Industrial Sector Decarbonization Projects Will Employ Thousands in PA

Thousands of new jobs will be created to tackle carbon emissions from Pennsylvania’s industrial sector, if the state is successful in its bid for $475 million in federal Climate Pollution Reduction Grants (CPRG) funding under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Department of Environmental Protection Interim Acting Secretary Jessica Shirley unveiled plans for the program, known as RISE-PA, at an April 2 press event near Pittsburgh, where she was joined by environmental and labor leaders, representatives of Governor Josh Shapiro, and elected officials, including Allegheny County Executive Sara Innamorato.

“RISE-PA will drive meaningful pollution reductions while creating good jobs and a durable career pipeline for workers,” Shirley said. “We are confident that EPA will see the merit of this proposal for clean, resilient industry, healthier communities, and good jobs.”

Heavy industry is notoriously “hard to decarbonize,” according to Joanne Kilgour of the Ohio River Valley Institute (ORVI). The research organization published a report in February detailing challenges specific to the industrial sector, which contributes almost a third of Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions. RISE-PA would offer grants to businesses to help shoulder the often heavy up-front costs of equipment upgrades and other improvements.

“Addressing industrial sector emissions is really one of the central tenets of decarbonizing our economy statewide,” Kilgour said.

In the near term alone, RISE-PA funded projects are expected to eliminate approximately 500 million metric tons of emissions, shrinking the sector’s carbon footprint and improving public health in communities affected by industrial pollution.

The presentation was hosted by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 57 at its offices and worker training center in Carnegie, PA. The RISE-PA plan has earned enthusiastic support from building trades unions including IUPAT, both for the work it will generate for their members and for its potential to help develop a skilled workforce in communities across the state — especially those that have been left behind in previous economic transitions.

If funded, the program is expected to create some 6,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania, including many through union contracts that provide good pay, job security, and training programs.

“The RISE-PA grant is proactive in creating a greener, more energy efficient commonwealth, but it’s also taking care to identify the next generation of construction workers and make sure the existing workers don’t get left behind,” said Brian Herbinko, IUPAT DC 57’s president and director of training. “These jobs, which likely would not exist without the grant funding, mean that our existing members stay busy and that we can bringing in dozens of new tradespeople, some of whom may be making a family-sustaining wage for the first time.”

The RISE-PA plan came out of the Shapiro Administration’s Office of Critical Investments, an interdepartmental team focused on maximizing federal funding opportunities from the IRA and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Its primary architect, DEP’s Louie Krak, explained the program’s proposed scope, timeline, and role in the governor’s broader strategy to create clean energy jobs on a recent episode of PEC’s Pennsylvania Legacies podcast.

Though labor and environmental groups haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on energy policy, County Executive Innamorato noted the diversity of interests rallying around industrial sector decarbonization as an strategy to keep Pennsylvania competitive in the clean-energy economy.

“This signals not that we are going to pit the environment and addressing climate chage against jobs but saying that we can address climate change, we can support communities, and we can have good-paying union jobs. We can have both,” she said. “This is a proposal that shows us a path forward, that we are better when we work together.”