New leadership should prioritize pro-growth energy policies

The results of this year’s election, however surprising, make clear that Pennsylvanians want a government that embraces growth and manufacturing jobs. Our state’s unemployment rate, particularly for blue-collar workers, is higher than the national average – and there’s no good reason for that. Smart policy choices, paired with our state’s historic strength in energy, provide an opportunity to deliver jobs for Pennsylvania. So as Congress heads back to Washington to work with the Obama White House for a lame duck session and into its new term next year with the Trump administration, there are a few policy items our federal delegation should turn their attention to. First, the Trump campaign made spending more on infrastructure a priority, as did his opponent’s campaign. Yet entirely too much time and money is wasted trying to navigate state and federal bureaucracies in the hope of getting permit approvals. This goes for public projects, like roads and bridges, as well as private projects, like pipelines and transmission lines – infrastructure we need in order to fully take advantage of the opportunity that Pennsylvania’s coal, gas and nuclear energy resources provide. We would do well to have a streamlined permitting process that allows people to get to work rebuilding our roads and developing the assets needed to move our energy to market faster, as well as leadership in Washington that makes sure the regional offices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, which are involved in key decisions regarding projects that cross wetland habitat areas, are acting in a consistent and predictable manner. That sort of leadership means more money is spent actually building our infrastructure. And when it comes to smart spending of public dollars, Congress should also consider making changes to costly prevailing wage requirements that inflate the cost of building roads and bridges in Pennsylvania and across the country. Further, we’ve made great strides in improving air quality in Pennsylvania, and we can continue that trend without wasting public dollars and costing private sector jobs. Congress should take steps to make sure the EPA allows states to have a more sensible timetable when it comes to implementing costly regulations. For example, one federal air quality rule sets a limit on how much ozone should be in the air. The limit was lowered in 2008 to a more restrictive level, and, before it has even been completely implemented, the EPA lowered it again last year to an even more stringent standard. While the federal EPA crafted the rule, it falls on Pennsylvania’s government to implement it. The process as it stands could require our state to be implementing two different limits at the same time – and putting an unnecessary burden on manufacturers and businesses in the state. Without a more sensible policy, not only might there be an impact on jobs, but there are greater costs throughout the economy – from the price of gasoline to the cost of creating asphalt used on our roads. Speaking of gasoline, it’s clear that the misguided ethanol mandate, which is opposed by a wide array of business groups, consumer advocates and environmental organizations, is continuing to wreak havoc. Gasoline prices could be even lower than what they are now, but for this awful policy – and the refineries in Pennsylvania, which are responsible for employing thousands of employees, are now under increasing financial pressure due to the mandates. As a direct result, layoffs are underway at one refinery in southeast Pennsylvania, and more are possible. There is a solution: Senator Pat Toomey introduced bi-partisan legislation this session that would repeal the mandate, and getting that legislation passed would be great for all of Pennsylvania. There is no good reason that our state’s unemployment should be a full point higher than the national average, with blue-collar jobs in mining, energy and construction taking the greatest hit recently, according to data from the state’s Department of Labor and Industry. There is a better path forward. Voters have sent a clear message, and on behalf of our state’s businesses, we believe these policies are how we can build a stronger economy for everyone. Sunday is director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.