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'Not Just Economic Justice, Social Justice': Officials Continue Push Toward Renewable Energy

Margaret J. Krauss
90.5 WESA
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Mayor Bill Peduto convened a roundtable discussion with environmental and renewable energy groups Friday on how to push climate change policy at the state and local levels.

At a renewable energy roundtable discussion held Friday, Mayor Bill Peduto and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) agreed that climate change is the biggest threat facing civilization, and that in the absence of federal leadership, states and cities will have to step up.

Peduto has continued to pledge the city's commitment to sustainability since President Donald Trump spotlighted Pittsburgh in June in his speech announcing his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. Peduto signed an executive order soon after committing the city to 100 percent renewable electricity consumption by 2030; Merkley has long supported the development of renewable energies, sponsoring "100 by '50 Act," a roadmap to use only clean and renewable energy by 2050.

Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement was a “gift," Merkley said. 

“He was going to paralyze everything about moving forward whether he withdrew or not,” he said. “But withdrawing was a symbol of that commitment to paralysis, that commitment to not moving forward. We have to own this issue at the grassroots level.”

Resistance to the need for climate change policy many times comes down to the assumption that change means absorbing economic losses; Trump has said regulating fossil fuels kills jobs. But Merkley and Peduto argue building wind turbines, solar panels and other technologies will create family-sustaining jobs and improve health across the country.

“The economy is not at war with the environment,” said Merkley. “We can move the two together in a positive, synergistic relationship.”

The future of energy lies in solar and wind power, he added, noting they’re better for the environment and cheaper per kilowatt hour. He said the U.S. should get on board.

“If we don’t make things in America, if the wind turbines are made overseas, we’re not going to have a middle class,” he said. “Let’s reclaim manufacturing and technology and sell it to the rest of the world.”

Peduto thanked the environmental and renewable energy groups represented at the discussion for their work, and said he wants Pittsburgh to help build “the type of city, country and planet that we envision.”

Their remarks sounded a similar note to those made by U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry when he visited the region earlier this month. He, too, called on the United States to be an energy leader, envisioning power plants in India and China being powered with U.S. coal.

By contrast, Peduto and Merkley see U.S. manufacturing providing renewable energy infrastructure to power the world.

Before the discussion, Peduto formally signed the city to the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, which will retrofit homes to remove health hazards and achieve lower rates of asthma and lead poisoning.