As president of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance and a former Pennsylvania state senator, I have witnessed firsthand the unintended consequences of government policies. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the area of energy policy.
The Obama administration, through the efforts of the EPA, has mercilessly attacked the coal industry by imposing regulations that are forcing the electric generating industry to shut down coal-fired capacity. In turn, by reducing the domestic demand for coal, coal mines have been forced to shut down or reduce production. This has had a devastating impact on communities that have been dependent on the coal industry.
Now we see the further impact of this misguided federal policy in Erie, where General Electric has proposed to reduce its workforce by 950 jobs. As a production facility that builds locomotives and mining equipment, it is not difficult to see how federal energy policy is forcing the downsizing of another coal-related workforce.
Joining the Obama administration in its jihad against the coal industry have been its special interest environmentalist friends.
Consider the case of the Homer City electric generating station in Indiana County.
Last year, the Sierra Club announced it would sue the plant’s owners and operators — among them, GE — as part of a campaign to close the plant. The owners responded with detailed plans for a $725 million pollution control upgrade that would all but eliminate emissions of mercury, sulfur and soot.
The Sierra Club’s answer? No. They want the plant closed.
In fact, the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign all but brags about plants they have shut down, making no mention that, with them, they end thousands of jobs.
Evidently the Obama administration and its environmental allies do not care about how much you pay for electricity, just as they don’t care about how many good-paying jobs they destroy. Make no mistake about it, remove coal from energy production and your electric bills will rise, and many of your neighbors will be laid off when the companies they work for can no longer afford their utility bills.
While reporters and analysts are quick to say that the decline in coal is linked to a rise in electric companies switching over to natural gas, make no mistake: When they’re through with coal jobs, the opponents will come after the natural gas jobs. Obama’s allied environmental groups are hard at work to halt Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom.
Sometimes all politics are not local. State energy, environmental and tax policies are not to blame for the devastating cuts to the General Electric workforce. Gov. Corbett, in fact, is the only major figure in state politics unambiguously on record about believing in an “all of the above” menu for energy independence: gas, wind, solar and — yes, indeed — coal.
In the past decade, science and industry have made huge strides in turning coal into a clean-burning, efficient and economical source of energy for an expanding economy. It is sad that some leaders from the Potomac to the Susquehanna don’t make the connection between that plant in Homer City, the mines in Pennsylvania’s mountains and 950 lost jobs along the banks of Lake Erie.
If leaders are serious about saving the latter, they need to show more respect for the first two.
John Pippy is the president of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance and a former state senator from Allegheny County. The Coal Alliance, founded in 2012, is an initiative of Pennsylvania bituminous coal mining operators, their employees and industry suppliers.