It is with the above outlook in mind that the committee undertook an assessment of major needs for coal-related research and development. In accordance with directions from the congressional framers of this study, the primary focus is on “upstream” components of the overall coal fuel cycle. The remainder of this chapter notes two important societal issues—community impacts and workforce demographics—that cut across the coal fuel cycle and then describes current federal support for coal-related R&D. The findings and recommendations from earlier chapters are repeated here to provide the context for a federal R&D investment strategy, coordinated among federal agencies, coal-producing states, and the coal industry, for upstream components of the coal fuel cycle.
Two societal issues that occur across multiple components of the coal fuel cycle are (1) the community impacts of coal mining, transport, and utilization; and (2) the education and training of the mining workforce and the academic research and teaching profession.
Coal mining has both beneficial and adverse effects at all levels, from individual communities to the nation as a whole, but it is the local communities that are at the forefront of these effects. A number of socioeconomic issues exist in some older mining districts that reflect some of the unique aspects of mining as a land use. The impacts of mining on the safety and general welfare of coal communities can include mine drainage, mine fires, waste piles, ground movements (subsidence), and hydrological impacts. An additional concern in new mining districts, such as those in the West, is that the rapid development of sparsely populated areas will produce a sharply increased demand for infrastructure and community facilities that may be very difficult or cost-prohibitive to meet. Beneficial impacts are realized during the productive life of a coal mining operation, and great progress has been made over the years in minimizing adverse impacts. Maintaining a healthy community following mine closure requires deliberate planning to develop new opportunities for the community. The key to establishing sustainable communities is for both industry and community participants to cooperate to develop guidelines, practices, and reporting mechanisms that promote sustainable development (NRC, 1996). The development and adoption of these procedures would benefit from active research programs that lead to case studies of positive post-mining community development.
Coal transportation, especially by rail and truck, also affects the communities through which the coal passes. Long coal trains crossing local roads temporarily block those roads, adding traffic congestion and potentially delaying emergency