Coal accounts for 60,000 jobs in state, injects $4 billion annually into Pa.’s economy
THROUGHOUT PENNSYLVANIA, union members count on coal for the good-paying, middle-class jobs that enable them to support themselves and their families.
I should know. As the business manager for Boilermakers Local 154 in the western part of the state, I see every day the positive impact that coal — with jobs that rely on coal — has in our communities.
Using coal, Local 154 members help keep the lights on across the commonwealth, by working at the coal-fired power plants that generate more than 40 percent of our state’s electricity. More broadly, through direct and indirect employment coal supports more than 60,000 jobs and helps inject more than $4 billion into our Pennsylvania economy every year.
Speaking for my union, Local 154 members working in coal-related jobs can expect to take home $75,000 to $100,000 a year. Those jobs, and others like it, are the bedrocks of our local communities. The money we make from coal helps support local businesses, buy local homes, and pay local taxes for things like fire departments and school districts.
But coal is more than just power, payroll and jobs, because the electricity it generates is more affordable and reliable than power from other sources. In fact, during last winter's polar vortex, utility companies in Pennsylvania and across the country relied on coal to meet surging demand as Pennsylvanians turned up the heat in their homes and businesses.
So why is the federal Environmental Protection Agency rolling out new rules that will effectively force every coal plant in Pennsylvania out of business? That’s a pretty good question, and the arguments proponents of the rules make simply don’t pass the smell test.
For example, they claim it’s about cutting carbon emissions. But they entirely ignore the fact that over the last decade, thanks to new technologies, coal-fired plants have been able to reduce carbon emissions by 24 percent. They also ignore the importance of coal-fired electricity to Pennsylvania. Local 154 members don’t just work in the power plants; they work at dozens of firms across western Pennsylvania. Many of these are electricity-intensive businesses that were drawn to Pennsylvania by our state’s affordable coal power. Take that away and, despite our world-beating workforce, some of these firms might consider relocating in search of cheaper electricity to other states and even to other countries.
If the unelected bureaucrats at EPA have their way, we’ll be forced to rely on less affordable and less reliable forms of electricity for our power needs — particularly renewables like wind and solar. Not only do these renewables rely on the weather to generate power (and how much sun do you see during a blizzard?), but they’re also far less labor-intensive.
Dozens — hundreds — of well-paid union members are constantly at work at local coal plants, keeping them online and helping meet local power needs, but how many workers do you see sitting at the base of a wind turbine, making sure the turbines are turning?
And electricity from renewables or sources other than coal promises to be far more expensive. After the polar vortex, many Pennsylvanians were shocked by their utility bills; without coal, the financial impact of future polar vortices on Pennsylvania families and businesses will be even worse.
That’s why thousands of coal miners, union members and elected officials came together Wednesday [July 30] at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh to share their concerns with the EPA plan. Joining our brothers from neighboring states, we said that our jobs, our communities and our states rely on good-paying jobs and affordable, reliable electricity, all of which come from coal.
We share people’s concerns about a safe environment, but we all know that there are ways to achieve those goals without destroying our livelihoods and those of others like us across the country. My family and I count on coal; I hope you’ll call your elected officials and tell them you do too.
This editorial first appeared in the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., under the headline, “Raymond C. Ventrone: EPA emissions plan would impair coal-related jobs, economy.”