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Setting the Record Straight On PA’s Economic Growth and the Environment

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Pittsburgh Works Together, an alliance of companies and labor unions in the energy, manufacturing and construction industries, launched in March 2020 to provide data and analysis to lawmakers, the media and public about our role in the economy.

Our industries are at the foundation of modern society and provide economic opportunities for all. But these critical industries seem to be under constant attack.

Our hallmark research report, recently published for the fourth consecutive year, concerns the air quality in the seven- county Pittsburgh region centered on Allegheny County. Environmental groups routinely claim the air quality in the region is among the worst in the country and want to solve the “problem” by shutting down industry.

Our research, using the very data compiled and used by federal, state and local regulatory agencies, tells a different story. The data shows the region’s air to be typical of urban regions across the country, better than some, worse than others.

You’d never know it from the headlines, but the home counties of Austin, San Diego, and Seattle have worse air quality than Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, according to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency data.

Why do most environmental and health- oriented groups ignore this readily available, public data? Perhaps fund-raising and the desire for media coverage have something to do with it.

Most recently, we took environmental groups such as PennFuture to task in an op-ed published by the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette as they celebrated their scuttling of plans for a natural-gas power plant in southern Allegheny County.

We specifically noted that these groups never discuss or disclose the true cost of trusting our energy supply to a thus far unreliable and expensive technology,

renewables. They also don’t like to discuss the rising energy rates that tend to come along with solar and wind-generated power.

Perhaps most significant is what it would take for solar or wind to equal the output of the natural gas-fired power plant that was shelved. Our co-chair, Tom Melcher, business manager of the Pittsburgh Regional Building Trades noted in the op-ed:

“Invenergy’s 639-megawatt power plant would have reliably powered half a million homes by producing six hundred times more electricity than a solar farm on that same 15- acre site, which is about the size of Acrisure Stadium.

For a solar plant to produce as much electricity over the course of the year would require 14 square miles — roughly every inch of land between the Allegheny and Mon rivers from the Point to the Pittsburgh Zoo. And of course, storage and meeting peak demand would remain serious issues.”

These are just a few examples of Pittsburgh Works Together taking publicly available facts and data from regulatory agencies and industry to put issues in the proper context.

The primary focus of our corporate and union members is on the economic growth we can achieve by using our unparalleled advantage of natural gas and abundant water to attract and expand business. To do that, we need to eliminate job- and development-killing regulations and policies that have allowed neighboring states like Ohio and West Virginia to outpace us when it comes to business development and private investment.

By addressing these issues, we can then turn the table and provide family- sustaining job growth and reverse our declining population trends.

We recognize that we face many social issues, but we believe the best first step to combating those issues is to provide robust economic and job opportunities to all, no matter where they live or what level of education they possess.

We have a generational opportunity to revitalize our region and state but it’s a window that will be open for a short period of time. The time to act is now.

Jeff Nobers is the executive director of the Builders Guild of Western PA and Pittsburgh Works Together.