Earth Day 2021
In this second decade of the 21st century, we see the beginning of the transformation of our society and our economy away from the extractive fossil fuel base that is driving the climate emergency toward a more resilient, equitable and sustainable, shared prosperity based on renewable resources. The Spring comes as a welcome burst of hope after a long winter of COVID isolation, illness and fear. The living earth emerges once again with flowering trees, verdant woodlands and grasslands, and the manifestations of the cycles of life. These assurances of the resilience and certainty of the natural world offer hope, but also a caution. The laws of Nature are not negotiable. Preserving our life support system of oxygen-rich air, fresh water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species depends on shifting from extractive fossil fuel industries to regenerative systems for energy, food and materials.
We must focus on the needs of society and the work needed to sustain it rather than on replacing fuels. Technologies from the 1800s – the Rankine steam cycle for electricity generation and the internal combustion engine for transportation – need to be updated with modern, cleaner and more efficient technologies appropriate to the needs of the 21st century.
We have heard President Biden call for an Infrastructure and Jobs Plan which strongly mirrors the ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint for a new economy that works for all of us. Similar to the THRIVE Agenda of Southeastern PA and neighboring states and the Mayors Marshall Plan for Middle America, the ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint has a focus on good-paying union jobs and offers tangible and realistic steps to reach a sustainable future for our state and region.
The ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint expands opportunity through public investments in local communities; builds a 21stcentury sustainable economy; and rebuilds the middle class.
- First the plan maximizes good union jobs and provides fossil industry workers with genuine opportunities for doing this work. It ensures access to union jobs for Black, Indigenous, female and low-wage workers. And it ensures community benefits from federal investments through public input and oversight.
- Second, the plan restores our damaged lands and waters, modernizes the electric grid, grows manufacturing by making it more efficient and cleaner, builds a sustainable transportation system and revives the Civilian Conservation Corps.
- Third the Blueprint promotes union rights, better pay, benefits and local ownership models for working people across all industries in the region.
The jobs impact of this Blueprint is significant for Pennsylvania. A federal investment package with annual average allocations of $11.3 billion to Pennsylvania, from 2021 to 2030, along with an additional $19.7 billion in private investments, would generate approximately 243,000 jobs in Pennsylvania— enough to bring Pennsylvania’s high unemployment rate back down towards 4 percent.
- Repair the damage done over the last century– $1.2 Billion federal investment and 9,283 jobs per year from plugging orphaned oil and gas wells, repairing leaks in gas distribution pipelines, and repairing dams and levees.
- Modernize the electric grid with a $3.2 Billion federal investment, leveraging $18 Billion in private investment to create 142,999 jobs per year through electric grid updates; building retrofits; solar installations; onshore and offshore wind generation; low-emissions bioenergy (anaerobic digestion); geothermal HVAC systems; and broadband expansion.
- Expand Manufacturing by making it more Energy Efficient and Clean– requires 1.28 Billion in federal investment, leveraging $1.08 Billion in private investment and will create 18,016 jobs per year through industrial efficiency upgrades, including combined heat and power; manufacturing research and development; and bioplastics research and development
- Build a more sustainable transportation system with a federal investment of $928 million leveraged with $522 million in private investment will create 16,182 jobs per year through public transportation expansion and upgrades including rail; and expanding a high efficiency automobile fleet.
- Absorb carbon and Re-launch the Civilian Conservation Corps with a federal investment of $4.7 billion to create 56,700 jobs per year through regenerative agriculture; farmland preservation; land restoration, especially for abandoned mined lands; and restoration of watersheds, waterways and wastewater systems.
The ReImagine Appalachia initiative aims to consolidate our regional Congressional delegation to argue for federal resources directed toward our region because we have built the wealth of the industrial age through industries now in decline, and we need to move to a clean and efficient future. The jobs program presented here relies on the skills and capability of our union workers in electrical system upgrades and new generation integration into a smart micro-grid system. We see good union carpenters, pipefitters, boilermakers and steamfitters employed in anaerobic digestion and fuel cell operations as well as in constructing solar powered buildings that make more energy than they use. The possibilities are real, and only beginning.
No technological breakthroughs are necessary for this new economy to operate building a prosperity that can last without the boom/bust cycles of depleting extractive industries. We can muster the political will to make the necessary changes in policy and practice to support a new economy for the 21st century. Pennsylvania can assume a leadership role in building the new economy in three primary ways:
- Adjust the regulatory infrastructure to enable rather than inhibit expansion of renewable energy systems and practices. Adopting practices such as uniform building standards for solar and wind installations, enabling a utility tariff system for virtual net metering and community shared power, joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and adopting a universal passive solar design building code for all new commercial and residential buildings are part of this process. Conduct a comprehensive review of regulations to enable sustainable practices and empower workers.
- Shift Pennsylvania state subsidies toward private investment in the newer clean technologies addressed in the jobs scenarios above. Pennsylvania provided $3.8 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in Fiscal Year 2019 by systematically disabling many of its standard tools for collecting tax revenues, allowing the industry to extract public resources at little to no charge, and awarding the industry grants and tax credits. Meanwhile, in the same time period, the industry imposed $11.1 billion worth of external costs to the state and its residents. Pennsylvania can use these subsidies to entice private investment into the green jobs arena instead.
- Empower local communities to attract investment in innovation. Establishing enterprise zones around re-purposed industrial or marginal commercial spaces before the tax base erodes to the point of bankruptcy will enable communities to offer resources for reinvigorating their economy before they fall into despair. Provide support for planning together around regional efforts to coordinate resource allocation and opportunities.
I would like to speak to the role of the gas industries in the sustainable future. The gas industries, especially in the Marcellus Shale region and the sectors pressing for plastics production, pose mighty and well-funded opposition to any perceived competition from renewable resources. Preserving the historic business model of extraction, combustion, or using fossil-based raw materials for single use commodities is not compatible with a sustainable future. The expertise and infrastructure of the gas industry is uniquely suited to developing methane from anaerobic digestion of municipal waste and sewage. Methane produced from these sources, as well as from manure pools of farm animals, stays in the contemporary carbon cycle and does not draw from carbonized remains of living plants that created the 20% oxygen in our atmosphere millions of years ago. Using anaerobic digestion creates methane biogas that can be sent into the existing gas distribution system for home heating. This would shift home heating from a fossil base to a sustainable base. In addition, biogas can be used to create hydrogen for fuel cells to generate electricity through a chemical reaction similar to a battery, without combustion. This technology is mature and operating efficiently in Germany, Japan, Korea and France based on American technology developed through space exploration research and commercialized in the 1990s.(6) The gas industry would rightly enjoy a leadership position in building a truly sustainable economy by making this kind of a shift in focus.
The true wealth of Pennsylvania lies in the land that supports us. Not the fossil resources buried deep within the crust of the Earth, but the living earth, the fertile ground that gives life to our planet through binding essential elements to create food, fiber, fuel, and oxygen. When we restore the land and empower the people, we set the foundation for a long-lasting prosperity for all of our citizens.
Citations and Resources:
 Patricia M. DeMarco. Pathways to Our Sustainable Future- A Global Perspective from Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh Press. 2017.
President Joseph Biden. Remarks on the American Jobs Plan. March 31, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/speeches-remarks/2021/03/31/remarks-by-president-biden-on-the-american-jobs-plan/
 ReImagine Appalachia Blueprint. https://reimagineappalachia.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/ReImagineAppalachia_Blueprint_042021.pdf
 Robert Pollin, Jeanette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Gregor Semieniuk. Impacts of the ReImagine Appalachia and Clean Energy Transition Programs for Pennsylvania. Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts, Amherst. January 2021. https://reimagineappalachia.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Pollin-et-al-PA-Final-Report-1-22-21.pdf
 Penn Future Subsidies and Externalities Report https://www.pennfuture.org/Files/Admin/PF_FossilFuel_Report_final_2.12.21.pdf
6. Fuel Cell Energy, Inc. Danbury, CT https://www.fuelcellenergy.com/about-us-basic/manufacturing/