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Coal, jobs and politics in Pennsylvania

June 25, 2014

On Sunday the Republican former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson wrote in the New York Times that man-made climate change is “the challenge of our time,” and called for a federal tax on carbon emissions, and last week on Capitol Hill four former administrators of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Republicans all, told the Senate that the U.S. must take action on climate change. The four were Christine Todd Whitman (EPA secretary under George W. Bush), William Reilly, (for George H.W. Bush), William Ruckelshaus (Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan), and Lee Thomas (Ronald Reagan).

Even as many in the Republican Party continue to cast doubt on the science linking human activity to global warming and oppose legislative or administrative carbon caps, Ruckleshaus testified, “We believe there is legitimate scientific debate over the pace and effects of climate change, but no legitimate debate over the facts of the earth’s warming, or over man’s contribution.”

“We have a scientific consensus around this issue. We also need a political consensus,” Whitman urged, as coal miners, who packed the hearing, listened. They had come to protest the new EPA plan to cut carbon emissions from existing U.S. power plants 30% by 2030 from 2005 levels.

Today, coal, our dirtiest fuel, generates the largest share of the nation’s electricity, 39% in 2013, and so it should come as little surprise that the new EPA rules are a hot issue in coal mining states where this powerful industry supports many jobs. Pennsylvania, which ranks fourth among all coal-producing states, is no exception. Here, the industry directly employs more than 13,000 workers and generates an additional 23,000 jobs in indirectly related support businesses. Coal’s direct economic contribution to PA’s economy is $2.1 billion.

In Pennsylvania’s 2014 governor’s race, coal and coal jobs are a major issue. Earlier this month. Pennsylvania’s Republican Party claimed that Gov. Tom Corbett’s Democratic opponent, Tom Wolf, was “waging a war on coal.” Party chairman Rob Gleason declared, “Barack Obama and Tom Wolf will put Pennsylvania’s coal jobs at risk no matter the impact on Pennsylvania.”