Wednesday, August 15, 2007
The pressures of environmental policy continue to transform land use and law. Will coal-mining increase or decrease as an American land use in next few decades? Pressures to cut back on carbon-spewing coal push in one direction, while uncertainties of foreign oil supplies push in the other. The latest spate of sensationalized coal-mining accidents might result in even tougher safety laws, which would raise the cost of mining in America and work against the coal-mining industry.
A fascinating parallel story of coal's rise and fall is playing out in the Ruhr district of Germany, which my 1960 Encyclopedia Britannica refers to as one of the world's largest coal-mining regions and the "largest single industrial area in the world." Times have changed. As a result of the recent decision of the German government to phase out extensive subsidies of the now minor coal-mining businesses, analysts expect that coal mining in the Ruhr will all but cease by 2018. Mining will stop not because there is no more coal in the ground -- there is -- but because it is cheaper to import coal than it is to pay German workers and comply with tough German safety and environmental laws. Land that used to be scarred by coalmines is turning into forests, hops farms, and new housing developments. Will the same happen to American mining areas of Kentucky and Wyoming in the near future?