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West Virginia editorial roundup

October 23, 2019

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

Oct. 22

The Exponent Telegram on efforts to improve mining safety:

West Virginia is known for its rich coal mining history. Unfortunately, part of that history includes horrific mine explosions and roof falls that have led to the deaths of hundreds over the past century.

Past tragedies in West Virginia are credited for spurring more state and federal oversight, which has greatly improved coal mining safety.

But make no mistake, it remains dangerous, especially in deep mines where the coal is about mined out.

We’re pleased to see the tremendous efforts and headway being made by the West Virginia University Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources’ Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering to improve safety conditions in mining operations that will transfer well into coal mining operations in West Virginia and other states.

Joining with Alpha Foundation for the Improvement of Mine Safety and Health, a private agency dedicated to funding safety improvement projects, professors Ihsan Berk Tulu, Jason Gross, Yu Gu and Guilherme Pereira continue their work to use robots and drones to prevent roof collapses and falling debris in mines.

The Alpha Foundation recently supplied a $750,000 grant, which will advance those efforts significantly.

As Tulo explained to NCWV Media’s Conor Griffith, the team uses a combination of remote vehicles that consist of an unmanned aerial vehicle attached to an unmanned ground vehicle, which in turn provides high-resolution, 3-D maps for assessment of pillar and roof damage.

“Ultimately, this project will develop an early warning system that will notify the mine engineers for elevated hazardous conditions in underground stone mines,” Tulu said.

Tulo said “fall of ground”-related accidents are one of the leading causes of injuries. These occur when part of the roof or a pillar collapses. While the work being done is currently focused on mines involving stone work, it is easily transferrable to all types of mining operations.

“The autonomous robotic early warning system for monitoring stone mines will enable a rapid response to detected degradations in pillar and roof stability. Successful development and deployment of this system is expected to reduce injuries of underground stone mine workers,” Tulu said.

“While the initial problem is associated with pillar stability and design, the techniques developed in this research would be easily adaptable to the underground coal and metal/nonmetal mining sectors. The autonomous robots’ mapping ability would also be adaptable to facilitate search and rescue efforts in case of an accident,” Tulu said.

Efforts like these, with academic institutions teaming with private companies or foundations to develop new technology in a more rapid pace, are excellent — the types of work we’ve come to expect from WVU, which continues its rapid ascent in the world of research and development.

“Miners’ safety is a No. 1 priority in the mining industry,” said Vladislav Kecojevic, the Robert E. Murray chair and professor of mining engineering. “Research grants such as this one from the Alpha Foundation will allow our WVU engineers to leverage state-of-the-art technology into an underground environment and contribute toward an ultimate goal of zero fatal- and non-fatal injuries in our nation’s mines.”

We applaud the efforts of these WVU professors, their associates and Alpha Foundation for their key investment. Working together, we are confident mining safety will be boosted by further use of technology developed through this collaboration.

Online: https://www.wvnews.com/theet/

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Oct. 20

The Parkersburg News & Sentinel on the federal budget request for the West Virginia Department of Veterans Affairs:

If allegations against the Department of Veterans Affairs are valid, Congress should take a hard look at the approximately $220 billion in taxpayer dollars the VA requested from this year’s budget.

A department that cannot be trusted even to verify whether it is hiring people who are properly certified for their jobs caring for our nation’s military veterans might require a little oversight.

According to a notice filed by the family of one of the veterans believed to have died under questionable circumstances at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg, the person of interest in the case was hired as a certified nursing assistant, despite not actually holding that certification.

There are other allegations of negligence on the part of the hospital, including failure to meet a reasonable standard of care in discovering, diagnosing and treating the sudden severe hypoglycemia that may have killed as many as ten veterans — all on the same floor of the hospital, all during the early morning hours of the night shift, and all while the person of interest was working.

By the way, no one has been arrested in connection with the deaths, though the VA assures families the person of interest is no longer working there. That is about as much information as families are getting right now. In fact, a recent meeting of the House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations revealed members of Congress are getting a little frustrated with the procedure the VA is following in alerting THEM to and addressing problems.

For years now, veterans and their families have had increasing reason to suspect they might not be getting the best, fastest medical care — in fact, might even be in danger — if they stick with the integrated healthcare system the federal government promised would take care of those who were willing to sacrifice everything for their country.

Changes in leadership have not worked. Nothing seems to hammer home the message that VA officials MUST do a better job of taking care of our veterans.

But in making its request for that $220 billion, the VA Secretary Robert Wilkie pretended “The budget request will ensure the nation’s Veterans receive high-quality health care and timely access to benefits and services.”

Perhaps it is time for Congress to tighten the purse strings. Maybe that will make an impression.

Online: https://www.newsandsentinel.com/

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Oct. 17

The Register Herald on how Gov. Jim Justice’s family farms received the maximum payout in federal subsidies as relief from the effects of the trade war:

When news broke that Gov. Jim Justice’s family farms had received the maximum payout ($125,000) in federal subsidies for soybeans and corn as relief from the effects of the trade war with China, the reaction from critics was quick, expected — and off the mark.

Certainly, there are legions of small farmers whose financial standing is far more precarious than the governor’s and other large-scale operators. Justice is, after all, a wealthy man with significant holdings in coal mining, the hospitality industry and agriculture. While he would have been able to weather the storm of depressed commodity markets better than most, his farm operations, just like the little guy with a fraction of acres under production and no other means of cash flow, were eligible, too, for federal relief.

But don’t blame Justice for taking advantage of the rules of the road. If you are ticked off that the federal bailout — using taxpayer dollars — is exacerbating the economic disparity between large and small farmers, save the outrage for loopholes in the legislation and President Trump’s trade war with China.

The administration’s first round of bailouts has distributed $8.4 billion — with most of it going to big-time agribusinesses. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) issued a report that found the top one-tenth of recipients has received 54 percent of all payments. Eighty-two farmers have each received more than $500,000 in trade relief. And — take a deep breath — one farm in Missouri has received $2.8 million.

Further, the top 1 percent of recipients of trade relief received, on average, $183,331. The bottom 80 percent? Less than $5,000, EWG said.

And all of that is in the plan. The federal program is designed to provide support proportionate to a farm’s size and success. The more acres of corn and beans and the more bushels per acre, the more assistance farmers receive. To the rich go the rewards.

If this song and dance all sounds and looks too familiar, we would remind you that 83 percent of benefits of the president’s tax relief law a couple of years ago went to the wealthiest among us. It’s just how this administration rolls.

And because our country’s economic elites have better lawyers and lobbyists wandering the halls of Congress, loopholes in the relief program permit some farmers to quadruple-dip from federal aid programs.

Not only has this been a year of punishing trade tariffs, it has also been one of natural disasters and weather anomalies that have kept thousands of acres out of production and commodity prices depressed.

As such, farmers may be receiving money from either or both rounds of the trade relief, agricultural-risk coverage and price-loss coverage — in addition to crop insurance and money from the disaster relief bill.

Farmers are a proud and independent lot and are not fond of being on federal welfare. They want access to open markets and they want government to get out of their way.

But this trade war has been a disaster. U.S. farm exports to China were down by $1.3 billion during the first half of the year. The president’s trade war is, in part, responsible for pushing the delinquency rates for commercial agricultural loans in both the real estate and nonreal estate lending sectors to a six-year high. In the past year ending in June, there were a total of 535 Chapter 12 farm bankruptcy filings, up 13 percent. In Kansas and Minnesota, bankruptcy filings reached the highest levels of the past decade.

And then there is this: In a Fox News interview, Patty Edelburg, vice president of the Washington-based National Farmers Union, said, “We’ve had a lot more bankruptcies going on, a lot more farmer suicides.”

Contrary to the president’s hubris, trade wars are neither “good” nor “easy,” as he has said.

Here, in a nutshell, is the damage this president has wrought: From 2000 to 2017, U.S. agricultural exports to China increased by 700 percent. From 2017 to 2018, U.S. agricultural exports to China fell more than 50 percent. The newest set of data will certainly show further erosion.

The taxpayer tab for the president’s folly will hit $28 billion before the year is out - making the president’s response twice as expensive as the 2009 bailout of Detroit’s Big Three automakers, which cost taxpayers $12 billion.

And this was of his own making.

So before putting a target on Justice’s back for going after and receiving what was rightfully his, you might want to shift your sights to D.C.

Online: https://www.register-herald.com/

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