Democrats in Congress recently ramped up efforts to create a nationwide work program to transition away from fossil fuels, as union leaders representing the country’s coal miners acknowledged the need for a change.
Congressional leaders are moving forward with President Joe Biden’s climate and infrastructure agenda, even as Republicans balk, and some workers in affected industries express skepticism.
Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced a bill to create a Civilian Climate Corps, a 1.5 million-strong force that would carry out infrastructure work.
The corps – modeled on the Civilian Conservation Corps that sent young men to work on public works projects during the Great Depression – would help repair blighted areas and build new green spaces, supporters said.
“The Civilian Climate Corps will provide an opportunity for millions of Americans from every walk of life to earn a good wage while serving their communities and training to transform our economy,” Markey said Tuesday in a statement announcing the bill.
Skeptics might imagine the corps as a pie-in-the sky project of progressive lawmakers. But Biden himself backed the idea in his American Jobs Plan, and other affected groups appear to be warming to the idea of an economic transition toward renewable energy.
United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts told reporters his union would endorse Biden’s energy policies, if they include broad measures to protect coal miners’ income and train those who can no longer work in the industry.
“I think we need to provide a future for those people, a future for anybody that loses their job because of a transition in this country, regardless if it’s coal, oil, gas or any other industry for that matter,” Roberts said.
The union proposal includes more funds and tax incentives for renewable energy, jobs for displaced miners and new work in reclaiming and plugging old, dangerous mines and wells. It also seeks more use for coal in steel production, rather than for electricity, and new funding for “carbon capture” technology that could allow for cleaner coal-burning.
Democrats in Congress have pushed for other changes that could smooth the transition away from fossil fuels. A House panel agreed this month on the need to cap abandoned gas wells, of which there are thousands in Pennsylvania.
Backers have proposed hiring laid-off fossil fuel workers to take part in the work.
Economic changes, including environmental regulations and surging natural gas supplies, have hit coal country hard. Fewer than 45,000 people are employed in the industry nationwide, and of those some 34,000 are hourly workers in the mines.
Coal mine employment in Pennsylvania is at an all-time low, according to federal statistics: Fewer than 4,000 people work in the industry here, down from over 16,000 in 1990.
Reps back high court limit
More local members of Congress are signing on to a constitutional amendment that would limit the Supreme Court’s size, as GOP members express new fears of an expanded court.
Last week, U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, R-15th District, and U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, signed on to the proposal, joining earlier cosponsors Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, and Rep. Fred Keller, R-12th District. The amendment would limit the court to nine justices, its current size.
The U.S. Constitution does not require the court to have nine members, and some progressives have pushed for its expansion to counter a 6-3 rightward tilt. On April 15, a group of Democratic lawmakers proposed a plan to expand the court to 13 members, prompting a conservative outcry.
Threats of so-called “court-packing” are nothing new. President Franklin Roosevelt backed a court expansion after the justices shot down much of his New Deal legislation; the effort ultimately failed.
Biden has not signaled much interest in expanding the court, although he did back a commission to consider the idea. The GOP amendment to stop expansion has little chance of passage, having drawn 150 cosponsors in a Democratic-controlled Congress.
Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at email@example.com.