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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: Time for Appalachia to THRIVE

Lobbyists and industry representatives in the fossil fuels industries, including Greg Kozera with Shale Crescent USA, like to claim that the industries are all about good-paying jobs, prosperity, and thriving communities. These are claims that West Virginians and Appalachians more broadly cannot afford to go on believing.

An article in The New Republic by staff writer Kate Aronoff titled “Fossil Fuels Companies Are Jobs Killers” from April 5 explains why the myth of the benevolent extraction industry must finally be subjected to and overcome by the truth. Aronoff writes, “A recent analysis from the Norwegian research firm Rystad Energy, published last week, finds that ‘robotic drilling systems can potentially reduce the number of roughnecks required on a drilling rig’ by 20 to 30 percent over the next decade, translating to hundreds of thousands of jobs lost and billions of dollars saved worldwide. In the United States, Rystad Energy predicts that could mean the permanent loss of 140,000 jobs.”

Aronoff also writes, “Across mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction–a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics category that also includes support services–unemployment now stands at 15 percent. As of last month, the sector had the highest sectoral rate of unemployment in the country.”

You might think that, with all the federal bailout money coming in because of the coronavirus, fossil fuels companies could stay afloat and keep people employed. You’d be half right. Aronoff writes, “A study from Bailout Watch finds that 77 oil and gas companies that got a total of $8.2 billion worth of stimulus-related tax breaks last year laid off 16 percent of their combined workforce, totaling 58,000 people. Marathon Petroleum–which raked in $2.1 billion in pandemic tax breaks–got approximately $1 million for each of the 1,920 workers it laid off.”

A recent study by the Ohio River Valley Institute (cited by Aronoff) “found that the 22 Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia counties responsible for 90 percent of the region’s oil and gas production saw their share of the nation’s jobs, personal income, and population all decline.

At a time when the gross domestic product of Belmont County, Ohio, was growing at five times the national rate, it lost 7 percent of jobs and 2 percent of its population.”

Ms. Aronoff isn’t the only writer from The New Republic I’d like to recognize. In a piece titled “The Fracking Shill Local Newspapers Love to Publish” from March 25, staff writer Nick Martin points out that Greg Kozera of Shale Crescent USA’s “weekly pro-fracking column often runs in eight to 10 local papers throughout the Ohio River Valley, reaching anywhere from 60,000 readers to well over 200,000 if his column is picked up by the region’s major papers like the Gazette-Mail, Dispatch, or Akron Beacon Journal.” The decision by The Parkersburg News and Sentinel to publish Kozera weekly is part of what led to Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action contributing this weekly Climate Corner column. It’s not at all clear why an industry PR professional receiving his pay from the industry gets all this free press.

Fortunately, the Mid-Ohio Valley, West Virginia, Southeastern Ohio, and the rest of Appalachia are not stuck with extraction industry lies for sustenance and prosperity. There are alternatives. Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action has partnered with a statewide coalition in West Virginia called the New Jobs Coalition and begun our own initiative called New Jobs Appalachia. We collectively support the Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy–THRIVE Agenda and THRIVE ACT.

A recent study conducted by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that, “implementing the 10-year THRIVE investment agenda in West Virginia would generate about 50,000 jobs the first year of the program, and for the full 10 years of the program. It would also bring about $5.2 billion dollars per year to West Virginia from the overall THRIVE budget.” You can learn more and download the full PERI report at www.newjobswv.org.

Fossil fuel workers have powered and built America, but the industry has left Appalachia in ruins and today offers nothing but empty promises and lies. Our laborers, their families, and our communities deserve better. It’s time to THRIVE.

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Eric Engle is Chairman of the not-for-profit volunteer organization Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action, Board Member for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and Co-Chairman of the Sierra Club of West Virginia Chapter’s Executive Committee.

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