Pennsylvania unions and CEOs launch pro-energy campaign to counter environmentalists

Washington Examiner – OPINION

Pittsburgh Works Together will be unveiled at 1 p.m. as a newly formed business organization that will focus on educating the public about the energy and manufacturing industries in the region.

“Our common goal and purpose is to address issues and offer a counterbalance to statements and studies that are out there about our industries,” said Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builder's Guild of Western Pennsylvania and a board member of the organization.

The organization is an apolitical 501(c)(6) whose bylaws prohibit political action. The creation process began more than a year ago, with a mission to serve as an educational arm to the community about the legacy industries in manufacturing, technology, trucking, logistics, medical supply, and construction that are involved directly or indirectly in the energy sector.

Nobers said the organization conducted focus groups and telephone surveys in the region with an equal mix of men and women along with an equal mix of Republicans and Democrats to help understand how people view them as well as develop the communication and mission of the organization.

Pennsylvania is second only to Texas in producing shale gas in this country. According to a PwC study commissioned by an industry trade group five years ago, the industry in this region supported an estimated 323,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. That number has likely grown since the building of Shell Chemicals' ethane cracker plant in Beaver County began construction shortly after the study was conducted.

An impressive lineup of the region’s top executives is involved with the organization, including the CEOs of Duquesne Light, Range Resources, CNX Resources, and U.S. Steel, along with the top labor leaders in western Pennsylvania.

James Kunz, the business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 66, was one of those top labor leaders. He said he jumped on board based on his sense that they all needed to do something.

“It would seem that the environmental community's message always seemed to make it into the media while ours didn't. A lot of that ... was because we are such a wide diverse collection of companies, unions, and individuals, we needed to have one voice to respond,” he said.

“While we don’t always agree on everything, no family does,” he said, laughing. “But what we did agree on was we needed to educate people together in response to the environmental groups."

“We think that you can have a balance of good-paying jobs and a clean environment and we need to get our message out to the public using research and facts that shows that the natural gas industry, the steel industry, manufacturing and other things which seem to be under attack today from the Left are important, provide good jobs, and are not destroying the environment,” Kunz explained.

Nick DeIuliis, CEO of CNX Resources, said, "This organization is about the soul of our great region — who we are and who we want to be." He added:

For too long, the elites and extremists have had free reign to play fast and loose with mistruths and falsehoods. With the doers in labor, energy, and manufacturing coming together to fight back, that stops today. These industries and workers are necessary to progress in this region and beyond, and it’s time for out-of-touch elites to acknowledge that reality.

It was no coincidence the rally was held at the Heinz History Center, whose benefactor, the Heinz Endowments, has funded environmental activism groups such as PennFuture and PennEnvironment, the latter which has pledged “through their activism and advocacy” to make Pennsylvania fracking-free and “ ban dangerous fracking by building the vocal public outcry that’s needed to stop fracking.”

Both are activism groups that have been deeply involved in what the organizers of Pittsburgh Works Together believes are distributing inaccurate or distorted propaganda and organizing protests and events negatively directed at their businesses and their workers.

“That is why this organization is so important, when we find something that is said or written that we find to be highly inaccurate or not really based in good, sound science or fact, we're going to respond to that. We're going to refute that,” Nobers said.

It is a pushback that has been a long time coming, ever since some foundations have gone from being civic leaders in the community to funders in the “green” movement, attacking communities and their workers who are just climbing out of poverty after the Great Deindustrialization of the 1980s, when the Pittsburgh unemployment rate hit a staggering 18.2 percentage points.

Politicians from either party were not invited to the event.

“We are apolitical,” Nobers explained. "It's not about Democrats and Republicans. It's about the economy in western Pennsylvania, what this economy is going to look like moving forward, and we believe that we have a role and a place in this economy, despite things that are often said. Whether it's about the energy industry, the gas industry, utilities, construction, manufacturing. These are all industries that have a very long history in this region. That had much to do with the literal building of this city and this region and, quite frankly, the country to a large extent."

He also said the organization wasn’t in existence to stir the pot, pick fights, or be antagonistic.

“We want to address this problem with facts, with research, and with really legitimate discussion because right now, it's not there, and that's why you see the things you see in terms of the comments supplied back and forth,” he said.

“We all came together because we felt there was an organizational void that needed to be filled that helps educate the public on how we shape the economy in the region, but also in how we deal with the environment, how we deal with diversity and jobs and all these things that come into play when you're talking about the energy industry,” Nobers said.

Pittsburgh Works Together will have a continuing operation, with a full-time researcher and spokesperson who will coordinate reaction to issues and attacks that arise, something it didn’t have last October when Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto called for a ban on all future petrochemical companies in western Pennsylvania in his speech at the Climate Action Summit, an event supported in part by the Heinz Endowments.

This time, Nobers said, it’ll be ready to respond in unison.

This article originally appeared online at the Washington Examiner.

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