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During Press Conference, State Senators Openly Choose Profits Over Pennsylvanians, Our Environment

by John Ukenye, Policy Analyst

They’re getting nervous. 

On October 20, 2021, State Senators Camera Bartolotta, Gene Yaw, and Independent John Yudichak held a press conference at the Main Capitol Rotunda filled to the brim with falsehoods wrapped in package of clearly unscripted and unplanned maunders about a “radical energy agenda,” “radical environmentalists,” “socialists” (as a pejorative), and other immature nicknames aimed to conjure a boogeyman-type image of their opponents. It is clear that these Senators see the writing on the wall: 60% of voters approve of Pennsylvania's efforts to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); by a 51-31 margin, Pennsylvanians believe the state should “pursue policies that prioritize the availability of renewable energy such as solar and wind” over fossil fuels.

Instead of doing the right thing on behalf of their hard-working constituents, these Senators are aiming to pit urban and suburban workers against rural workers, all while doing the bidding of the big dirty energy industry who line their campaign coffers. 

Debunking the New “Rising Energy Bills” Myth

A recently repeated talking point by these Senators revolves around rising energy prices, especially as we head towards the winter season and blaming the rise to “environmentalists driving out fossil fuels.” As with most of their points raised, this particular point is easily refuted with a simple Google search.  According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), COVID-19 brought with it a historic plunge in global energy consumption which drove the prices of many fuels to their lowest levels in decades. As the pandemic’s impact has declined, fuel prices have rebounded strongly, mainly as a result of an exceptionally rapid global economic recovery (this year is on track for the fastest post-recession growth in 80 years), longer winter seasons in the Northern Hemisphere due to increased climate change, and a low supply due to the lockdowns earlier in the pandemic that have slowed down maintenance and necessary operational work. 

As I have stated in previous posts, building new renewable energy is cheaper than running existing coal plants and prices get cheaper every year. By 2025, almost every existing coal plant in the United States will cost more to operate than building replacement wind and solar within 35 miles of each plant. The (short term) rise of the fracked gas industry in Pennsylvania has accelerated the death of the coal industry. As we are already seeing, the costs of both economically unsustainable sources of energy are being shouldered onto the consumer. 

Debunking the “RGGI Will Kill Jobs” Myth

Senator Yaw got one thing right in this press conference: “The environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive.” Among RGGI’s 11 current member states, RGGI has also created 45,000 jobs across the region since the program’s launch and added around $4 billion in economic value to the region. Meanwhile, RGGI state economies have grown 31 percent faster than non-RGGI states, even as the RGGI states have cut power plant carbon pollution nearly twice as fast as the rest of the nation. 

I have written not once, but twice since August of this year about the rise of alternative energy jobs in the U.S., including the ever-increasing competitiveness in terms of pay for workers in various green energy sectors. The renewable energy industry has become a major U.S. employer. E2’s Clean Jobs America 2019 report found nearly 3.3 million Americans working in clean energy—outnumbering fossil fuel workers by 3-to-1. E2 reported the fastest-growing jobs across 12 states were in renewable energy during 2018, and renewable energy is already the fastest-growing source of new U.S. electricity generation, leading the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to forecast America’s two fastest-growing jobs through 2026 will be solar installer (105% growth) and wind technician (96% growth).

A recent study published by the Sierra Club, in partnership with the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, estimated that upgrading U.S. infrastructure, expanding renewable energy, and increasing energy efficiency could create 9.3 million jobs over the next 10 years.

Moreover, further supporting the unionization of alternative energy workers would be good for all workers across sectors and the overall U.S. economy. Unionization raises total compensation—both wages and benefits—of union workers by an average of about 28 percent, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Just as “the environment and the economy are not mutually exclusive,” unionized labor, the environment, and economic prosperity can co-exist in harmony. 

Debunking the “We Need Fossil Fuels to Create Everyday Products” Myth

Senator Yaw often repeats the fallacy that fossil fuels are a necessary part of the creation of televisions, windmills, solar panels, our food production, and other everyday items like make-up. However, sustainable ways to manufacture everyday items have been outlined for years. The major issue facing further sustainable practices in electronics manufacturing has come from a lack of investment in research, development, and implementation of new biodegradable materials and energy-efficient and material-efficient manufacturing techniques This is something a Green New Deal (which these Senators and others relentlessly attack as “socialist”) would solve. 

Leaving their Own Behind

Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has not only detailed the benefits of renewable energy on the nation’s economy, but they have repeatedly highlighted how Appalachia, and Pennsylvania specifically, can stand the most to gain from a Clean Energy Economy. By 2030, US wind and solar is on track to generate more than $60 billion in annual revenue—on par with the three leading US agricultural commodities: corn ($58 billion), soy ($44 billion), and beef production ($70 billion). Analysis conducted for RMI’s Seeds of Opportunity report indicates that the projected 600 GW of new wind and solar projects built between 2020 and 2030 would generate $220 billion in direct, lifetime economic benefits. This is a gamechanger for Rural America, of which much of Pennsylvania falls into.

These Senators spent the entire press conference adopting populist language while offering citizen-harming solutions and empty, fake promises. If these Senators really care about the worker, they would be actively working to secure their whole personhood -- promoting the proliferation of high-earning long term jobs, protecting their air, their water, and their land. It is past time they stop making excuses on behalf of a dirty energy past, and stand up for a clean, green Pennsylvania energy future.

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