The mine owner
also posts a bond of from $500 to $2,000 an acre to guarantee reclamation, and
he has to have a revegetation plan approved by the reclamation bureau.
These laws may
seem stringent, but they have not been designed to drive the coal companies out
of the state. Says Governor Milton J. Shapp, a businessman in a lawyer's game,
" Pennsylvania mine operators wouldn't go back to the old system. The new
reclamation laws make it easier for them to get contractual agreements with
farmers and other landowners, because they can point out how much improved the
land will be after mining. We figure that the cost to the operator in
Pennsylvania is about 35� a ton. That's not a big bite with prices up around
$18. It doesn't slow the companies down, the coal still comes out of the ground
in this state and at a greater rate than ever before."
Living proof of
this dictum is Bob Sechan, the owner-operator of a large limestone mine in
Portersville. One would never guess at first glance that Sechan is a
millionaire. Covered with white limestone dust and missing a tooth or two, he
looks like a ghost risen from the Bowery. He bounces through his limestone pits
in a four-wheel-drive station wagon that is also covered with dust. "Bill
really taught me how to go to church," Sechan says. "My wife wants a
new house, a new car, and I have to say, 'Sorry, all my money's tied up in
Sechan's money is
tied up in a few other things, too. There's the big water tower rising from the
middle of Lake Arthur Estates for mobile homes. Wholly built on land reclaimed
from mining, the development boasts trees, lush lawns, a senior citizens'
recreation center and Norman Rockwell kids riding around on banana-seat
bicycles. Sechan plans to double Lake Arthur's size when the pit across the
street is mined out next year.
Fifteen miles to
the south is an 18-hole golf course built on reclaimed land. There is no sign
that coal ever came from beneath the fairways and greens. In Jefferson County
is the farm of Emerson Bowser, 114 acres of wheat, corn and hay on reclaimed
land. The crops are thick on the steep, contour-plowed hillside fields.
Bowser's new house gleams with aluminum siding and combination storm-screen
windows, and his brand-new tractor, bailer and wagons testify to an
agricultural affluence found usually on much larger farms.
"This is the
second year I've taken a crop off this land," Bowser says, panting after
the steep climb into the field. "This was all strip-mined. The company told
me that they wanted the coal under my old house, and that they'd build me a new
one to my specifications. And what with the fee per ton and all, I said
O.K." Bowser not only has a new house and enough money for new equipment,
he also was compensated for the 1� years his land was out of production. Which
makes one wonder why some coal companies claim that they cannot afford
you have any money in the bank?" asks an impish Guckert. Bowser smiles
while watching the bulldozers backfilling another section of his farm. But even
though Emerson Bowser hit it rich in the surface-permission sweepstakes, there
are many unanswered questions that go beyond cash on hand.
There are as yet
no verifiable figures as to the amount and cost of fertilizer on reclaimed
farmland over a long period. It does take more fertilizer—that is a
certainty—and herein lies an irony. Fertilizer costs skyrocketed during the
energy crisis because most commercial fertilizers are made from petroleum. Coal
is an alternative to oil in the production of electricity, but if the land from
which coal is taken then needs petroleum products in greater quantity to make
it productive, where's the saving and the gain?
On the road again
to another mine site Guckert can't help bragging about Pennsylvania. "Some
years ago I visited Ohio, going around to a few reclaimed sites that the boys
over there carefully selected. I kept seeing buttes everywhere, just like New
Mexico. They were mountaintops where the sides of the hill had been taken off
and the top left. But these Ohio boys kept telling me that the strippers left
'em there to protect the cattle from the wind. They've got tender cows over
there in Ohio."
Guckert has a
record of not keeping quiet about the efficacy of reclamation laws whether they
are Pennsylvania's or another state's. Recently invited to Virginia to evaluate
its reclamation policies, Guckert alarmed an assembled audience of experts,
politicians and coal-company officials by telling them what a lousy job they
were doing, and detailing his criticism with a homemade slide show. There was