6/29 Coal Project Update

A little over a week ago, I talked about the Family & Medical Leave Act project that I was working on. However, this past week or so, I have been working alongside Professor Maliniak, Professor Harish, Akash Palani, and Grace Williams on a project exploring the geostrategic influence of coal plants. The project was introduced by an economics grad student who wanted our assistance in finding the institutional and governance aspects related to her study. She has the economics background, and we have the government background, and hopefully when we bring both disciplines together, we’ll have a more wholistic picture as to why coal plants are located where they are.

Possible questions we have include: Are coal plants located in counties where newly elected officials lost the vote as a form of punishment? Could it be the opposite in that these plants were located in those counties because the residents were promised jobs? How is county-level GDP affected by the emergence of coal plants and how much energy is used as a result? When do we see people begin to leave coal plant counties? Is it because of the age of the coal plant and the pollution or is it because the coal plant has benefited them indirectly, and so now they have the means to leave? These are just a few of the questions we hope to answer with this project.

Our coal plant records date back to 1940, thus I decided to collect population data from 1930. It makes sense to collect this data on population ten years prior, since most of these plants are signed by officials  5-10 years before they are commissioned. I have been collecting annual GDP by counties which has been one of the hardest things to find, since data from that time period has not been made accessible in a Excel-compatible format. Other than that, the team has found policies relating to renewable energy feed-in tariffs that will hopefully be useful in our project. I have also found breakdowns at the average earnings in different industries from the 1930’s which should help us figure out where to take the project. In addition, I have asked one of the other research assistants on the project to scrape a site in order to find all personal finance records from counties dating back to 1920s, which will be incredibly useful in comparing coal counties, to counties on the periphery, and counties further away from the plants.

As we continue to work on the project, we will drift from the population statistics and start to discover more of the coal industry-related aspects of the project. These include micro-data on coal mining sites as well as information on the reserve base. Akash Palani, a research assistant working on the coal project, has already started to gather data from the Global Energy Observatory and the World Resource Institute databases and his task is to now make one big spreadsheet that contains overlapping information. By collecting from both sources, he is able to see both the different types of data that each database provides as well as the discrepancies among common categories.