public property rights and to insure the usefulness of land" impaired by stripping for coal and other resources.25

Additionally, farmers and other rural people in eastern Ohio were proponents of regulation because they viewed strip mining as destructive to aesthetic qualities of the landscape. Speaking at a Harrison County Farm Bureau picnic in 1945, representing the state organization, Herbert Evans pointed to the surrounding soon-to-be stripped hills and exclaimed, "The farmer says it's all right to take the coal out of these hills but they must not be left an unsightly dump." In a letter to the Cadiz Republican, a Mrs. Householder, a Harrisville resident, described the changed aesthetics she saw on her car trips through eastern Ohio stripmine country. "Until now the ride from Harrisville to Cadiz and over other nearby roads was a pleasure," she wrote. "The lovely farms, with the green fields, nice homes and outbuildings, stock grazing, and every thing to make the trip pleasant. Now we go when we have to for it's no pleasure to see where those lovely fields have been turned upside down, farm homes destroyed and in their places those awful unsightly piles of dirt, that never can be restored to their original beauty." For Mrs. Householder and others, coal surface mining meant the disappearance of a beloved and beautiful pastoral scene.26

Strip mine control advocates also made all or a combination of these argument—about agricultural productivity, Christian stewardship, and aesthetic ruin—at once. In 1945, Joseph Fichter, Master of the Ohio State Grange, addressed delegates at the organization's annual meeting: "How long will it be before we learn that exploitation of people and of our God-given natural resources does not pay? We have a conservation problem in Ohio which is the result of the exploitation of land and water resources. The defacing of land and the displacement of farm homes through strip mining of coal cause us to resort to demand for government regulation in order to prevent such waste." Though reluctant to bring the

 

25. Ibid.

26. Ibid., 30 August 1945; letter to the editor from Mrs. CE. Householder, Cadiz Republican, 25 July 1945.


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state into the problem, Fichter and other conservative farmers saw no other way to deal with the sinful exploitation of the land, destruction of rural communities, and impairment of scenic beauty by coal surface miners. Hence, they played a central role in passage of the first regulatory legislation addressing the problems of stripping.27

Shifting Opposition

Once it was signed by the Governor, coal operators denounced the 1947 control law and filed a suit in court to test its constitutionality. But when Frank Lausche was elected Governor again in 1948, opponents and proponents of the control legislation met at his urging to craft a compromise. One morning James Hyslop, then vice president of Hanna Coal Co., showed up at the Cadiz Republican offices to tell Milton Ronsheim that his company was through fighting and "the coal people" wanted an "agreed" bill. Ronsheim cleared some clutter off his desk and the two sat down for the first of several long sessions to draft new control legislation. The newspaper editor later claimed that the bill they wrote "left much to be desired," but the operators dropped their law suit and agreed to the general principle of reclamation in return for amending the earlier law. The compromise measure met no opposition from the coal lobby in the legislature and, with only minor noncontroversial changes in phrasing in committee, it sailed through both houses in June and July, 1949.28

Other amendments were made to the 1949 law during the following decades, often in response to pressure from the Ohio Grange and Farm Bureau. In 1952, the Conservation Committee of the Ohio Grange bemoaned the lack of enforcement of the regulatory legislation, and its rhetoric echoed earlier complaints. Strip operators had ruined the productivity of two million acres of lands formerly devoted to farming and forestry, the committee insisted, and since most of these lands were devalued for tax purposes they had become financial liabilities for those counties where they were located. As a solution to these problems, the Grange advocated transferring administration of the control law to the newly created Division of Lands and Soils within the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). A year later, in 1953, the Conservation Committee claimed that "land in the strip mining areas of Ohio are [sic] left in such condition that it is practically worthless," and called for

 

27. JPOSG (1945), 28-29.

28. Feldman, "The Development," 120-26; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 10 April 1966.


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leveling of land by the operators for farming where practicable and reforestation where not. The Division was transferred to the ODNR in 1959, but at the end of the decade the Grange was still demanding that the agency "require the strip mine operators to improve the restoration and leveling of their spoil banks so as to leave them in good condition for seeding and planting trees."29

The Ohio Farm Bureau also continued to advocate for better enforcement and improved control legislation. In 1965, the legislative representatives for both the Grange and the Bureau convinced the General Assembly to overhaul stripmine regulations. But the new controls included an only slightly less vague requirement to grade spoil banks "so as to reduce the peaks thereof and reduce the depressions between the peaks of such spoil banks to a gently rolling, sloping, or terraced topography." The act also charged operators with responsibility for clearing the surface of large rocks or other obstructions to permit the operation of farm machinery and make the area more suitable for revegetation, and it included a provision requiring the prevention of acid mine drainage and siltation of streams, "if possible," on adjoining lands. Despite this latter provision, delegates to the 1966 Annual Ohio Farm Bureau convention adopted a policy statement calling for legislation protecting landowners from silt on adjacent strip mines. The delegates had received reports of damages resulting from silt and clay washing onto lands and the difficulties farmers had getting reimbursement. Following passage of the resolution, the Bureau sponsored a bill granting the chief of the Division of Reclamation the right to deny a license to strip mine operators when he judged that operation might result in damage to neighboring land. But two years later, the farmers' organization was still insisting on strict enforcement of reclamation laws and, like the Grange, calling for the broadening of controls to cover other types of surface mining besides coal. 30

By the late 1960s, Ohio farmers and their designated representatives were being displaced as the primary advocates of surface-mine controls. As agriculture declined in the eastern Ohio strip-mine counties, many of the new opposition leaders in the state were self-styled conservationists and environmentalists. Their concerns were somewhat different from those of the farmers. At a 1970 stripmining symposium in Cadiz, Ohio, for example, most of the 400 participants were students, and symposium

 

29.JPOSG (1952), 103-104; JPOSG (1953); JPOSG (1960), 71-72; Ohio Laws, 1959, 1231.

30. Ohio Acts, 1965, Amendments to Section 1513, 495-96, 503; Fed-O-Gram (April, 1965), 3; Buckeye Farm News (January, 1969), 31.


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A Hanna Coal Company stripping shovel removes overburden from a coal seam. (Sc 1 539, OHIO HISTORICAL SOCIETY COLLECTIONS.)

sponsors included the Ohio Conservation Foundation, the League of Ohio Sportsmen, the Ohio Audubon Council, as well as the Sierra Club's state chapter. When the Hanna Coal Company expanded its stripping operations in Belmont County in 1972, it drew opposition from the newly formed Citizens Organized to Defend the Environment (CODE) and the somewhat older Appalachian Ohio Research and Information Group. The two groups articulated a critique of Hanna's strip mining that blended familiar economic concerns with increasingly prevalent environmental concerns. They objected to the subordination of the public good to private interests, but they were also alarmed "at the serious disruption of the intricate ecological balances, the stability of which were produced only through millions of years of natural processes."31

Members of CODE and other Ohio groups concerned about coal surface mining also became disillusioned with state remedies. Beginning in the early 1970s, activists from various Appalachian states began to create a regional movement for federal action, with some proposing

 

31. Times Leader (Martins Ferry and Bellaire, Ohio), 7 December 1970; Mountain Life and Work, 49 (January, 1973), 18.


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regulatory legislation and others demanding abolition. In October 1971, opponents from Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia met in Huntington, West Virginia, to form the Appalachian Coalition, which would coordinate efforts to ban stripping at the national level. In June 1972, 900 activists gathered at the Environmental Center of Union College, in Middlesboro, Kentucky, for a National Conference on Strip Mining. This conference drew some of the most prominent members of a growing opposition movement and produced a resolution for federal regulatory legislation that was delivered to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions. By the mid-1970s, then, there were few opponents of strip mining who still seriously considered working on state-level regulation, but the early concern expressed by the likes of Ohio farmers had been an important step forward in the campaign for federal government intervention.32

 

32. Mountain Life and Work, 47 (February, 1971), 15; Carole Malisiak to Ken Hechier, 24 August 1971, Folder 8, "Strip Mining," Box 169, Ken Hechler Manuscript Collection, Morrow Library, Marshall University.