Town Hall participants brainstorm ideas for a Green New Deal in Westmoreland
Local proponents of the envisioned economic transformation dubbed the Green New Deal argue that regional jobs tied to the fossil fuel industry can be replaced with ones that are focused on environmentally friendly energy sources such as hydroelectric, wind and solar power.
That was one of the ideas discussed Wednesday evening during a town hall meeting about the Green New Deal that drew close to 50 people to The Lamplighter restaurant in Delmont.
“This is not some pie-in-the-sky dream,” said Mike Pardus, among the leaders of local activist group Voice of Westmoreland, which organized the meeting. “It’s about things we can do right here in Westmoreland County today, now, if we have the wherewithal to work together to make it happen.
“We have a lot of very skilled, hard-working people who know how to get things done in Pennsylvania. If you’re drilling a hole in the ground for fracking, you can drill a hole in the ground for geothermal energy.”
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced non-binding Green New Deal resolutions in February that called for replacing fossil fuels like coal, natural gas and oil with renewable energy.
The Republican majority in the Senate defeated the resolutions in March. Ocasio-Cortez said more specific proposals would follow.
“We think the public story about this idea has been portrayed in a way that doesn’t reflect the reality of what it could do for us in Westmoreland,” said Clare Dooley, co-founder of Voice of Westmoreland. “The concept is an overall transformation of our economy to make it work for everyone and to be, in fact, a real New Deal — like the first New Deal (during President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration) that recognized real economic inequalities in our society and came up with solutions.”
Dooley said arguments that weigh jobs against the environment are “a false choice. We can create a Green New Deal that works for everyone.”
Town hall panel member Ryan Vesely, president of Greensburg-based solar system supplier Green Solar Systems, said the Green New Deal should include updating of the nation’s electrical grid. “We have some infrastructure that’s still 70 years old,” he said, arguing the system would be more efficient and reliable if it was replaced with smaller “micro-grids” that deliver power from sources closer to each community.
In a smaller break-out session, Vesely voiced support for Senate Bill 600, which would increase requirements for the percentage of power sold in the state that is to be generated from renewable sources to 30 percent by 2030, including 10 percent from solar energy.
Fellow panel member Pat McCaughtry, eastern U.S. officer manager for the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, called for “mass transit solutions that will free up many of us from the burden of driving and maintaining a car.”
Amanda Goodman, a middle school teacher in the Hempfield Area School District who took part in contract negotiations for her union, decried the “lack of public transit that is unheard of in other countries” while asking, “Why don’t all workers get paid more?” — whether or not they are represented by a union.
During the meeting’s break-out sessions, audience members and moderators discussed other proposed initiatives that might be included in a Green New Deal: Upgrading buildings to achieve increased energy efficiency; using carbon taxes and taxes on the wealthy to pay for infrastructure programs; investing in training and reemployment programs for those displaced through elimination of jobs in the fossil fuel industry; creating a new Civilian Conservation Corps that would employ people in such efforts as planting trees and restoring land affected by acid mine drainage; making a “massive investment” in U.S. manufacturing industries to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is just to start people talking about and thinking about what the Green New Deal could be and should be,” Dooley said. “Once we’ve done that, then we start talking about how to make it happen. We want to be part of the planning and discussion of how to make that happen.”
She said a follow-up discussion on the topic will be held at the next regular Voice of Westmoreland meeting, set for 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Westmoreland Museum of American Art.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .