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February 2, 2014

Gamesa blame game: Dem candidates point finger at gov; GOP chief dismisses talk

JOHNSTOWN — Two Democratic Party candidates for statewide office, Johnstown resident Mark Critz and Katie McGinty, of Wayne, Delaware County, are blaming Republican Gov. Tom Corbett for the recent closing of a wind turbine manufacturing plant in Cambria County.

Robert Gleason, chairman of Pennsylvania’s Republican Party, dismissed those opinions as “really a stretch.”

On Tuesday, Gamesa, a company based in Spain, announced plans to shut its Cambria Township facility on March 31, citing a shift in its customer market from Pennsylvania and the Midwest to the Southwest. Sixty-two jobs will be eliminated from the United Steelworkers of America Local 2635 shop. The plant employed more than 200 workers when it opened in 2006.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell and McGinty, his administration’s secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, supported building the facility. McGinty, a current candidate for governor, said she feels Corbett bears responsibility for the closing.

“Gov. Corbett continues to fail Pennsylvania’s workers, and this time, it’s the hard-working men and women who were employed at Gamesa in Cambria County,” said McGinty. “When I was secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, I helped bring those jobs to Cambria County. Unfortunately, Gov. Corbett actively advocated for increased taxes on the wind energy sector and opposed bipartisan legislative efforts to expand the market for renewable energy in Pennsylvania which, in turn, killed jobs.”

Corbett’s top energy adviser, Patrick Henderson, responded with an email to Philly.com in which he stated McGinty should “educate herself on the facts: Gov. Corbett worked – and will continue to work – with the renewable energy industry on how we can support and sustain their growth here in PA.”

Critz was serving as a staffer for former U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, when politicians were working to attract Gamesa to the region. A current candidate for lieutenant governor, Critz feels the GOP’s stance on the federal wind production tax credit issue led to the shuttering.

The tax credit was established in 1992 at a rate of 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour generated. It eventually reached 2.3 cents through adjustments for inflation. In 2012, 47 Republican congressmen sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, asking him to let the tax credit expire because they felt it was too expensive and ineffective. The credit was extended for one year as part of the fiscal cliff deal in January 2013, but has since been allowed to expire.

Corbett did not support other members of the Governor’s Wind Energy Coalition in calling for an extension.

“Unfortunately, the misguided policies of a Tea Party-controlled Congress, with support from our own Gov. Corbett, led to the expiration of the Production Tax Credit and doomed our local facility,” said Critz, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2010 to 2013. “As a member of Congress, I was an outspoken supporter for both the production tax credit and for energy independence.”

Gleason, a Cambria County resident, disagreed with the statements made by Critz and McGinty.

“To blame the Republican Party for Gamesa closing is really a stretch,” said Gleason. “What Tom Corbett has done is make Pennsylvania an energy state.” He added, “My comment is that Gov. Corbett supports all kind of energy: renewable energy, fossil fuels and the nuclear industry. ... The Democrats are against the Marcellus Shale drilling and any more coal mining.”

Gleason accused Rendell’s administration of supporting what the chairman called “corporate welfare.”

The state contributed more than $9 million to construction of the $25 million Gamesa plant.

“It was great for the jobs, but we paid for the plant, so they should have had to stay there indefinitely,” Gleason said.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.

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