Mining in Montana: The Economic, Social, and Environmental Impacts on Communities
Mineral extraction was one of the foundations on which Montana was built. Mining operations helped to attract people to Montana, which eventually would lead to its statehood. Mining attracted other industries, such as ranching and farming, and provided funding for schools, theaters, museums, libraries, and other cultural advantages. Mining was the industry of Montana, and was expected to last forever. However, over time, mining operations lost their popularity due to their negative social, economic, and environmental impacts on communities. Pollution and waste from both old, abandoned and operating mines caused damage to the environment, and threatened the health of individuals living in mining communities. The boom-bust economy associated with the mining industry proved to be detrimental to communities relying solely on mining for its economic base. Mines took resources and people from communities with no promise for the future once they had mined out an area and moved on. Mining operations do not attract the most savory people. Therefore, mining operations proved to be socially damaging to a community, bringing in higher rates of crime and lower character standards to the community. However, there are others who hold a different view of the mining industry. Rather than experiencing economic, social, and environmental decline, many mining communities actually experience an increase in social well-being, environmental improvement, as well as economic gain. Significant efforts have been made by the mining industry in recent years to improve the state of the environment. Capital accumulated has been invested differently in communities to sustain them rather than destroy them. And finally, while still unstable, new technological advances in mining operations have increased the longevity of mines. Both sides of the issue present arguments that illustrate their beliefs. Therefore, it is hard to determine who is right and who is wrong, or even if that can be determined. Do mines actually benefit, rather than detract from a community? Are the social, economic, and environmental impacts a mine has on a community positive or negative? Can the impacts a mine have on a community be stereotyped and measured in qualitative terms? Hopefully, through published research and a case study conducted in a mining community, some level of measurement of the impacts mining has on a community economically, socially, and environmentally can be assessed.