ICLEARFIELD – More than 100 people, including coal industry workers and local lawmakers, discussed the future of the coal industry Friday during a public forum hosted by State Rep. Tommy Sankey, R- 74th District, at Lock Haven University’s Clearfield campus.
“Our economy and even the state government cannot afford for these people to not be paying into the tax system and not producing. We cannot afford it. The economy cannot go without them,” Sankey said.
Several topics were discussed with some workers raising questions about reclamation changes through the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Others discussed road bonding. But for attendees, their biggest concern revolved around the changes to the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards.
In recent months, many have blamed the new regulations for the downturn in the coal industry. ”There’s 57,000 megawatts of power scheduled to come off of the national grid,” said one industry worker.
“We know now if fully-implemented, it would cost about $10 billion a year to our economy, and more than 183,000 jobs,” said John Pippy of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance.
Industry workers believe that the EPA changes are why power plants are closing. They also blame coal industry layoffs on the regulations. Local lawmakers from rural communities said this is an issue that is not going unnoticed.
“We’re not just talking about something that we’re taking out of the ground. At the end of the day, this room is full because it’s about jobs,” said State Rep. Matt Gabler, R- 75th District.
According to the EPA, changes to the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) will make the environment cleaner and safer. The EPA says that the changes will also create tens of thousands of jobs.
“The Environmental Protection Agency seems to not be aware of what could be a power deficit nationally,” said one concerned industry worker.
Sankey said that he can’t change the current state of the coal industry, but he will make sure his constituents’ voices are heard in Harrisburg.
“It’s not going to be easy, but the biggest thing is going to be sending the message that coal is not dirty. Coal is not bad. Coal is a part of our future,” he said.