Dirty Energy,  State Policy

Farmers Celebrate as Ohio EPA Terminates Permit for Coal Mine in Perry State Forest

After two years of grassroots organizing, local farmers, community members, and forest supporters celebrated a major victory in their campaign to prevent coal mining on public land just outside New Lexington, Ohio in Perry County.

On January 30, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) announced it will terminate CCU Coal and Construction’s wastewater discharge permit for a proposed 545-acre strip mine in the Perry State Forest in close proximity to farmland, local residents, and public recreation spaces. The termination of the permit came at the request of the coal company, according to OEPA, and will take effect April 1.

“This is a huge victory for our community, our forest, and our farm,” said Lauren Ketcham, an OEFFA member produce and flower farmer at Down the Road Farm, whose farm borders the forest. “This project has cast a dark shadow over our farm and the businesses and homes of our neighbors for a long time. We moved here to put down roots, start a small business, feed our community, and invest in the land. Coal mining put all that at risk.”

Throughout Ohio, OEFFA has been working with farmers and rural communities like this who are being harmed by coal mining, fracking, pipelines, and other energy infrastructure projects that scar, pollute, and fragment the land. The livelihoods of sustainable farmers, like Lauren, depend on a clean environment and biodiverse ecosystems to grow nutritious food and healthy animals.

Moreover, the fossil fuel industry contributes to a changing climate, which is already beginning to stress farmers through extreme weather like heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall, reduced crop and livestock yields, and increased pest and weed pressure.

These energy projects work at cross-purposes with these farmers, whose practices help sequester carbon, protect water quality, promote public health, and contribute to the social and economic viability of the region.

Since 2018, OEFFA has helped mobilize members and spoken out about the impact of the proposed Perry State Forest coal mine on local farmers. As OEFFA’s Policy Director, I provided testimony at the October 2018 OEPA hearing and published an op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch. OEFFA sent postcards to hundreds of local residents ahead of the OEPA hearing and a February 2019 Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) meeting, helping to draw hundreds of people to these events. OEFFA’s online organizing resulted in more than 1,100 emails being sent to ODNR, OEPA, and state lawmakers.

In addition to working with OEFFA, with fellow farmer Henry Jochem of Primaterra Farm, Lauren helped to organize Friends of Perry State Forest, a grassroots group of farmers, concerned citizens, all-purpose vehicle (APV) riders, trail and riding organizations, and business owners. The group held regular meetings, raised funds for a legal challenge, organized public comments, generated extensive statewide media coverage, and brought together a diverse coalition including OEFFA, the Ohio Environmental Council, Perry Forest Trail Maintenance Crew, Sierra Club, American Motorcyclist Association, Buckeye Environmental Network, Ohio Motorized Trails Association, Perry County Think Tank on Poverty, and Appalachian Voices.

Friends of Perry State Forest meeting at Perry Backwoods Campground

“This is a really great example of how local community organizing—and farmers in particular—can make a positive impact. We came together with a common love for the forest, put aside differences, shared our unique skills, and worked together to create change, even when the trees fell and the deck seemed so stacked against us,” Lauren said.

On January 22, 2019, Friends of Perry State Forest and the Ohio Environmental Council filed an appeal of the OEPA’s wastewater discharge permit with the Environmental Review Appeals Commission, which would have required the company’s lawyers to defend the permit, originally issued to Oxford Mining Company, had it not been terminated.

Permits from both ODNR and OEPA are required before the project can move forward. Although OEPA will now terminate its permit, and the company has signaled its abandoning the project, a mining permit application before ODNR remains pending.

“The revocation of the wastewater discharge permit brings this project one step closer to termination. We hope the ODNR permit application will also be withdrawn and that the agency will move quickly to give closure to the community, revegetate and restore the 60-year-old forest that they prematurely clear-cut two years ago, and reopen the forest to once again allow the public to enjoy this land,” Lauren said.

In addition to Lauren and Henry, OEFFA has worked with other farmers impacted by energy infrastructure projects, successfully helping organic farmers utilize organic mitigation impact plans to require companies to provide protections to address their unique management and certification requirements.

If you’re a farmer faced with infrastructure development on your farm, like a coal mine, power lines, or pipelines, contact me by email or call (614) 421-2022. OEFFA provides free consultations and tools that can help you navigate, negotiate, and protect your farm resources and maintain your organic certification.