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Industry, Labor Launch Effort To Tout ‘Traditional Industries’

An-Li Herring
90.5 WESA
Supporters of Pittsburgh Works Together launched their initiative at the Heinz History Center on Thursday

Environmental concerns about heavy industry and natural gas drilling have stirred intense debate around Pittsburgh. And Thursday, a coalition of local unions and manufacturing companies launched a new effort to advocate for “traditional and manufacturing industries.”

Called Pittsburgh Works Together, the group includes natural gas companies Peoples Gas and CNX Resources as well as the Builders Guild Coalition of Western Pennsylvania, which itself consists of 18 trade unions and nine contractor associations. U.S. Steel is also part of the initiative.

Environmentalists have expressed a range of concerns about natural gas and the petrochemical industries that use it. And U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works has long been a source of air-quality complaints, with previous fines and new controls having  failed to prevent repeated emissions violations at the facilities.

But Pittsburgh Works Together, which formally launched on Thursday at the Senator John Heinz History Center, will argue that the industries it represents are needed to make the switch to renewable energy.

“We fully support developing renewable” energy,  said Pittsburgh Works Together Executive Director Jeff Nobers. “This is the wave of the future.”

He criticized the Green New Deal, supported by many Democrats, as being unrealistic. That proposal aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions globally in the next 10 to 30 years.  But Nobers said the shift to renewable energy will be much more gradual than that.

“If you started building out that infrastructure today, you’re talking a hundred years or more,” he estimated.

He noted also that solar panel and wind turbine construction, for example, would rely heavily on the production of steel, plastics and rare-earth minerals.

“So it’s not a panacea there that we’re suddenly going to have no impact on our environment because we go to renewable,” Nobers said.

And as that transition plays out, he said, activists and elected officials should stop making “outlandish statements” about the impacts of fracking and manufacturing on the environment.

“It’s national. I mean, it’s at the very top of politics and runs all the way down through the city of Pittsburgh,” Nobers said, “And I think that’s part of our point, too, is, we all care about jobs. … We all want a clean economy.”

Ken Broadbent, business manager for Steamfitters Local 449 and a member of the Pittsburgh Works Together board, noted that natural gas combustion emits less carbon than burning coal. (Lower carbon emissions may be offset by leakage of methane, another climate-change gas, however.)

Broadbent suggested that, with proper regulation and pollution controls, industry can protect the environment. U.S. Steel itself has pledged $200 million in environmental improvements for its Monongahela Valley facilities. 

“A lot of the things that U.S. Steel has done in their [Mon Valley] plant has drastically reduced pollution,” Broadbent said. “Let’s look at some exciting things that we’ve done pollution-wise in the Pittsburgh area, compared to many years ago.”

Pittsburgh Works Together is funded by the companies, unions, and contractors that belong to the organization.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.
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