Democratic Senators to Gov. Wolf and General Assembly: Make Rebuilding Manufacturing a Priority

Senator John Yudichak

Senator Vincent Hughes

Senator Jim Brewster

Op-ed by state Sen. John T. Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Sen. Vincent J. Hughes (D-Philadelphia), Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland)

October 23, 2017 − National Manufacturing Day is the first Friday in October.  While noting the importance of manufacturing on this one day is important, the focus on rebuilding our manufacturing base should be a priority for the governor and the General Assembly each day. 

That is why we’ve joined together to sponsor a comprehensive package of legislation that is designed to address the needs of manufacturers, our workers and the communities where they live, work and raise their families. 

Our legislation seeks to better coordinate policy through the creation of a “Chief Manufacturing Officer;” infuse new dollars into targeted vocational and technical training; expand the Manufacturing Tax Credit and earmark credits to help build manufacturing in distressed communities while aiding disadvantaged, minority, women and veteran-owned businesses.

There is no doubt that manufacturing is a critically important part of our economy. Large employers who drive local economies and small mom-and-pop entrepreneurs are all key aspects.  According to the Center for Manufacturing Research, manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of our gross state product, employs nearly 10 percent of our workers — over 565,000 — and accounts for $33 billion in annual exports. 

The value of manufacturing is even more pronounced in rural areas.  A recent study by the Northeast Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center indicates that manufacturing represents almost 15 percent of non-urban jobs, with average compensation more than 20 percent above the regional worker wage level. 

To ensure that manufacturing remains a viable and valuable force in our state economy, policymakers need to stay up with trends and accommodate changes in the market.   If we fail to work collaboratively, we will face losing more jobs and business opportunities.   According to the state Bureau of Labor Statistics, since 2001 Pennsylvania has lost 264,000 jobs in manufacturing and 5,400 establishments. 

There are a great many challenges that manufacturers face.  A recent study of national manufacturing by Ball State University indicated that manufacturing employment has been affected by three distinct factors: productivity, trade and domestic demand. 

Our workers and our manufacturing establishments have become more innovative, use more technology based systems and require fewer workers per location.  Yet, even with these well-entrenched changes now altering the manufacturing landscape, there is still room for lawmakers to aid large and small manufacturing businesses. 

Senate Bill 923 would create a “Chief Manufacturing Officer” within the governor’s office to provide advice on economic policy and be a singular voice for manufacturers at the highest level.  The measure also establishes a “Manufacturing Competitiveness Board” to help develop manufacturing strategy. 

Another bill (Senate Bill 924) would direct up to $5 million to a grant program for vocational technical schools, vocational programs and equipment purchases.   The legislation would increase the maximum loan amount from $5 million to $7.5 million and authorize loans to retrofit equipment.  This investment would help schools acquire the equipment necessary to produce a skilled workforce that can be employed in state-of-the-art manufacturing operations. 

The third legislative piece in the package would maximize the Manufacturing Tax Credit.  Senate Bill 925 would increase the credit cap to $12.5 million from its current $4 million, expand the credit to include job training costs, and allow small manufacturers to apply jointly for the credit.  A $2.5 million piece of the tax credit would be reserved for businesses located in distressed communities in addition to disadvantaged, minority, women and veterans owned businesses. 

Our legislative work is designed to follow up on a detailed report authored earlier this decade by the Governor’s Manufacturing Advisory Council.  In this sweeping analysis of manufacturing, the blue-ribbon panel recommended several actions that could aid manufacturing.

Specifically, the study reported that 82 percent of manufacturers had a serious gap in worker skill level and 74 percent indicated that the skill-gap hampered the ability to expand.  Meanwhile, 78 percent of manufacturers were negatively impacted by a lack of access to capital. 

Moreover, the report emphasizes the need for a single point of contact in state government to connect manufacturers to solutions.  The report also recommends focusing attention on information sharing to enhance productivity. 

Policy proposals to address each of these needs are key parts of our legislative plan. 

The series of legislative measures that we’ve offered will address the critical needs of manufacturers.  In this month when Manufacturing Day is recognized, it is time for the General Assembly and the governor to focus on policies to rebuild our communities and make our workforce a priority.

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State Senator John Yudichak: Keep Pennsylvania Growing Greener

Op-Ed by State Senator John Yudichak

Since its creation in 1999, Pennsylvania’s Growing Greener program has funded hundreds of local parks and trail projects, conserved more than 80,000 acres of threatened open space, and restored hundreds of miles of streams and waterways.

Statewide, the program has also protected more than 78,000 acres of farmland, restored more than 1,600 acres of abandoned mine land, and helped reduce flooding and water pollution through 400 watershed protection projects and more than 100 drinking and wastewater treatment improvements.

In Carbon and Luzerne Counties, the Growing Greener program has enhanced our communities through a vast range of investments from improving water quality in our watersheds, reclaiming acres of abandoned mine land and expanding tourist and recreational opportunities. In Carbon County, the historic Delaware and Lehigh Trail is a central part of the heritage tourism industry in northeastern Pennsylvania. In Luzerne County, non-profit organizations like the Earth Conservancy, have partnered with Pennsylvania to transform thousands of acres of mine-scarred land into new recreational and economic opportunities.

Continued investments in improving our environment are critical to our quality of life in northeastern Pennsylvania, and set the stage to invest in both community and economic development. Growing Greener must continue to deliver strategic and common-sense aid within our communities to support beautification, create jobs, and stimulate economic growth.

Yet, despite the program’s proven track record of success, the need remains greater than ever. Local communities will soon be tackling significant stormwater infrastructure upgrades, with little availability of state aid. Thousands of miles of streams and rivers are impaired, thousands of acres of abandoned mine land remain untouched, and miles of trails require upgrades.

Working with a broad coalition of environmental and economic development groups, I am supporting bipartisan legislation, to be introduced by State Senator Tom Killion, that provides renewed investment in our Growing Greener program.

We can keep Pennsylvania growing greener by investing in a time-tested and result-producing program, like Growing Greener, that will allow us to continue protecting our natural resources, boost economic growth in local communities, and improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.

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Environmental Protection Triumphs: Coal Refuse Energy and Reclamation Tax Credit a Winner

The recently enacted state budget package includes a critical new tax credit that will bolster efforts to reclaim land scarred by coal mining. The Coal Refuse Energy and Reclamation Tax Credit is a victory for those of us who want to use both technological innovation and tax incentives to clean up the environment and produce affordable, homegrown energy.

Under the new law (Act 84 of 2016), electric generation plants that use coal refuse for fuel are eligible for a $4 per ton tax credit. In Fiscal Year 2016-17, $7.5 million in credits will be available. Beginning in 2017-18, the amount of tax credits rises to $10 million.

The tax credits are important on their own, but they are only part of the story. The coal refuse industry will be able to use the credits to leverage private dollars and exponentially grow their investments. In northeastern Pennsylvania, companies like Panther Creek Energy in Nesquehoning, Carbon County are poised to employ these new tax credits to clean up more coal refuse piles, restore more environmentally degraded land and create more jobs.

The energy generation tax credits provide another tool that can be used to spur environmental protection while creating new economic opportunities. Given that the waste coal electric generation industry is already an important part of our economic mix, the shrewd use of the new tax credits will likely increase employment in an industry that has 3,800 in its workforce today. Plus, with the tax credit serving as an incentive, we can build on the 200 million tons of refuse coal that has already been removed from land in Pennsylvania.

The ability of Pennsylvania to pivot from its course of accepting large swaths of mine-scarred land and piles of waste coal as an environmental fact and instead enter a new era focused on land recycling and restoration is important to our future. In both the anthracite and bituminous coal regions of the state, there is a real need to dive into policy solutions that reverse years of indifference in this regard.

The utilization of the tax credit for using refuse coal and recovering land is only one step that can be taken and will help us build upon the remarkable work being done by Earth Conservancy in Luzerne County. The Earth Conservancy has secured $40 million that has helped reclaim thousands of acres of former mine lands and restore miles of waterways polluted with acid mine drainage.

Our work with environmental advocates and economic professionals has challenged the myth that economic development and natural resource protection are mutually exclusive. We have demonstrated that the proper economic/environmental balance can be achieved when recovering mine scarred lands.

The new Coal Refuse and Reclamation Tax Credit will have a profound impact on our environment and our economic future, serving as a catalyst for robust economic development as well as increasing efforts to preserve and protect our environment.

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State Sen. John T. Yudichak: I Want to Clear the Air on My Environmental Record

Op-ed by State Senator John Yudichak

Recently, a few groups have challenged my record on the environment.  They have raised concerns about two issues – the Clean Power Plan and the new Chapter 78 oil and gas well site regulations.

First, to be clear, I support the goals of the Clean Power Plan.  And, as the public record reflects, I have never voted to diminish the plan.  Currently, I am working with the Wolf administration to ensure this federal climate change initiative is responsibly carried out with little impact on Pennsylvania jobs.

The Clean Power Plan, advanced by the Environmental Protection Agency, was halted by the United States Supreme Court, and as a result, state action on the plan has stalled until the case is resolved.

Second, check the record, as a member of the Environmental Quality Board I supported Governor Wolf’s newly proposed Chapter 78 regulations that will provide the most comprehensive oversight of the oil and gas industry ever implemented in Pennsylvania history.

Some groups, however, believe you cannot be pro-environment and pro-job creation.  On that point, we will have to agree to disagree.

I have the great honor of representing Luzerne and Carbon Counties in the state Senate.  It is a region with a rich heritage of both energy production and a passion for the conservation of our pristine natural resources.  The citizens of northeastern Pennsylvania have proven you can do both.

It is my responsibility, as a public servant, to reflect my constituents who want legislators to work with one another to achieve that important balance between economic development and environmental protection.

My environmental record over the years has been one of consistent support for policies that promote environmental reclamation and conservation without losing sight of the number one priority for most Pennsylvanians – jobs.

Working with groups, like the Earth Conservancy, we have secured more than $40 million to reclaim thousands of acres of mine scarred lands and miles of polluted streams.  On many of those reclaimed sites new industries have grown and created jobs.  Companies, like CVS Caremark located in Hanover Township, have helped us transform our environmentally challenged sites by investing in our economic landscape with the creation of six hundred new jobs in the growing pharmaceutical industry.

Moreover, in the past two decades, I have supported new laws to promote a proper balance between environmental protection and economic development: Growing Greener, H2O PA, the Alternative Fuels Incentive Act, the Alternatives Energy Portfolio Standards Act, the Pennsylvania Climate Change Act, and the Alternative Energy Investment Act.

Collectively, my support of these landmark legislative achievements have made Pennsylvania a leader in renewable energy development, new energy jobs and the advancement of environmental protection.

In Carbon County, we have worked with Con Edison to develop PA Solar Park – Pennsylvania’s largest solar park.  PA Solar Park will ultimately produce enough electricity to fuel three thousand homes and effectively reduce the CO2 emissions of 22,971 barrels of oil.

In Greater Hazleton, we are working with an energy company, the Atlantic Carbon Group, that has invested over $16 million in our region and created nearly one hundred new jobs.  Atlantic Carbon Group is employing 21st century mining techniques to harvest our plentiful anthracite coal resources to support steel manufacturing, water purification and the manufacturing of silicon.

Investing in environmental protection and supporting the development of our energy infrastructure should not be mutually exclusive enterprises.  Building new natural gas plants, modernizing our natural gas infrastructure, while we continue to press for the development of alternative energy sources demonstrates that we can create jobs and protect the environment.

Building consensus, forging common sense solutions and working with Republicans and Democrats may not be popular in some political circles, but it is exactly how I try to best represent the good people of northeastern Pennsylvania.

We can fight climate change.  We can improve our air and water.  We can be responsible stewards of PENN’s woods, and still develop Pennsylvania’s diverse energy resources to create jobs and opportunities all across this great Commonwealth.

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