An initiative to combat climate change and invest in renewable energy could generate just short of a quarter-million new Pennsylvania jobs each year, a new report suggests.
The Political Economy Research Institute report, released in partnership with the Keystone Research Center, state union leaders and PennFuture, outlines the benefits of an economic plan created by ReImagine Appalachia – a coalition of left-leaning policy and environmental groups.
ReImagine Appalachia’s blueprint includes measures supported by President Joe Biden in a recent executive order implementing sweeping climate policies. The framework focuses on expanding clean manufacturing in the Ohio River Valley.
“(The blueprint) can give hundreds of thousands of workers in our state good union jobs in clean manufacturing and building electric vehicle charging stations, laying high-speed broadband and upgrading to a smart grid, in sustainable transportation and cleaning up brownfields,” said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale at a recent virtual event.
An average annual investment of $31 billion in public and private funding would be required to facilitate the programs. Researchers estimate 162,000 yearly jobs in clean energy and 81,000 in manufacturing, infrastructure and agriculture.
By 2030, Pennsylvania’s carbon emissions would be cut 50% from 2018 levels, although consumption of oil, gas and biomass would need to fall by 40%, and coal by 70%, to meet these goals.
Roughly 64,000 Pennsylvanians presently employed in fossil fuel industries would be prioritized for work placement and offered financial support in the meantime. While the average salaries of fossil fuel workers tend to be higher than their green-energy counterparts ($94,000 a year to $70,000 a year, respectively) researchers said a push for better pay through unionization would help close that gap.
Oil and natural gas proponents have long-argued an abrupt transition from fossil fuels would result in higher energy bills for consumers and a loss of family-sustaining jobs. Some question the economic sustainability of a plan that leans heavily on government funding.
Bloomingdale said fossil fuel workers are often weary of any industry transition – having endured the tumultuous move from coal and steel – especially progressive policies such as the one touted by ReImagine Appalachia. Still, he said any shift that includes health care and pension guarantees is worth considering.
Many positions would be funded through a Civilian Conservation Corps revival, and most would be safe to perform during COVID-19 as the state recovers from pandemic-related job losses.
“Many of the jobs our plan would create can be performed safely outside today,” said Stephen Herzenberg with the Keystone Research Center. “It’s the perfect recipe for our state. We can hit the trifecta with a climate infrastructure plan: Grow our middle class, address the climate crisis and take a big step forward in the battle for racial justice.”
By putting Pennsylvanians to work plugging orphan gas wells, upgrading the state’s electrical system and expanding broadband and public transit infrastructure, more disadvantaged communities and former coal workers could access the good union jobs, researchers said.
“This report signals a bright future for workers in Pennsylvania,” said PennFuture CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo. “When forces like labor, green economy champions, social justice groups and elected officials come together and commit to shape a future focused on good-paying careers in sustainable industries and sectors that advance climate resiliency, we are witnessing the start of a transformation.”