Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coal on the brain

Lately I've been thinking a lot about coal. Coal mining is a dirty, dangerous job, as we are all occasionally reminded when tragedy strikes, as it did in Utah and China in the past weeks.

But these reports focus on the calamities and disasters, which are undoubtedly the most horrific risks that miners face. But I've always known that even the average, disaster-free workday is no walk in the park. Recently, I had the chance to visit the coal mine exhibit at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, an absolutely fantastic firsthand look into the day-to-day drudgery of life in the mines.

After seeing the exhibit, I viewed the Bush Administration's recent removal of regulatory obstacles to mountaintop mining in a different light. Mountaintop mining, where instead of digging underground tunnels into a mountain, the mountain is just exploded from the top down, may exact substantial environmental costs, for sure. But it seems to me that this practice offers miners a decreased risk of disaster and an improved general workplace welfare. that the risk of disaster as well as the health and welfare burdens that miners bear are much lower with mountaintop mining.

How do policy experts balance workplace safety with environmental concerns when deciding on how to regulate the coal mining industry? It's a tough job and I would love to hear from policy experts.

[Hat tip: Jonathan Adler for the link to the NYT article.]

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