Cap & Trade Vs. PA: We can protect the environment without losing thousands of jobs

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Two important and interrelated events occurred recently that mean bad news for tens of thousands of Pennsylvania workers and families.

On Oct. 15, the federal government announced that Pennsylvania had lost another 10,300 jobs in September, pushing the state’s unemployment rate to 8.8 percent. Our state has lost nearly 200,000 jobs since September 2008.

The last time Pennsylvania saw unemployment this high was 1984. And there doesn’t seem to be a sign of relief on the horizon. Economists are predicting more job losses to come, with the national unemployment rate climbing over 10 percent.

Given these numbers, the last thing Washington politicians should do is introduce legislation that would cost thousands more jobs. But that is exactly what the U.S. Senate did two weeks ago.

With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s blessing, California Sen. Barbara Boxer and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry introduced a 923-page draft of legislation to set up a so-called cap-and-trade program. The program would impose an onerous indirect tax on the production and consumption of carbon-based energy. It would cap the amount of carbon dioxide businesses could emit, imposing a penalty when they exceed the cap, and would require that carbon emissions be cut by 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2020.

Independent studies have found that this would cost the country millions of jobs, but in an industrial state like Pennsylvania, the cap-and-trade tax would be even more harmful than elsewhere. Our state’s coal, natural gas and manufacturing industries would be especially hard hit.

Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest coal-producing state in the country and coal plays a major part in the commonwealth’s economy and electricity production. Coal accounts for more than half of all electricity produced in Pennsylvania. According to a National Association of Manufacturers’ study, coal production would fall by about 85 percent and electricity production by about 21 percent as a result of a similar cap-and-trade bill passed in the House.

Pennsylvania is also home to the Marcellus Shale, one of the largest unconventional natural gas reserves in the world. It has the potential to turn our state into a major producer of clean energy and create thousands of jobs. But the new energy tax could doom this budding industry before it has a chance to develop.

The manufacturers’ study finds the House cap-and trade bill would cost Pennsylvania more than 70,000 jobs in the years ahead. But that’s not all. In just six years, it would increase gasoline prices by 6 percent to 8 percent, oil prices by 6 percent to 12 percent and natural gas prices by 14 percent to 21 percent.

Over time, this surge would accelerate. President Barack Obama admitted as much in a March interview, saying, "Under my plan … electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." The increased electricity and gas prices alone would be especially difficult on low-income Pennsylvania families who spend a larger portion of
their income on energy.

As the cost of energy increases, Pennsylvania’s energy-intensive manufacturing industry would slow significantly.
The manufacturers’ association predicts Pennsylvania manufacturing would experience decreases in output ranging between 4.9 percent and 5.5 percent, with high-energy industries suffering output losses as high as 9.2 percent. That can only mean one thing: lots more jobs lost in Pennsylvania.

The cap-and-trade proposal is so harmful to Pennsylvania it has garnered bipartisan opposition across the state. When a version of the bill passed the House of Representatives last June, one third of Pennsylvania Democratic congressmen joined all Pennsylvania Republicans in voting against it. In all, 44 House Democrats across the country opposed the bill in a truly bipartisan effort to stop this massive job-killer.

Sadly, that bipartisan group does not include Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak, against whom I am running for the U.S. Senate, who voted for the bill and even expressed regret that it did not go far enough.

We can and must support commonsense policies that protect our environment, but that goal can be achieved without abandoning 70,000 or more Pennsylvania jobs and imposing higher gas and electricity prices on all Pennsylvanians. A focus on renewable energy, conservation, low-carbon energy like natural gas, nuclear energy and cleaner-coal technology are all part of the solution. But as unemployment climbs toward 10 percent, protecting our hard-working families must be our first priority.