Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

ThereUsed to be a Mountain Here: Institutions, Advocates, and the Politics of Mountaintop Removal Mining and the Protection of Nature
by Bozzi, Laura Anne, Ph.D., Yale University, 2013, 353; 3578316
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation investigates the history of policymaking and political conflict surrounding the practice of mountaintop removal, a form of surface coal mining in Central Appalachia that removes mountain peaks as an economically efficient means of resource extraction.

Why do we destroy mountains? That is, why is mountaintop removal mining happening, and in particular, why do policies permit the practice to occur? What does answering these questions tell us about possible levers for change to confront the environmental problems of mountaintop removal mining? This dissertation provides a multi-faceted and nuanced response to these related questions. Through a multidisciplinary approach, I provide an account of how we normalize environmental damage and approach the natural world as something worthy, above all else, for its instrumental use. Then informed by institutional theory, I provide an explanation of how the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was structured initially, and then became amplified through policy feedback processes, to support coal production over other values. This policy regime, where coal interests have exerted a powerful influence, also produced an institutional logic that constrained advocates' efforts to limit mountaintop removal as it expanded into the dominant surface mining practice in Central Appalachia. This account helps to explain the emergence and expansion of mountaintop removal mining in a way that technological or market dynamics, or the power of the coal industry, cannot do alone.

However, my research also uncovers another, and less studied, trend. Within the mining policy regime there existed not only SMCRA, but also Iayers of additional institutional processes and access points. Beginning with the Bragg v. Robertson case in the late 1990s, advocates turned to provisions within the Clean Water Act that operated through an alternative institutional logic that held the possibility to circumvent the SMCRA regime's constraints. In particular, I introduce and explore the concept of an 'indirect' route to policy change that operates through this Clean Water Act setting: environmental advocates have brought lawsuits against coal mining companies whose mines have exceeded pollution discharge limits on the metal, selenium. Because of the costs associated, being held to these limits greatly reduces the incentive to mine using mountaintop removal methods. Thus the indirect route operates when a narrow regulatory enforcement (i.e. selenium discharge limits) can spill over to produce the more expansive policy goal of the original target (i.e. stopping mountaintop removal mining). The dissertation concludes by combining this array of theoretical and empirical findings into conceptual projections about how the case of mountaintop removal mining may unfold going forward, and what this suggests about American environmental policymaking more generally.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cashore, Benjamin
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-B 75/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Environmental Studies, Political science, Public policy
Keywords: Appalachia, Coal mining, Environmental activism, Environmental law, Institutional theory, Policy studies
Publication Number: 3578316
ISBN: 978-1-303-71591-4
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