Investigation: Cracker Plant Will bring Jobs, Pollution

Some medical experts said breathing will be much harder once plant is up and running

By Paul Van Osdol
WTAE Investigative Reporter

May 9. 2019 – MONACA, Pa. — The massive ethane cracker plant in Beaver County is bringing thousands of jobs to Western Pennsylvania.

But Action News Investigates has learned it may also bring thousands of tons of air pollutants to a region that already has some of the nation’s dirtiest air.

At the cracker plant site, dozens of cranes soar into the sky as thousands of construction workers assemble the petrochemical facility that will convert natural gas liquids into plastics.

The project has breathed new life into what was an industrial wasteland.

But some medical experts who are also environmental advocates said breathing will be much harder once the plant is up and running.

“To me it’s about breathing. It’s about health,” said Dr. Ned Ketyer, a retired pediatrician affiliated with Pitt’s Climate and Global Change Center.

He said the plant’s toxic fumes will affect health as far south as Pittsburgh.

“Allegheny County is already dealing with higher risks of cancer because of air pollution and I believe this is going to make things much worse,” Ketyer said.

Volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, are a major industrial pollutant. Environmental Protection Agency records show the industrial plant with the largest VOC emissions in Western Pennsylvania is the Clairton Coke Works, with 291 tons of VOCs in 2014, the most recent year available.

But the cracker plant’s state permit says it is allowed up to 522 tons of VOCs per year.

Ammonia is another air toxin.

“That can have immediate effects on the brain and the liver,” Ketyer said.

EPA records show the Coke Works and U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock combined emitted 139 tons of ammonia in 2014.

But the cracker plant’s permit allows for even more — 152 tons. Continue reading Investigation: Cracker Plant Will bring Jobs, Pollution

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On the Rise: Solar Farms Begin Cropping Up in Western Pa

Solar farm in Smith Twp, near Burgettstown.

By Megan Tomasic
TribLive

May 5, 2019 – Down a gravel road close to what constitutes downtown Slovan in rural Washington County, roughly 3,500 solar panels stand in a field of green grass, their blue-hued faces tilted toward the sun.

The development, one of the largest solar farms in Western Pennsylvania, spans 4.5 acres and can power about 750 homes. It’s just a small part of a national trend infiltrating the Pennsylvania landscape.

A similar project is slated to occupy 12 acres of Hempfield, Westmoreland County. Almost 11,000 solar panels will be visible from Hunker-Waltz Mill Road, near Westinghouse Electric Co.

But the state still has a long way to go, with only three major solar farm projects powering roughly 575 homes and one business — Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Snyder’s-­Lance in Hanover and Elizabethtown Solar, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, a solar energy advocacy group.

Westmoreland and Allegheny counties have no big solar projects, according to a report by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

The report does not include individual panels on the rooftops of residential homes, said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, press secretary for the PUC.

While there are few solar farm developments in the immediate area, Pennsylvania has a growing number of solar jobs.

Between 2017 and 2018, the number of jobs increased by 10%, accounting for almost 4,220 workers, according to Avery Palmer, communications director at The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit organization promoting solar and solar technology.

“Most of the jobs will be at companies that install solar on rooftops or commercial businesses,” Palmer said. “With that said, large utility-­scale farms are a major job creator in other states, and developing these projects could help create even more solar jobs in Pennsylvania.” Continue reading On the Rise: Solar Farms Begin Cropping Up in Western Pa

Industry Officials, Protesters Confront Appalachia’s Future as a Possible Petrochemical Hub

Protestors outside the Marcellus and Manufacturing Development Conference in Morgantown, West Virginia on April 9, 2019. (Photo by Kat Procyk/PublicSource)

By Oliver Morrison

PublicSource.org

April 10, 2019 – Attendees at an industry conference in West Virginia on Tuesday cheered projections for increased petrochemical production in the next 40 years, while protesters outside held up withered single-use plastic bags to show the environmental harm of petroleum products.

Both groups, however, shared a common view that the economic hype and resulting environmental impact predicted for the region may not pan out. It’s how they feel about the prospect that diverges.

The Ohio River Valley region is projected to be on the brink of a petrochemical boom adding to its already booming natural gas industry: Production of ethane, which is used to make plastics, is expected to quadruple by 2025, according to a presentation by Brian Anderson, the director of the National Energy Technology Center at the U.S. Department of Energy.

Several top industry executives and analysts at the Marcellus and Manufacturing Development Conference in Morgantown spoke about the rare opportunity to create 100,000 jobs, an industry estimate, and bring billions of dollars in economic growth to the region, which includes Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

“This is the chance of a lifetime to create a generational change for the region,” said Michael Graney, executive director of the West Virginia Development Office.

But the mood at the conference was not always celebratory. Several speakers focused on the urgent need to continue to sell the Appalachian region’s potential to the rest of the world. Continue reading Industry Officials, Protesters Confront Appalachia’s Future as a Possible Petrochemical Hub

GM’s Lordstown Chevy Cruze Plant Closes Amidst Protests

Employees of the General Motors Lordstown Complex were the largest group of workers from a single Ohio employer were displaced by mass layoffs 

It may re-open in the summer. For 1,600 workers, that’s not much comfort at all.

By David Grossman
Mechanics Illustrated

Mar 7, 2019 – General Motors’ Lordstown Assembly plant was in continual operation since 1966 through yesterday, March 6, 2019. The idling of the plant affected 1,600 workers and is the largest of the U.S-based GM four plants that will close this year.

Originally dedicated to iconic cars like the Chevy Impala and Pontiac Firebird, since 2011 the plant built electric Chevy Cruzes. Through the years, the planet built over 16 million cars. However, amidst a restructuring the company decided to discontinue the model in America.

In a press statement, GM said that the Cruze “was a good product and was built with tremendous pride by the Lordstown employees. We know this is an emotional day for our Lordstown team.” Continue reading GM’s Lordstown Chevy Cruze Plant Closes Amidst Protests

Erie, PA: Close To 2,000 Manufacturing Workers Just Went On Strike

After a merger with GE Transportation, the new employer “wants to turn this into an Amazon warehouse,” the union says. ..Bernie Sanders backs strikers

By Dave Jamieson
Huffington Post

Feb 26, 2019 – Nearly 1,700 workers at a GE Transportation plant in Erie, Pennsylvania, went on strike Tuesday, marking the first large-scale work stoppage in the U.S. manufacturing sector in three years.

Union members with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) say the factory’s incoming owner, Pennsylvania-based Wabtec Corp., is trying to impose mandatory overtime, a lower pay scale for new employees, and the use of temporary workers in the facility.

Wabtec just closed an $11 billion deal to merge with GE’s transportation division, which includes the Erie plant where locals have built locomotives for decades.

Workers authorized the union to wage a strike after they failed to secure an interim agreement with Wabtec extending the terms of their contract with GE. As the new employer at the plant, Wabtec is obligated to recognize the union but has the freedom to negotiate its own new contract.

Union members felt they needed to go on strike in order to protect the middle-class wages and high working standards inside the facility, where pay averages around $35 an hour, said Jonathan Kissam, a union spokesman. He added that many workers already volunteer for overtime work but don’t want it to be mandatory, fearing it could ruin weekends with their families.

He also said introducing lower pay for new hires would create a two-tier system inside the plant, causing rifts between different generations of employees.

“This is a multi-generational plant. Some of them, their grandparents worked there,” Kissam said. “So they’re unwilling to sell out their own children.” Continue reading Erie, PA: Close To 2,000 Manufacturing Workers Just Went On Strike

PA Minimum Wage No Longer Defensible

In this March 8, 2016, file photo, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf meets with diner patrons before discussing his executive order to increase the minimum wage for state government employees and workers on jobs contracted by the state, during a news conference at the Trolley Car Cafe in Philadelphia. (Photo11: Matt Rourke / AP)

By York Dispatch Editorial Board

Feb. 22, 2019 – Pennsylvania’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. That’s $58 a day; $290 a week; $1,160 a month. Before taxes.

It hasn’t gone up a penny in 10 years. And it was only increased in 2009 because the federal government mandated it. Neither federal nor state lawmakers have added to this pittance since. They should be embarrassed.

In fact, $7.25 an hour was insufficient 10 years ago; it is insulting today.

Gov. Tom Wolf would like to rectify this shameful situation. Republican lawmakers who control the General Assembly, unfortunately, are evidently shameless.

The governor is again proposing an increase in the state’s minimum wage — something he has done each year since he took office in 2015. His proposed $34.1 billion spending plan would hike the lowest legal wage to $12 an hour this year, then nudge it by annual 50-cent-an-hour increments to $15 an hour by 2025.

Unfortunately, more livable wages are something many GOP lawmakers believe Pennsylvania can live without.

As Wolf’s budget plan began wending its way through Harrisburg’s legislative gauntlet, his minimum wage proposal attracted many a critical GOP eye. Continue reading PA Minimum Wage No Longer Defensible

Ending the Shutdown: The Deeper Meaning for Us

 

By Randy Shannon

17th District PDA

Our United States passed a critical turning point yesterday. Let’s analyze this historic event and try to make our future path easier. I want to focus on two key elements in this defeat of the far-right Trump-Pence-McConnell Administration.

First is the Resistance Congress led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The Resistance Congress became the conscience and the voice of the great majority of the American people opposed to the Wall and the Shutdown.

The 116th Congress now has an influential group of young people and women elected by the Resistance. In negotiations over Committee assignments, they pushed back against the corporate Democrats. This new class of Congress strengthened the backbone of the leadership. Rep. Pelosi was able to tell Trump: Hell No You Aren’t Getting a Wall! Congress had her back, and Democratic Representatives were confident the voters had their back. (As an aside, my Rep. Conor Lamb’s vote against Pelosi shows he isn’t embedded with the resistance.)

Second is the Air Traffic Controllers at LaGuardia. They exercised the economic power that made Rep. Pelosi’s Resistance insurmountable. Once workers understood that the Democrats were not going to cave to Trump’s extortion, they knew they had to act.

Here’s why they are so powerful. Capitalism is based on the economic circuit of investment-production-consumption. Until the commodity is purchased and consumed there is no profit. The critical link between production and consumption is transporting the product to the market. In this era of globalized production and on-time supply chain, transport of goods is very critical.

I’m using this hourglass to illustrate this relationship. The top well is global commodity production. The bottom well is global commodity consumption. Sitting at the choke point are air traffic controllers and longshore workers at the docks. No other workers have this kind of leverage over the circulation of capital.

The value of air cargo today is over $6 trillion and 35% of world trade. The oligarchs don’t give a hoot about lines at the airport or starving TSA workers, or DC government workers using food banks selling their homes, or being evicted. But a handful of Air Traffic Controllers at one airport can shut down the whole system of capital circulation.

These two forces – a political voice of reason backed by organized workers can stop the far-right assault on our democracy. The Resistance is growing in numbers and solidarity and poised to take back the Government in 2020.

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