We are at a critical moment in our nation’s future.
In Pittsburgh last week, President Biden laid out a plan to meet the scale of the twin climate change and jobs crises with his American Jobs Plan.
We need to get people back to work and build back our economy by investing trillions of dollars in the industries of the future — clean energy technologies and green infrastructure that create millions of new union jobs while curbing the pollution that threatens our air, land, and water. We don’t need to choose between responding to climate change and rebuilding our economy — and in fact, the work goes hand in hand.
Pennsylvania has already led the world through energy transitions from firewood to oil to coal to gas, transitions that created new generations of jobs and entire new industries, like steel. Biden announced his American Jobs Plan in Pittsburgh because Pennsylvania will once again lead the world toward a new kind of energy economy.
We can put thousands of Pennsylvanians to work installing wind turbines and solar panels, increasing energy efficiency, modernizing our electricity grid and building infrastructure to charge the next generation of electric cars, buses and trucks. There are thousands more jobs to be had capping old gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mine lands, reducing pollution and improving public health at the same time.
Much work needs to be done to turn the president’s proposal into legislation that he can sign, and the next few months are critical. It’s up to the people of this commonwealth to advocate for a bill that turbocharges Pennsylvania’s economy by investing in a clean energy future and accomplishes these three goals:
First, it must put the country on the path to a 100% clean energy economy by investing in things like renewable energy, public transit, electric vehicles and other proven technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Second, we need to prioritize low-income communities and communities of color. Too many communities in our state have been ravaged by jobs that have been shipped offshore and the systemic racism that locks people out of economic opportunity. Far too often, these communities are the first and hardest hit by the impacts of pollution and climate change.
We need to build our economy back better by dedicating at least 40% of these investments to benefit those communities who need it most so that we can transform the Pennsylvania economy to serve the needs of all working families.
Third, in every corner of Pennsylvania we need to create and maintain well-paying union jobs that can’t be shipped overseas — and that help heal our environment. This means investing in new manufacturing plants to support growing wind and solar installations. It means solving the problem of lead water pipes once and for all. And it means creating new jobs capping old natural gas wells and remediating abandoned coal shafts.
Powerful corporate interests are already gearing up to oppose this legislation. They’re seeking to preserve their massive profits by claiming that the American Jobs Plan is too ambitious and will be too costly.
But the cost of inaction for Pennsylvania’s working families would be even higher, as inequality continues to grow and climate change continues to threaten communities across our state, with more frequent and dangerous storms and warmer temperatures that interfere with growing seasons for farmers.
Biden’s first stimulus plan, the American Rescue Plan, harnessed the full power of government to speed covid-19 vaccine distribution, keep essential workers like firefighters, teachers and paramedics on the job, and expand access to health care amid a global pandemic. That bill proved that we could marshal the resources necessary meet the unprecedented threat posed by the pandemic.
Now we have a once-in-a-generation chance to meet the grave challenges posed by equally serious long-term economic and environmental threats.
Biden enjoys only the slimmest of margins in Congress and is going to need every vote to get this proposal over the finish line.
We’re pleased that Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Mt. Lebanon, stood next to the president when he rolled out this ambitious new agenda.
We’re asking the rest of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to stand with the president on behalf of all the workers and families who stand to benefit from a clean energy revolution.
Josh McNeil is executive director of Conservation Voters of PA, an advocacy organization.