About 500 representatives of labor and industry met in Pittsburgh on Thursday for the launch of an organization dedicated to countering criticism aimed at local industries including steel, natural gas and petrochemicals.
Pittsburgh Works Together was formed in response to attacks in recent years from environmentalists, political candidates and community leaders, according to Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania, who is heading Pittsburgh Works.
Nobers, along with business and union leaders, outlined plans for the organization during a meeting at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.
Speakers at the event said industry employs about 100,000 people in the region and provides a significant economic benefit. For a first time in decades, the region’s industrial base spurred by the natural gas industry is growing, they said, yet some “extremists and elitists” continue to direct criticism about the environmental impact.
“We all love the environment, too,” Nobers said. “We don’t want to see the environment ruined. I think we get painted like that as if we’re this horde of people riding in to just destroy the environment, and really nothing is further from the truth. We finally just decided its time to come out and really put our viewpoint out there.”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto last year said he was opposed to more petrochemical plants such as the one under construction in Beaver County. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has said he would ban fracking in the United States. Environmental groups have sued U.S. Steel over clean air violations at its Clairton Coke Works.
Nobers said industry, government and community leaders can work together to find common ground, such as work in renewable energy.
“Even if we were in a position to build out a renewable infrastructure, the simple fact is you still need solar panels, and you need wind turbines and hydroturbines and infrastructure,” he said. “Those things all need to be manufactured and they require steel and 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.”
Ashleigh Deemer, deputy director of the environmental group PennEnvironment, said she would love to sit down with industry leaders and discuss ways the two sides can work together.
“We all have families and we all understand the need to put food on the table and pay rent, but we shouldn’t have to choose between a paycheck and clean air to breathe,” she said. “There are certainly ways to grow our economy in a clean and healthy way and also provide jobs in the way that they’re talking about.”
Nobers described Pittsburgh Works Together as non-political and exclusively funded by members. The organization plans to conduct research into such things as the economic and environmental impacts of industry and use the material in talking points with the public and political leaders.
“I think if we can help them better understand the issues in our industries, better understand some of this conversation about the environment and the economy and so forth that we can help to tilt that conversation a bit and get us to a point where we can really start to talk about things that we can truly do and make things better,” he said.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.