The coal industry is slowing to a crawl and as a result so are many communities that coal has supported. Western Colorado is taking a significant hit with the changing and closing of coal mines in the small towns that they have historically supported. Delta County previously had three booming coal mines that employed around 1,200 people in the surrounding areas. Now there is only one Bowie Resource Partners and it currently only employs about 400 and is projected to drop another 110 in the next year. The coal mines aren’t just a direct employer either, there has been a decrease in the subsidiary jobs as well like logging and construction to keep the mines going and towns growing. The jobs that are being lost are not minimum wage jobs either, due to the danger and demand of a coal miner they actually make about three times the average wage in Colorado (Denver Post).
These closures also mean a loss of revenue from taxes collected at both the county and state levels. This means that schools will also be affected as well as public assistance and other state funded agencies. The budget for Delta County has already been cut by $500,000 and is suspected of having to be cut even more due to the loss in revenue. A lot of people will leave in search of other opportunities which affects, real estate, schools and other businesses in the area. People that do stay may be in need of public assistance until they are able find employment elsewhere, which will also directly effective the budget (Delta County Independent).
While coal is something that is fading to the past due to its high emissions there should be better plans in place for those that work in this industry. People are losing everything due to changing innovations and legislation. The writing has been on the wall for a significant amount of time and yet these coal companies have not initiated change for the people running the mines. The mines have been operating as usual until they are no longer able to operate at all. This means that the coal miners are out of work and out of luck. This has made it difficult to the miners that are being let go from their current positions, not knowing what else to do and having an extremely difficult if not impossible task of finding similar paying jobs in Delta County. While hindsight is 20/20 coal companies should have been implementing training and incentives to the miners in order to become more trained in other areas. This would have prepared miners with different skills to fall back on with the inevitable coal closures.
Since there were not programs implemented before closures, there should be programs to help coal miners that have been laid off or affected due to downsizing and mine closures. The programs should be tied with unemployment and vocational or educational training that will help keep the coal miners local. There has been some call for action by State Senators who are currently working on legislation to offer a grants to rural communities affected by mass layoffs or shutdowns of plants. This would help the community greatly by allowing funds to be given to the county to help other businesses or families affected by the economic changes and hardships (KVNF Radio).
The closing of the coal mines has shocked the community at large and continues to create aftershocks. The changes that are being observed are directly impacting individuals, families, and the community at large. This has direct implications to environmental justice as well as social work values and ethics. Social workers are and will be needed in order to help offset the stress put on the community. Social work will also be needed for interventions as there are high correlations associated with higher domestic violence incidents and child abuse reports in communities dealing economic booms and busts. Social workers can be in the mines and working directly with coal miners as preventative measures as well being available in the aftermath. Social workers will also be able to work with families to navigate the social services in order to receive services.
Help will be needed for an entire community that will feel the shock and continuous aftershocks of the loss of coal mines in Delta County.
- KVNF Radio, (2016). Laura Palmisano, Local, State Leaders React To Closure of Delta County Coal Mine, March 1, 2016 http://kvnf.org/post/local-state-leaders-react-closure-delta-county-coal-mine
- The Denver Post, (2016). Aldo Svaldi, Delta County loses another big coal mine with closure of Bowie #2. February 26, 2016. http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_29568040/delta-county-loses-another-big-coal-mine-closure
- Delta County Independent, (2015). Pat Sunderland, Challenges to coal industry persist, November 18, 2015 http://www.deltacountyindependent.com/challenges-to-coal-industry-persist-cms-1372