Today is Earth Day and the planetary celebration born wearing a tie-dye T-shirt in 1970 has come of age wearing blue collars.
Take Tom Yeager, a 61-year-old unemployed steelworker from McKeesport who disdains "tree-hugger" environmentalists but supports proposed controls on carbon emissions because they promise to create local jobs.
"I'm interested in working and making a living and if a carbon cap can help me and the generation that's coming up after me, I'm all for it," said Mr. Yeager, one of five Mon Valley residents featured in the Environmental Defense Action Fund's gritty "Carbon Caps=Hard Hats" ad campaign.
Emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap the sun's heat and contribute to global warming. The print and television ad campaign in eight states and the District of Columbia is aimed at promoting a cap on carbon emissions by linking such controls to the creation of new jobs in blue-collar industries, like steel.
"Our region didn't get a bailout like Wall Street and the nation's banking centers," said Braddock Mayor John Fetterman, who is part of the ad campaign and is scheduled to testify at a hearing on the cap and trade issue in Washington, D.C., today before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
But he said the region could get a boost from efforts to provide alternative energy sources and lower energy consumption.
"Each wind turbine contains 250 tons of steel and has thousands of moving parts," Mr. Fetterman said. "Producing that steel and those parts means jobs, the kind of jobs that are good to raise a family on, the kind of jobs we lost around here in the 1970s and 1980s."
According to the ad campaign, endorsed by the United Steelworkers and the Blue Green Alliance, an amalgamation of labor and environmental groups, a carbon cap would limit utility and industrial emissions and at the same time create a demand for manufacturing operations to produce steel for wind, solar and other alternative energy applications and products to retrofit older buildings and make them energy efficient.
An example of that type of job creation can be found in Vandergrift where the Kensington Windows plant, shut down since October, was reopened last month to produce energy-efficient windows and doors. About three dozen workers have been rehired with a goal of 150 by the end of this year.
"About 39 percent of the energy we use in this country is used to heat, cool and light buildings, but a lot of that is wasted," said Marc Porat, chairman of Serious Materials, which owns Kensington.
Serious Materials also bought a bankrupt window company in Chicago, and is using energy efficiencies to produce drywall and cement at other factories.
"Jobs to retrofit old buildings or build new, energy efficient ones can't be exported," he said.
The hearing where Mr. Fetterman is testifying today is considering carbon cap and trade legislation introduced by Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Edward Markey D-Mass. According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency analysis released yesterday, the proposal would cost each American household about $98 to $140 a year -- much less than opponents of the cap-and-trade legislation have suggested.
And that cost could be more than offset by energy efficiencies and new technologies, according to a two-year study released yesterday by the Union of Concerned Scientists. That study found that cap and trade rules similar to the Waxman-Markey proposal would allow the U.S. to meet an emissions reduction cap of 56 percent below 2005 levels in 2030 and save consumers and businesses $465 billion in that year by reducing energy demand and costs.
The Concerned Scientist's recommendations are aimed at reducing heat-trapping emissions by 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, the target its experts say is necessary to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
Don Hopey can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1983.