Op-Ed: Let’s ‘build back’ the right way for working people

Debra Coyle McFadden | September 15, 2021 | Opinion
Clean-energy investment is a way to tackle climate change and at the same time create jobs upon which futures can be built
Debra Coyle McFadden

Investment in renewable energy nationwide, spurred by President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” campaign, represents even more than an opportunity to fight back against the health, safety and economic threats from climate change.

Done right, it also has the potential to dramatically make work pay again for millions of Americans who’ve been shoved aside for too many years in an economy where the rich got richer and — well, you know the rest.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to redefine the kinds of work people do and, in the process, reshape our economy and restore our communities.

Doing it right means building on the strength of union workers as the core of a new green economy. Americans don’t just need jobs. They need good jobs that offer the pay and staying power that enable families to once again build a future.

It’s particularly important for renewable energy development to prioritize robust investment in developing a domestic, low-carbon manufacturing supply chain. Manufacturing can again offer careers and last decades — even centuries — far beyond the few years it takes to construct a wind farm. Such jobs and such an economy are key to the long-term revitalization of communities and rebuilding of a strong middle class.

An excellent example of this kind of forward thinking is taking place in Maryland. US Wind signed an agreement with the United Steelworkers (USW) union to create 500 permanent, full-time manufacturing jobs at Sparrows Point Steel, the former home of Bethlehem Steel near Baltimore. US Wind is projected to spend $150 million converting a portion of the site into a facility to build monopile foundations for wind turbines. Monopiles are massive steel structures, weighing up to 2,400 tons. This commitment to USW will ensure the jobs being created to help power Maryland’s clean-energy economy will be good-paying union jobs.

Offshore wind represents a critical opportunity to reinvigorate the steel industry. U.S.-made steel is a key component of a low-carbon domestic supply chain where domestic sourcing and local manufacturing create U.S. jobs and help cut the hefty carbon footprint of international shipping.

Jobs in New Jersey

Here in New Jersey, the Paulsboro Marine Terminal is another long-term investment in manufacturing. The state announced plans in December to invest $250 million to build the nation’s largest offshore wind manufacturing facility. This factory on the remediated site of a former BP refinery is projected to create 500 jobs in the manufacturing of steel monopile turbine components for use in offshore wind construction nationwide. Gov. Phil Murphy stated that the jobs will be “high paying and overwhelmingly union.”

And the New Jersey Wind Port in Lower Alloways Creek, Salem County will also support new union jobs. The first port in the country to be built for the specific purpose of offshore wind marshaling and manufacturing, the facility will serve as a site to construct and repair wind turbines used to generate electrical power up and down the East Coast. The state envisions the creation of 1,500 permanent jobs in construction, assembly and operations once the port is fully built.

All three of these projects show that manufacturing jobs — and the stable livelihoods and thriving communities they support — don’t have to be left behind as the nation reckons with the consequences of climate change.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland put it well when he said Sparrows Point can be “a win for our economy, our environment, and — most importantly — workers.”

We need all three wins, and if we do this right, we can have them. This is just the beginning of the manufacturing revolution in New Jersey and on the East Coast. Let’s make sure we fully use this once-in-a-generation opportunity to create good-paying, family-sustaining union jobs.

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