Pittsburgh Poised to Thrive on Biden’s Plan

An equitable recovery powered by climate action means millions of well-paying jobs—with the Steel City, and other places like it, at the center of it all.

iStock

Two years ago, Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign from a Pittsburgh union hall, casting his bid as the vanguard of “a battle for America’s soul.”

He returns Wednesday leading an equally urgent mission: to revive a beleaguered economy from a devastating pandemic few saw coming, help advance racial equity, and stand up to the widening climate crisis.

Few places are more pivotal to this plan, nor stand to gain more from it, than cities like Pittsburgh.

Less than three months into his term, Biden has responded to the economic, equity, and environmental challenges we face by putting together the most sweeping recovery program since World War II. It’s centered on some $3 trillion in public investments, and up to $1 trillion more in tax incentives, to help do things like repair the nation’s aging bridges, ports, and roads; shore up public water systems and schools; and speed the shift toward cleaner, smarter ways to power our future, all while furthering environmental justice and narrowing the opportunity gap.

Biden isn’t tinkering around the edges. This is a grand strategy to ignite the equitable recovery we need by seizing a historic opportunity for progress.

Biden’s plan aligns the country with the need to reduce our reliance on the fossil fuels that are driving climate change. It creates millions of well-paying jobs. It sets the table for a generation of prosperity, and it makes our people healthier, our communities more resilient, and our society more equitable.

Its success will turn largely on the people of Pittsburgh, and its people will reap lasting benefits.

Cradled at the junction of three of the nation’s hardest-working rivers, Pittsburgh relies on 446 bridges and the 17 aging locks and dams that control 200 miles of navigable water along the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers. Upgrades to these critical choke points can avert costly shutdowns and ensure safer, more efficient transport through the crossroads of the industrial heartland.

Up to 10 million U.S. homes still get water through aging lead pipes, thousands of them in Pittsburgh, exposing families to a neurotoxin that’s especially damaging to young children. Biden’s plan will help cities like Pittsburgh replace these dangerous pipes.

And, with more than 100,000 abandoned oil and gas wells nationwide, Biden’s plan will put pipe fitters, machinists, and others to work capping these dangerous wells, many of them near Pittsburgh.

In the past several years, companies have abandoned about 3,000 wells around the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania—including this oil drilling project—leaving behind cleanup responsibilities that could cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

Jobs from this investment will be an economic lifeline to workers in Pittsburgh, where unemployment is at 8.4 percent and roughly a third of the labor force works in construction, manufacturing, trade, transportation, and utilities.

Biden’s “Buy American” policy means the region will benefit not only from local infrastructure improvements but from making and shipping steel, glass, aluminum, and other materials to help make upgrades elsewhere.

Finally, as a research and educational hub, Pittsburgh is developing the emerging technologies, advanced manufacturing practices, and high-performance materials the country needs to confront the climate crisis.

The science is clear: We’ve got to cut the carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels in half by 2030, and stop adding it to the atmosphere altogether by 2050, to avert the worst consequences of climate change. Biden’s plan includes a down payment on the $2 trillion he’s promised in clean energy investments to help us get all our electricity without fossil fuels by 2035 and transition to a 100 percent clean economy by 2050.

That, too, means jobs.

When the pandemic hit, clean energy jobs were growing across Pennsylvania five times faster than state employment overall, with nearly 94,000 workers making homes and workplaces more efficient, expanding solar power, and modernizing the electric grid. Biden’s plan will add up to 243,000 new clean energy and infrastructure jobs statewide, a January study suggests, for steelworkers, electricians, truck drivers, and others.

By directing 40 percent of clean energy investment to the low-income communities and people of color who pay the highest price for climate hazard and harm, this plan delivers jobs and other benefits to the people who need help the most. And by cutting the nation’s carbon footprint, this investment will help us confront rising climate dangers and costs: Floods and storms that wash out bridges. Wildfires that can shut down roads. Record rains that leave crops rotting in the fields. Rising temperatures that can reduce dairy production and increase the numbers of deer ticks that can transmit Lyme disease. And more.

For Biden’s grand vision to succeed, workers must be able to transition out of traditional energy jobs with secure pensions intact, good health care coverage, extended unemployment benefits, and the training to tap into clean energy opportunities. Local groups must have a say in planning projects in their communities. And we must all urge Congress to support this plan, so we can get our economy humming again and create healthier, more resilient, and more equitable communities—in Pittsburgh and across the country.

Urge President Biden to move to zero emissions for vehicles and power plants

About the Authors

Mitchell Bernard

President and Chief Counsel

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.