The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

February 9, 2014

Tom Schuster | Politicians allow wind jobs to blow away

JOHNSTOWN — The closing of the Gamesa wind turbine factory near Ebensburg is an unnecessary loss for southwestern Pennsylvania.

The plant isn’t closing because of a lack of interest in developing wind – developers are ready. It didn’t close because of a lack of skilled workforce – our hardworking steelworkers need these jobs. It closed because Congress, including local Reps. Keith Rothfus, R-Sewickley, and Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, chose billionaire political donors over their own constituents.

As Gamesa announced the closure of this plant that once made awe-inspiring 150-foot wind-turbine blades, Rothfus and Shuster stood aside and kept silent. Instead of fighting to renew a critical policy that would continue a boom in new wind developments and manufacturing orders, they kowtowed to wealthy donors afraid of a growing industry.

Now, with Gamesa leaving town, the steelworkers once employed there are left trying to make ends meet.

If anyone knows the positive impacts of wind power, Rothfus and Shuster should. Out of 24 wind farms in the commonwealth, 16 are in their own districts – two of every three.

Wind energy is flourishing here, creating jobs, powering thousands of homes and businesses and putting our friends and neighbors to work. But sadly, it’s not that simple.

With wind energy booming, fossil-fuel billionaires like David and Charles Koch have gotten desperate to protect their profits and market share for their coal, oil and gas interests. To achieve this goal, the magnates have opened their wallets to try to kill the wind industry that has provided jobs and economic opportunities for families in our area.

The Kochs have launched a massive campaign targeting the Wind Energy Production Tax Credit – the vital investments that have helped spur wind innovation and job growth in Pennsylvania and across the country.

They know that one of the reasons the cost of producing wind power has been cut in half in recent years is because we’ve been making wind turbines here at home, creating American jobs, so they’ve made it their goal to sabotage the industry.

And, while the Kochs have been doing that, they’ve also dumped millions in campaign cash into the coffers of politicians like Shuster and Rothfus. In fact, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (www.opensecrets.org), in 2012, Shuster took $10,000 from Koch Industries while Rothfus took $5,000 – and added another $7,000 this year. That’s thousands in anti-wind industry money going into their pockets while our good, local wind-energy jobs get blown away.

It’s mystifying that our elected officials could look at a plant in their community and ignore the simple solutions before them that could save it.

The warning signs were there in 2012 when Gamesa started laying off workers because of uncertainty around federal wind investments, yet they did nothing to protect their constituents’ good-paying wind jobs. They didn’t sound the alarm through press releases and statements on the House floor. They spurned opportunities to stand up with the many other Republicans calling for action to protect wind investments, and they certainly haven’t told the Kochs to take their anti-American manufacturing and jobs agenda elsewhere.

If they were serious about ending the tax incentive, they could have co-sponsored Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick’s bill to phase out the program.

Instead, they let Gamesa twist in the wind.

Now, their constituents are paying the price in the form of lost jobs and the damage wreaked on savings accounts and family life. Meanwhile, in a cherry-paneled drawing room somewhere, the Koch brothers are toasting victory. This announcement was great news for them, but devastating for our families who depended on these wind jobs as our region still struggles to recover from the offshoring of the steel industry.

Now, these wind jobs are expected to head overseas as well.

Gamesa continues to employ over 200 people in Pennsylvania, including at its Fairless Hills factory in eastern Pennsylvania that just landed a contract to build turbines for a project in Costa Rica. This is great news for those families, but we shouldn’t be dependent on foreign projects when we have such tremendous wind potential right here in Pennsylvania and the United States.

Our working families deserve better than a Congress that bows to the demands of fossil-fuel executives who have proven they will gleefully destroy American manufacturing just to cling to their profits.

By failing to protect wind jobs in their backyards, Shuster and Rothfus have shown they aren’t very good at their own.

Tom Schuster of Windber is Pennsylvania campaign representative of the Sierra Club.

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