Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Feb. 21

Charleston Gazette-Mail on a worldwide business assistance firm reporting robots will replace more than half the number of miners:

A day will come when the coal industry has no underground miners, the Gazette's late publisher, W.E. "Ned" Chilton III, predicted. Instead, he said, robotic machines will chew out coal below the surface, guided by above-ground operators using video screens. Loss of human lives will mostly end.

That forecast is arriving swiftly. A worldwide business assistance firm, BDO Global (Binder Dijker Otte), reports for all mining industries:

"By 2020, robots will replace more than 50 percent of miners, and mining accidents will be cut by 75 percent. Half of the miners will themselves be retrained to run the technology controlling the robots... Global mining companies leveraging internet-connected sensors and automated drillers in mines will decrease their per-ton digging costs by more than 30 percent."

Amazing — 2020 is just two years off. Advances in robotics are snowballing faster than most people realize.

BDO also predicts: "By 2020, renewables will account for one-quarter of the world's electricity generation as dependence on coal wanes."

What a future: Coal will fade, and robots will perform much of the production that remains.

BDO likewise forecasts a continuing boom in natural gas, with America producing 30 percent of the world's LNG (liquefied natural gas) by 2020. The possibility of a gas pipeline to Central America will be considered. It adds:

"The next generation of seismic imaging and predictive analytics will nearly eliminate exploration risk for oil and gas drilling, and will propel the U.S. industry to achieve a drilling success rate between 95 to 100 percent."

BDO is a behemoth, with 74,000 employees in 162 countries, including 11,500 in the United States. Its predictions, if accurate, bear strong implications for West Virginia.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Feb. 21

The Intelligencer on public employees' pay:

Among the many issues facing West Virginians and our government is that of pay for school teachers, jail and prison guards, state police and other public employees.

But the only way salaries can be increased is for taxes to go up or the cost of government in general to go down.

Those are the only options. Money does not grow on trees.

No one wants higher taxes. Everyone knows government at every level can be run more efficiently.

But it never happens. The bureaucrats always win.

Maybe this time, with substantial support for teachers receiving higher pay . Maybe this time the Legislature and governor can find a way to make state government more efficient.

It can happen.

Will it?

Online: http://www.theintelligencer.net/

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Feb. 21

The Journal of Martinsburg on a bill that would make confidential some details of public projects:

In October, voters in West Virginia approved a road bond referendum allowing the state to sell up to $1.6 billion in state bonds to improve state roads.

West Virginia's Roads to Prosperity — a $3 billion roads infrastructure spending plan — has been touted as not just fixing the state's roads, but helping to put people in the state to work.

"Can you imagine the multiplier effect of the jobs that will be created.?" Gov. Jim Justice said in a December Associated Press article.

We hope it's a lot. It was, in fact, a large reason why many voters authorized the state to spend their hard-earned money.

But now, the Legislature is trying to restrict the public's access to see how some of that money is being spent.

Senate Bill 474 — which eliminates public access to payroll information on state construction jobs and the Roads to Prosperity road bond work — made its way to the Senate floor Tuesday for a first reading.

As journalists, we must take a stand against restricted access to public records. But, we think the public should be dismayed as well. If this bill becomes law, journalists won't be the only group denied access to those records — so will the public.

In October, lawmakers voted to strengthen penalties of a law requiring 75 percent of the work force on state-contracted construction jobs be from the local labor market. Who is going to ensure this is happening if no one has access to that information?

This is an important issue. The road bond drastically increased the state's debt. The state will sell a total of $1.6 billion in state bonds over the next four years. This is on top of an increased wholesale gas tax by 3.5 cents a gallon, and an increased vehicle sales tax from 5 to 6 percent.

The motor vehicle registration fee was also raised from $30 to $50.

Voters authorized this project believing they'd have access to the information detailing how the money was being spent.

The state has listed hundreds of planned infrastructure projects. Transparency in government is more important now than ever to ensure the majority of the public's money is spent on West Virginia workers.

Legislators argue that SB474 would protect personal privacy by restricting payroll information from public scrutiny. But SB474 restricts access to payroll reports for public money paid on state construction jobs.

If this is deemed private, what other publicly funded positions — or institutions, for that matter — are next?

Perhaps we should remind our legislators who that money belongs to.

If you disagree with SB474, let your legislators know.

Online: http://www.journal-news.net/