West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
Charleston Gazette on machines replacing miners:
The Charleston Gazette’s late publisher, W.E. “Ned” Chilton III, once predicted a future day when the Mountain State would have no underground miners — because robotic digging machines, controlled by operators at video screens on the surface, would do the dirty, dangerous work below.
His forecast seems to be coming true. Around the world, in all types of mining, automated machines are replacing human diggers. Forbes magazine calls them “the robots that will mine in hell.”
The magazine described a 7,000-foot-deep Arizona copper mine where temperatures are 175 degrees Fahrenheit and warm water drizzles constantly. Caterpillar and Komatsu are building “custom electric loaders, excavators and other robotic gear, equipped with thousands of sensors” to work in the hellish hole.
“The machines will find the ore, mine it, and transport it to the surface under the watchful eye of technicians hundreds of miles away,” the business magazine said.
Another report says China National Coal Group is using “completely deserted coal mining technology” at two mines. And Australia’s BHP (once Broken Hill Proprietary) is pushing a Next Generation Mining program that “includes autonomous drills and autonomous trucks.”
An NBC News report says: “From robotic drills to self-driving ore trucks, automation is bringing a new measure of safety to mines.” Human miners can’t be killed on the job if there are no human miners. Mining professor Bernard Jung predicts “fully automated ‘man-less’ mines that are completely operated by machines.”
“The Robots Have Descended on Trump Country” is the headline of a Dec. 13 New York Times report. It says the Trump administration’s tax cut for the wealthy “increased incentives to replace workers with robots.” Corporations now can write off the cost of machines immediately instead of depreciating them slowly over many years.
This change will hit blue-collar workers — not just in coal mining, but in manufacturing and other hard-hat industries — who have been devoted supporters of President Trump, it says. “One more robot ... reduces employment by about six workers.”
Mechanization already has taken a grim toll of West Virginia coal miners. After World War II, the state had 125,000 pick-and-shovel diggers, but machines cut the workforce to around 15,000 today — wiping out the livelihood of 110,000 families.
As automation takes over, and demand for coal continues to decline because of cheaper natural gas, it’s time for West Virginia to look to other areas where it can truly grow its economy and workforce.
Charleston Daily Mail on state Legislative committee leadership appointments:
Committee leadership appointments announced by Speaker of the House Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, Tuesday reflect the occupations and interests of a wide variety of West Virginians.
Delegate Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, will lead the powerful Finance Committee. Householder is a small business owner.
As such, Householder understands how finances affect an organization. He also understands how state government can influence, for better and for worse, business conditions, whether they be due to taxes, laws and/or regulations.
Likewise, Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, has been named chair of the Banking and Insurance Committee. A financial consultant and investment manager, Nelson knows banking and insurance as well or better than anyone in the Legislature.
For the important Education Committee, Hanshaw selected Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison as chairman. In that role, Hamrick will work closely with Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, appointed as the committee’s vice-chairman. Dean is principal of Gilbert PreK-8 School in Mingo County.
For Judiciary, Hanshaw renewed John Shott, R-Mercer, as chairman. Shott is an attorney and former assistant prosecuting attorney.
For the House Health Committee, Hanshaw renewed Dr. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, chairman. Ellington is a physician and vice chief of staff at Princeton Community Hospital.
To lead the Agriculture Committee, Hanshaw selected an active farmer, Roy Cooper, R-Summers.
Delegate Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, a physician, was selected to chair the Prevention & Treatment of Substance Abuse Committee, while a retired State Police trooper, Ray Hollen, R-Wirt, was selected as vice chairman.
Hanshaw selected 70-year-old Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, to chair the Senior Citizen Issues Committee.
For Veterans Affairs chairman, Hanshaw named Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a military veteran.
Likewise in the Senate, a doctor will remain on call in the Health and Human Resources Committee, as Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, announced.
Nearly a dozen leaders of House and Senate committees named so far were selected among folks who make a living in occupations related to their committees.
Is that a conflict of interest? A violation of ethical guidelines? Absolutely not. It is a complement of interest — whereby people with knowledge of a particular industry were chosen for their expertise when dealing with legislation affecting their industry.
Should state citizens be watchful for ethical violations? Absolutely. Citizens should be always vigilant in protecting the public dollar.
Should citizens assume that since someone is assigned to or leads a committee that matches their career area they are somehow violating ethical behaviors? Absolutely not.
Our delegates and senators are elected by the people to represent the people. For effective government, the people need representatives who are knowledgeable in the areas of which they are making and changing laws.
“Each person brings a perspective that is reflective of personal experience and constituent desires. Each legislator is loaded with talents, weaknesses, interests, areas of expertise and subjects about which they know much — or little,” wrote contributing columnist Philip Reale in Daily Mail Opinion last week. “They are a mirror image of the diverse population of our state — just as intended of a citizen legislature.”
The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on several adults rescued from an inactive coal mine:
An unauthorized, shall we say, visit to an inactive coal mine almost ended up badly for four people recently, but all made it out safely after relatives spent several days worrying about them.
The four entered the former Rock House Powellton Mine in Raleigh County on Saturday, Dec. 8. When they didn’t come out, rescue crews were sent to find them. Eddie Williams, 43, of Artie walked out on his own. His cousin, Kayla Williams, 25, also of Artie, and Erica Treadway, 31, of Pax and Cody Beverly, 21, of Clear Creek were rescued on Dec. 12.
Their going missing and their rescue drew national and international attention.
We’re glad that all four people got out of that mine alive, but this is not a time for celebration. It’s a time for serious questions.
Naturally, the first question is what the four were doing in the mine in the first place.
According to The Register-Herald of Beckley, Williams was indicted in May in Raleigh County on charges of trespassing, destruction of property and grand larceny related to the theft last January of copper wire from an Alpha Resources mine. His trial is pending.
The newspaper also reported that Treadway was charged in October with possessing a controlled substance without a valid prescription, while Williams was indicted in September on cocaine-related charges. Her father, Randall Williams, has said she went into the Powellton mine in search of copper.
Media outlets report Beverly’s father, Brandon Lee Beverly, is currently serving prison time for a string of break-ins and thefts from mine sites, including stolen copper.
Copper is a valuable scrap metal. Legislation passed several years ago was supposed to clamp down on people stealing and selling it, but apparently there is still a black market in copper that can entice people to do something as dangerous and foolish as entering an abandoned coal mine.
Abandoned mines are places where toxic gases can accumulate, where roofs cave in and where water pools. There is no light at all. You almost have a menu to choose your cause of death. Few people with any common sense would enter one for no good reason.
There is also the question of how difficult it is to enter an abandoned mine. According to The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Williams is an experienced coal miner, so he may know how to get around safeguards. The other three had not been underground before, according to the newspaper. If mine break-ins are not uncommon, why is that so?
And you have to wonder how many people have gone into a mine illegally and never came back out with no one ever knowing.
This is an excellent time to step back and review the security involved in closing mines and dealing with rescues of trespassers. These once were called teachable moments. It’s a time for people to remind each other to not do stupid things like going into abandoned mines in search of copper or other materials to steal and sell. Maybe it’s time to crack down again on scrap metal companies that buy such material with no questions asked.
And maybe it’s time for a few bills to go out so people pay the costs involved with their illegal activity.
There are many questions and obviously many complicated answers for the legislature, law enforcement and others to consider in the coming months.