Disproportionality and Resource-Based Environmental Inequality

An Analysis of Neighborhood Proximity to Coal Impoundments in Appalachia

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Abstract

Environmental hazards created by resource extraction impose numerous risks on rural populations, but have been understudied in quantitative analyses of environmental inequality. This study fills that gap by examining whether neighborhoods with socioeconomic disadvantages are disproportionately proximate to coal impoundments in Appalachia. Coal impoundments are large, hazardous dams that hold billions of gallons of wastewater and slurry, a sludge-like by-product of processing coal. I ground this study in William Freudenburg's double diversion framework, which highlights “disproportionality”—the unequal trade-off between economic benefits and environmental costs of certain industries. Disproportionality is evident in Appalachia, where coal mining makes up a small percentage of the region's jobs, but threatens local communities through the creation of environmental hazards. Spatial regression results indicate that neighborhoods closest to impoundments are slightly more likely to have higher rates of poverty and unemployment, even after controlling for rurality, mining-related variables, and spatial dependence. The findings also suggest that a neighborhood's proximity to past mining activity is a stronger predictor of impoundment proximity than current levels of mining employment. This article lays the groundwork for future research on resource-based environmental inequality that considers the uneven spatial distribution of hazards created by resource extraction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-178
Number of pages30
JournalRural Sociology
Volume82
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

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coal
resources
coal mining
rural population
unemployment
poverty
regression
industry
costs
community
economics

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science

Cite this

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abstract = "Environmental hazards created by resource extraction impose numerous risks on rural populations, but have been understudied in quantitative analyses of environmental inequality. This study fills that gap by examining whether neighborhoods with socioeconomic disadvantages are disproportionately proximate to coal impoundments in Appalachia. Coal impoundments are large, hazardous dams that hold billions of gallons of wastewater and slurry, a sludge-like by-product of processing coal. I ground this study in William Freudenburg's double diversion framework, which highlights “disproportionality”—the unequal trade-off between economic benefits and environmental costs of certain industries. Disproportionality is evident in Appalachia, where coal mining makes up a small percentage of the region's jobs, but threatens local communities through the creation of environmental hazards. Spatial regression results indicate that neighborhoods closest to impoundments are slightly more likely to have higher rates of poverty and unemployment, even after controlling for rurality, mining-related variables, and spatial dependence. The findings also suggest that a neighborhood's proximity to past mining activity is a stronger predictor of impoundment proximity than current levels of mining employment. This article lays the groundwork for future research on resource-based environmental inequality that considers the uneven spatial distribution of hazards created by resource extraction.",
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