April 10, 2017 Read More →

Op-Ed: The Job Killer Called Automation

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

As with the broader manufacturing sector, the loss of coal mining jobs over the last half-century owes more to automation than to government policy. A tripling in mine productivity partially explains why coal output has increased by 20% since 1980 while mine employment has fallen by 75% over that same period.

Despite Trump’s executive order, which averts the closure of older mines and reopens federal land for coal production, automation will continue to nibble away at industry jobs.

Claims that the U.S. government is conducting a “war on coal” are similarly bogus. According to the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, federal subsidies and tax breaks granted the coal industry since 1950 amount to $70 billion.  A rule adopted last year that stopped mining companies from dumping waste into rivers and streams was killed by Trump.

Besides automation, coal has been affected by a market preference for natural gas and renewables. That shift has little to do with regulation and everything to do with economics.

From the American Revolution until shortly after the Civil War, all of the country’s energy production was generated from renewable sources (wood and water).  The dominance of coal began in the late 1800s and lasted for nearly a century; as recently as 1985, more than half of U.S. electricity generation was from coal.  Today, coal’s market share is less than one-third.

Propping up the coal industry is another attempt to reclaim a past that cannot be reclaimed.

‘War on Coal’ is bogus

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