Op-ed: CNX Nick Deluliis

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Op-ed written by Nick Deluliis | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Environmentalists and progressives from across the region are getting on board with key elements of the Pittsburgh Works Together vision for the future. It’s where they’re out of step that problems arise.

The business-labor-civic alliance Pittsburgh Works believes the best path for genuine prosperity for everyone in the Pittsburgh region is to develop traditional industries such as manufacturing, energy, construction and logistics alongside the emerging technology companies of tomorrow. In June, we released a five-part plan to build a stronger regional economy as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.

One month later, PennFuture, the Breathe Project, FracTracker and others, using the title of “ReImagine Appalachia,” released their own set of ideas, and it is encouraging to see that they mimic many of the same ones we suggested:

  •  Modernizing the power grid to be more resilient.
  • Bringing advanced broadband to rural communities.
  • Attracting and supporting new cutting-edge manufacturing.
  • Maximizing good union jobs that create opportunities for minorities and other underserved communities and that provide family-sustaining careers for people who want to work with their hands.

So far, so good. It’s what the ReImagine Appalachia plan doesn’t say that is the problem. Or as the Post-Gazette described it in reporting on the group:

“The vision is so broad and inoffensive that it’s hard to pin down where it might lead.”

But the clues are there. You can tell that ReImagine Appalachia is not a serious plan for revitalizing the region because not once does it mention “natural gas.”

How do you discuss the future of southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia without even acknowledging the disruptive technology and innovative industry that delivered one of the largest, lowest-cost natural gas fields in the world? Perhaps they wish it would just go away.

The ReImagine Appalachia vision is a future that all but bans the use of natural gas and fossil fuels to provide electricity and drive manufacturing jobs. They’re just not brave enough to say it clearly enough for people to understand their true end-goal.

Instead, they sneak in a line about Appalachia “achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.”

And they include this: “Ensure genuine opportunities for fossil fuel workers. The region’s workforce can pivot to meet the needs of the 21 st century economy.” That’s code for elites deciding what is best for the individual worker and family.

Those workers are already meeting the needs of the 21 st century economy. Natural gas from the Marcellus Shale has helped Pennsylvania reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 20 percent since 2005. It has driven billions of dollars in capital investment and created a new plastics manufacturing industry in the region.

The COVID-19 crisis has driven home the value of carbon and its importance in modern life. The gloves and face shields and hand sanitizers that protect us – carbon. Plastics in ventilators to save the sick – carbon. Fertilizer to grow our food, refrigeration to keep it fresh, fuel to transport it to our communities – all carbon.

We should always strive to be more efficient, to use resources wisely, and to continue to improve our environment. It’s not a choice between a healthy economy or a healthy environment. If you don’t have both, you won’t have either.

People know this, and they aren’t fooled by ReImagine Appalachia’s attempt at a utopian feel-good future that will surely materialize as a dystopian reality if enacted. ReImagine Appalachia made a special effort to engage organized labor with meetings and outreach to persuade them to endorse the plan before it was released.

Unlike the 20 labor organizations representing tens of thousands of union workers who are part of Pittsburgh Works Together, not a single labor group was listed as supporting ReImagine Appalachia.

This is a serious time for the region, and we need serious ideas to deal with the challenges and seize the opportunity. Supporting the Pittsburgh Works agenda is a step toward recovery and a healthy community. Pursuing ReImagine Appalachia is simply wishing for a world that doesn’t, and under the laws of science can’t, exist.

Nick DeIuliis is CEO of CNX Resources and a board member of Pittsburgh Works Together.

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