From Paul Salstrom

Steven Stoll’s book Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia just appeared from a major New York publisher, and as reviews accumulate in the media, they often mention Stoll’s proposal of a “Commons Communities Act” for Appalachia – a federal act to reestablish “common lands” under the care of specifically-designated rural Appalachian communities.   So now this proposed Act of Congress is out there.   In the book itself, Stoll introduces his proposed Act by a page of discussion, and tailgates it with four more pages of discussion.

The author, Steven Stoll, has given his blessing to printing his proposal in Highlands Voice and he welcomes feedback.   Any resemblance to the proposed “Birthplace of Rivers National Monument” is coincidental, since Stoll only learned of that after his book appeared.   (Incidentally, another highlight of Stoll’s book is his reproduction of Julian Martin’s inspired public testimony in 1988 against the infamous Black Gold mountaintop removal mine that threatened Lincoln County back then.)

Here in full is Steven Stoll’s proposed “Commons Communities Act.”   Kindly address your feedback to the editor of Highlands Voice and it will be passed on to Stoll, and perhaps be printed in these pages.



Whereas coal mining is diminishing in the southern mountains, leaving thousands unemployed, and whereas coal contributes to climate change and the disruption of human societies all over the world; whereas a rural policy should incorporate ecological principles with food production on a small scale, and whereas the United States once included millions of households engaged in production for subsistence and exchange; whereas when people take care of landscapes, landscapes take care of them,

SECTION 1. The United States shall create a series of commons communities, each designed to include a specified number of households within a larger landscape that will be managed by them, the residents. This landscape will provide the ecological base for hunting and gathering, cattle grazing, timber harvesting, vegetable gardening, and farming. The ecological base will be owned as a conservation easement or land trust under the authority of the states and/or counties where each community resides.

SECTION 2. Commons communities would be organized according to the design principles developed by the economist Elinor Ostrom, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009 for her work on the economic governance of common resources. Each community shall include well-defined boundaries and members. Each will devise rules for appropriation suitable to the environment, along with sanctions and penalties for those who violate the rules and take too much or otherwise abuse the resource. Each must establish a means of conflict resolution and governance. In the event that residents need to sue the community or other residents, they would use the county, state, or federal courts.

SECTION 4. Social services and education will be paid for by an income tax on the top 1 percent of household incomes in the United States and an Industrial Abandonment Tax, attached to any corporation that closed its operations in any city or region of the United States within the last twenty years of the date of this Act and moved elsewhere, leaving behind toxic waste and poverty.

SECTION 5. Resident households with incomes under $50,000 a year will pay no federal income tax. Residents will own their own homes, paying for them with low-interest mortgages and a $1.00 down payment.

SECTION 6. No nonresident, trust, or corporation is permitted to purchase property in a commons community.

SECTION 7. The organization of commons communities will proceed through the Department of Agriculture. The Department will initiate the identification of suitable lands for condemnation by eminent domain or land already owned by counties, states, or the United States. The Department will determine how much land is needed to sustain a given number of residents.

SECTION 8. Allied Programs.

SUB-SECTION A. Income tax incentives will encourage teachers and medical doctors to live in commons communities and work in the schools and nearby hospitals.

SUB-SECTION B. College-age members of any commons household may apply for free tuition at their state university. Tuition shall be paid for by the Industrial Abandonment Tax.

SUB-SECTION C. Commons communities will receive special programs intended to link them to the Internet. Cooperation between communities will incorporate schools, artists and writers in residence, and scientists engaged in the study of the environment. This Act provides funds for the publication of a journal or magazine of commons life to be written and published by the residents of the various communities.

SUB-SECTION D. Another program will link gardeners with markets for their produce, including grocery stores and restaurants. Proceeds from this Market Garden Initiative will not be subject to state or federal income tax.

SUB-SECTION E. University experiment stations in every state where commons communities exist will send representatives to teach the latest methods of garden production, with the approval and consent of residents.

SECTION 9. If the members of a commons community no longer wish to be associated with the federal government, they may become independent at any time with a majority vote consisting of two-thirds of adult residents, at which time all federal programs associated with this Act will cease. Ownership of the commons would not change and residents would keep their homes.