Appalachia infrastructure plan could bring 235,000 Ohio jobs, study says
Céilí Doyle at The Columbus Dispatch
If a blueprint laid out by ReImagine Appalachia, a national coalition of nonprofit organizations, is federally funded it could create 235,000 jobs in Ohio over the next 10 years, according to a study by the Political Economy Research Institute.
"We are operating under the assumption that national climate legislation will happen,"' Amanda Woodrum said. "We don't know whether it will be six months from now or five years from now, but with the COVID recession and Congress' recent failure to pass a stimulus package, we believe relief will come in the form of a federal stimulus package."
Woodrum, a senior researcher at Policy Matters Ohio (a ReImagine Appalachia partner) said the federal investment package would require a $9 billion annual allocation to Ohio and would leverage private-sector funds. If that happened, the plan would help create more than 235,000 jobs a year.
These jobs aren't typically added up annually, Woodrum said, because the jobs that will exist in the first year will be completed by the second. But if the program is funded accordingly it will create over 235,000 jobs each year, replacing the previous ones and offering workers a new job the next year.
The jobs would be mostly outdoor work, similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps, formed on the heels of the Great Depression, she said during a news conference.
"These are short-term infrastructure jobs that will put people back to work, get folks off the COVID bench and lay the foundation for a more sustainable Appalachia," Woodrum said.
Newly employed Ohioans would modernize the state's Appalachian electrical grid, expand broadband infrastructure, repurpose shuttered coal plants and build a sustainable public transportation system, according to the blueprint.
Robert Pollin, co-author of the PERI study and an economics professor at University of Massachusetts-Amherst, said an additional 235,000 jobs in Ohio would represent 4.1% of the labor force.
With unemployment at nearly 8% right now, Pollin said, pursuing this program could cut that rate in half.
According to the study, if the program is implemented an estimated 2,115 Ohioans working in the fossil-fuel industry will lose their jobs annually (roughly 21,000 total) between 2021 and 2030. However, 1,105 of those workers would retire each year on average, leaving only 1,010 displaced workers.
The blueprint, Pollin said, provides a transitional program for those displaced workers whose jobs and communities are dependent on fossil fuels.
"Every single one of those workers needs a generous, fair transition working program," he added.
But would the salaries of ReImagine Appalachia jobs match those of existing jobs in the fossil fuel industry?
"We have to confront that honestly," Pollin said. "They're not as good. If we just take the old jobs in the range of clean jobs, looking at wages, benefits, health plans ... we're looking at $70,000-$75,000 a year."
But Woodrum explained that federal investment should come with significant strings attached, such as ensuring that new, sustainable jobs in the region are union-protected.
Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, said implementation, which includes investment in Appalachian Pennsylvania, could replace half of the million jobs lost between February and August in that state.
"This is a huge win for the working people of Pennsylvania and Ohio," he said.
Herzenberg said the ReImagine Appalachia campaign has tried hard to honor the traditions and history of fossil-fuel industry jobs such as coal-mining, while also making clear how a sustainable future provides long-term economic opportunity.
"We want the gold standard for these workers, and to make these communities as whole as they can be," he said.
But if the government chooses not to develop a sustainable jobs program, the costs will be dire, Pollin said.
"I think it's fair to say, if you read climate science, even causally, we're facing a climate emergency," he said. "If we don't invest, the things we're already seeing — extreme heat, flooding, forest fires, hunger, increased destitution, climate refugees — these are going to intensify."
Correction: A previous headline and version of this article misstated that ReImagine Appalachia's infrastructure plan could bring 2.3 million Ohio jobs by 2030. Jobs are not typically added up annually, so if funded the program will create 235,000 jobs not 2.3 million.
Read the original article here.