Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This study describes the Illinois coal industry’s response to the rising challenges of air pollution regulation and competition in the energy market from natural gas and oil throughout the twentieth century. Importantly, this dissertation fills a significant gap in the historiography of Illinois coalmining, and is the first historical study based on two key, yet unused, sets of historical documents. This is a mining history and a cultural history of a system of understanding and knowledge that first developed in the Illinois Mining Institute and then in State of Illinois organizations. As the industry’s leaders organized their approaches to resolving issues they generated a culture of industry preservationism based on the ideas of mechanization, automation, expansion, research and development, politics and policy, and coal preparation and conversion. In doing so, they came to identify their movement with modernity and as they looked ahead in time with futurity. These ideas became the principles around which they forged their social connections and formed their understandings of the problems the industry faced. This study spans from a period often defined by its volatile and contentious labor–management negotiations and labor unrest, the so-called “coal wars,” to the announcement of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which according to some began his Administration’s so-called “war on coal.” This study illustrates four major historical shifts during this century-long transformation: First, this movement of Illinois coal industry preservationism, focused on interfuel completion and air pollution control, diverged from the industry’s ongoing response to organized labor. Second, in response to the rise of environmentalism and federal environmental regulations, industry leaders and State of Illinois officials began to expand on the integration of the principles of Illinois coal industry preservationism and the state’s political and policy agendas. Third, despite that industry leaders had sustained the production of Illinois coal for many decades, the movement declined in the wake of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and the rise of the natural gas industry in the energy market during the first two decades of the twenty-first century. Fourth, in reaction to the constraints of the domestic market and pollution laws, the Illinois coal industry began to sell the majority of its product overseas. Additionally, this study highlights few historical continuities. For one, those seeking to preserve the Illinois coal industry espoused the idea that their industry played a key role in the nation’s security and energy independence. They likewise held the belief that technological solutions would continue to solve the industry’s problems. The people behind this movement had every reason to view their industry through those lenses. After all, Illinois coal had helped the country win two world wars, and it offered a potential solution to the oil supply crises that resulted from cold war upheavals. In the end, however, the two problems that pushed industry leaders to generate the movement in the first place, interfuel competition and air pollution regulation, left it fractured, diminished, and in decline.
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