New geographic study questions common notion that mountaintop removal provides lots of local jobs

July 12, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

 

I recently came across a fairly new study that uses geographically represented data to question the common notion that mountaintop removal coal-mining operations are good for the economies of the communities where they are located.

The study is called “Mountaintop removal and Job Creation: Exploring the Relationship Using Spatial Regression,” and it as published in the peer-reviewed Annals of the Association of American Geographers (subscription or membership required). It was written by Brad Woods of Penn State University and Jason Gordon of Mississippi State.

Basically, the authors took GIS data about strip-mine permit boundaries and compared it to population and economic data to see if being located near a larger mining operation made a community more likely to have large numbers of residents employed by the coal industry.

Their answer?

Contrary to pro-MTR arguments, we found no supporting evidence suggesting MTR contributed positively to nearby communities’ employment.

The study said:

Our research question was straightforward: Is there a relationship between the size of MTR mining and employment, which justifies the ‘coal means jobs’ mantra?

The results of the overall model suggested insufficient evidence to support a positive relationship between mine size (either MTR mining or underground mining) and percentage of the working population employed in coal mining. This finding casts doubt on the pervasive and dominant argument of MTR advocates.

The study outlined several caveats that are worth considering. First, the study looked at West Virginia — and an examination of other Appalachian states where mountaintop removal is practiced could produce different results. Second, the study looked only at direct employment by the mining industry, not other local occupations that service that industry.  In addition, the authors called for more research on various factors that affect coal industry employment in the region:

… Future research should examine other factors that might affect coal mining employment, such as the influence of shifting coal markets, which make coal from central Appalachia less attractive. As regulations associated with the extraction and burning of coal tighten, and West Virginia’s most accessible seams are exhausted, larger and easier to extract coal seams in Wyoming and abroad will likely displace Appalachian coal to meet energy demands. In turn, this will likely result in shifting employment patterns in the West Virginia mining sector.


Still, the authors concluded:

Neither a rise nor decline in employment was found for underground or MTR mining. The lack of a statistically significant relationship between coal mine size and mining employment suggests that reliance on new methods of coal mining for job growth is tenuous at best. This supports previous literature, which has rejected favoring increased numbers of MTR projects an limited regulatory oversight of such projects.  The lack of any statistical relationship between coal mining and job creation raises questions concerning coal mining’s role in developing local economies.

Further:

Future research employing a variety of methods and study sites will further illuminate the social and economic implications of MTR. Repetition of the study in various locations and using multiple variables will assist policymakers in critically analyzing the use of MTR coal as an energy source. Advocating a questionable extraction technology, which brings with it potentially widespread and severe environment outcomes, fails to acknowledge long-term needs of communities, states and nations.

So … do you think this study will be on the agenda for discussion at Thursday’s hearing on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Regulatory affairs? The hearing is called  “EPA’s Appalachian Energy Permitorium: Job Killer Or Job Creator?

5 Responses to “New geographic study questions common notion that mountaintop removal provides lots of local jobs”

  1. LdeG says:

    Workers in the southern WV coal fields tend not to live where they work. In Boone Co., for instance, fewer than 25% of the jobs in the goods-producing sector (mostly mining) are held by people who live in Boone Co.

  2. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    LdeG,

    You wrote:

    … In Boone County, for instance, fewer than 25% of the jobs in the goods-producing sector (mostly mining) are held by people who live in Boone Co.”

    Could you tell us where this statistic comes from, and perhaps provide a link to your source for it?

    Thanks, Ken.

  3. LdeG says:

    U.S. Census Bureau. 2011. OnTheMap Application. Longitudinal-Employer Household Dynamics Program. http://lehdmap.did.census.gov/

    “a unique resource for mapping the travel patterns of workers and identifying small-area workforce characteristics.”

    You can produce many kinds of maps and charts of where people work who live in a particular place, and where people who live in a place work, by zip code, census block, and distance. They have put up 2009 data since I did the reports below.

    People who live in Boone Co. go much farther from home to work than other West Virginians.

    West Virginia:
    Jobs by Distance – Home Census Block to Work Census Block
    2008

    Total All Private Jobs 574,266 100.0%
    Less than 10 miles 264,337 46.0%
    10 to 24 miles 135,515 23.6%
    25 to 50 miles 82,419 14.4%
    Greater than 50 miles 91,995 16.0%

    Boone Co.:
    Jobs by Distance – Home Census Block to Work Census Block
    2008

    Total Private Primary Jobs 5,585 100.0%
    Less than 10 miles 1,013 18.1%
    10 to 24 miles 2,535 45.4%
    25 to 50 miles 1,249 22.4%
    Greater than 50 miles 788 14.1%

    And few people in Boone Co. live near their job:

    Jobs by Distance – Work Census Block to Home Census Block
    2008

    Total Private Primary Jobs 6,100 100.0%
    Less than 10 miles 1,036 17.0%
    10 to 24 miles 2,474 40.6%
    25 to 50 miles 1,883 30.9%
    Greater than 50 miles 707 11.6%

    and the numbers I cited in the first place:
    Boone Co. Goods-Producting Sector
    Jobs Counts by Counties Where Workers Live
    2008

    Total Private Primary Jobs 3,646 100.0%
    Boone County, WV 805 22.1%
    Raleigh County, WV 667 18.3%
    Kanawha County, WV 657 18.0%
    Logan County, WV 289 7.9%
    Lincoln County, WV 287 7.9%
    Fayette County, WV 243 6.7%
    Putnam County, WV 86 2.4%
    Mingo County, WV 81 2.2%
    Nicholas County, WV 51 1.4%
    Wyoming County, WV 48 1.3%
    All Other Locations 432 11.8%

  4. Edd442 says:

    There is little information about how they went about this study.

  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Edd442,

    Here’s the abstract:

    This project focused on a new and increasingly contested method of coal extraction, mountaintop removal (MTR), and its effects on central Appalachian residents’ quality of life vis-à-vis increased employment. Attention is given to central Appalachia because its fossil fuel landscapes have undergone major changes as a result of two interrelated forces: (1) a national push for energy independence that led to the region’s all-time high production of coal (supplying over half of the nation’s coal); and (2) changes in mining technology that allowed for increased production. Such transitions have led to widespread use of MTR mining, a method that entails removal of extensive land area to expose coal seams. Although policymakers are aware of the negative environmental effects of MTR, its continued use is primarily rationalized using the argument that it contributes to local economies, especially job retention and development. MTR proponents argue that, without MTR, other regions and countries more competitively extract coal. Opponents counter that MTR fails to substantially contribute to employment due to efficiencies in mechanization. This study used socio-spatial analysis to understand MTR’s impact on employment in southern West Virginia populated places. We integrated coal mining permit boundaries with employment indicators obtained from the U.S. Census. Contrary to pro-MTR arguments, we found no supporting evidence suggesting MTR contributed positively to nearby communities’ employment. Implications for economic development are discussed.

    You can click on this link, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00045608.2011.567947 to buy the entire study. Like many scientific journals, this one is subscription only. Any local library could get you a copy through interlibrary loan.

    Ken.

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