**Bruce Springtsteen — My Hometown
Hiroko Tabushi writes in the NY Tmes:
“In Decatur, Ill., far from the coal mines of Appalachia, Caterpillar engineers are working on the future of mining: mammoth haul trucks that drive themselves.
The trucks have no drivers, not even remote operators. Instead, the 850,000-pound vehicles rely on self-driving technology, the latest in an increasingly autonomous line of trucks and drills that are removing some of the human element from digging for coal.
When President Trump moved on Tuesday to dismantle the Obama administration’s climate change efforts, he promised it would bring coal-mining jobs back to America. But the jobs he alluded to — hardy miners in mazelike tunnels with picks and shovels — have steadily become vestiges of the past.
Pressured by cheap and abundant natural gas, coal is in a precipitous decline, now making up just a third of electricity generation in the United States. Renewables are fast becoming competitive with coal on price. Electricity sales are trending downward, and coal exports are falling.
All the while, the coal industry has been replacing workers with machines and explosives. Energy and labor specialists say that no one — including Mr. Trump — can bring them all back.
“People think of coal mining as some 1890s, colorful, populous frontier activity, but it’s much better to think of it as a high-tech industry with far fewer miners and more engineers and coders,” said Mark Muro, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program.
“The regulatory changes are entirely outweighed by these technological changes, not to mention the price of natural gas or renewables,” Mr. Muro said. “Even if you brought back demand for coal, you wouldn’t bring back the same number of workers.”
. . . .
“In 1980, the industry employed about 242,000 people. By 2015, that figure had plunged 60 percent, to fewer than 100,000, even as coal production edged up 8 percent. Helped by automation, worker productivity more than tripled over the same period, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration and the Brookings Institution.
And a recent study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment predicted that automation was likely to replace 40 to 80 percent of workers at mines.
Automation makes mines more “safe, efficient and productive,” said Corrie Scott, a Caterpillar spokeswoman. “While mines would not need as many drivers, they will need more people who use and understand the latest technology,” she said.
“However way you spin it, gas and renewables are going to continue to replace coal,” said Nicolas Maennling, senior economics and policy researcher at Columbia University and an author of the automation study.
“And in order to stay competitive, coal will have to increase automation,” he said. “What Mr. Trump does will make little difference.”
Yup, I understand the President is a leader, not a technocrat. That’s why a good political leader surrounds him or herself with competent staff and also draws on the huge wealth of technical expertise available in the Federal Civil Service.
Surrounding yourself instead with idealogical know-nothings and sycophants like Bannon, Miller, and Priebus is pure political malpractice at the highest level.
(Note that I didn’t include Conway in the group. I think she’s probably the smartest of the bunch. She was the “brains” behind what has to go down as one of the most unexpected electoral triumphs in American political history, regardless of whether or not you like the result. And I wouldn’t accuse her of being a sycophant. But, she is totally loyal to a fault, and therefore keeps throwing herself on her sword over and over for The Leader. I also didn’t include Spicer. He has his bad days, for sure. But, he has the hardest job in Washington, and that includes The Leader himself. I actually doubt anyone could do it better. He won’t last too long. But, after he’s gone, not only Melissa McCarthy is likely to miss him.)