Coal mining can have negative effects on farmlands and the clean water resources that rural Illinois communities depend upon. Coal companies argue that local communities benefit from the jobs created by new mines. But is there evidence to support this argument?
Coal Mining Communities
Do coal mines strengthen local economies? There is good evidence to suggest that they do not. Rather, coal mining communities are often highly dependent on that single, volatile industry, meaning that when the market for coal is bad, coal producing areas are not sufficiently diversified to weather such downturns (see for example this study from Kentucky).
Coal Mining Today
While US coal production is at an all time high, the number of coal miners in the US is hovering near all time lows, meaning that miner productivity is near its all-time high (see this 2006 report from the Energy Information Administration). This reflects how mechanization has radically altered the coal mining industry. Jobs at mines in the Midwest typically number in the hundreds because modern machinery has taken the place of large numbers of miners.
Questions for Our Future
This data begs the question – why would we agree to a partnership between our community’s future and the future of the coal industry? Especially when doing so may come at the cost of agricultural jobs, and the long term sustainable growth they represent?