A plan to revitalize the Ohio River Valley could bring nearly half a million jobs to Ohio and Pennsylvania over the next 10 years, according to new reports by an economic research group. Of those, more than 87,000 jobs would be in agriculture and land restoration and 233,000 in clean energy.
ReImagine Appalachia asked The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute, or PERI, to assess what its plan to invest in clean energy, manufacturing, infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture would mean for the region in terms of jobs and economic impact.
Hundreds of thousands jobs would be created, but it would require billions of dollars in federal funds to make them happen and about 28,000 workers in fossil fuels-based industries would likely lose their jobs as the industry contracted, the reports found.
“These are short term infrastructure jobs that will put people back to work, getting them off the COVID bench, so to speak, while also laying the foundation for a more sustainable Appalachia going forward,” said Amanda Woodrum, a senior researcher with Policy Matters Ohio, a non-profit policy research institute.
ReImagine Appalachia’s plan, released in July, lays out how to build and modernize infrastructure, repair the land and create jobs through public investment in Appalachia’s Ohio River Valley. Reimagine Appalachia is a coalition of more than 75 grassroots organizations from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky.
It calls for, among other things, encouraging regenerative agriculture practices, reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps, increasing clean energy use, expanding broadband, building a sustainable transportation system and creating “good union jobs.”
Woodrum said the PERI reports operate under the assumption that there would be some sort of national climate change legislation or a federal stimulus package to invest federal dollars into the plan. Without that, none of this happens.
The Ohio report budgeted $28.4 billion per year for investments in clean energy, manufacturing, energy efficiency upgrades and public infrastructure. That includes $3.5 billion a year to agriculture and land restoration, which would lead to 33,950 jobs. That includes regenerative agriculture, farmland conservation and plugging orphaned oil and gas wells.
Those figures are for direct and indirect jobs that take place on site or within the supply chain, said Robert Pollin, one of the report’s authors.
The overall investment in Pennsylvania would be about $34.3 billion per year.
That includes $4.1 billion per year to create 34,480 jobs in land restoration and agriculture.
If you include induced jobs, which come from people with good jobs having and spending more money, the combined job impact from agriculture and land restoration go up to 42,850 in Ohio and 44,610 in Pennsylvania.
Though there would be about combined 233,000 jobs created in Ohio and Pennsylvania from $35.5 billion per year in clean energy investments, there would still be hardships.
The report found that 21,152 jobs in fossil fuel industries in Ohio would be lost due to industry decline. In Pennsylvania, it would be more like 28,700 jobs lost.
Nearly 50,000 people work in fossil fuels industries in Ohio and about 64,000 in Pennsylvania; these jobs tend to be high-paying with an average salary of about $100,000.
Some of those job losses could be accounted for by voluntary retirements as workers reach 65. Pollin calculated for Ohio there could be about 1,100 retirements each year. That would still leave 10,000 workers out of work in Ohio. In Pennsylvania, the report found 1,056 retirements each year, still leaving 18,140 people needing new jobs.
“We have to be focused on these people,” Pollin said. “They have good jobs. They have good communities and livelihoods.
”Policies can be designed to create generous transition programs for each and every single one of these workers in Ohio and Pennsylvania and elsewhere. That has to be a critical feature of this clean energy recovery and transition program,” he said.
A transition package for displaced fossil-fuels workers would involve a guaranteed pension for workers 65 and older that retired voluntarily, a job guarantee, retraining support and wage insurance. The average salary for clean energy jobs is about $60,000, about $40,000 less than the average compensation for fossil fuel workers.
“The 500,000 jobs [gained] are not as good on average as the 1-2,000 [per year] that are going to get lost,” Pollin said. “That’s a reality. But we have to make them good.”
The change will also going to negatively impact some communities more than others. Monroe County will be hit the hardest, according to the Ohio report, with the fossil fuel jobs lost representing about 14% of jobs in the private sector in that county. Harrison County was second hardest hit with fossil fuel job loss representing 7% of private sector employment.
“Appalachia has long provided the raw materials for the prosperity of the rest of the nation while the region has suffered in poverty,” Woodrum said. “We are calling for any federal investments to come with strings attached to make sure those jobs created are good union jobs with good union wages, that these fossil fuels workers have priority for the jobs created.”
To read the full reports, visit reimagineappalachia.org/resources/.
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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