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‘We’ve been waiting for this’: Union workers cheer Biden’s hydrogen hub plan

Federal funding for the hub is estimated to bring over 20,000 jobs to the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware area.

By Anna Gustafson - October 17, 2023
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US President Joseph Biden delivers remarks outlining plans for the investment in seven regional clean hydrogen energy hubs during a visit to Tioga Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, PA, on October 13, 2023.
US President Joseph Biden delivers remarks outlining plans for the investment in seven regional clean hydrogen energy hubs during a visit to Tioga Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, PA, on October 13, 2023. (Bastiaan Slabbers/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

When President Joe Biden arrived Friday at Philadelphia’s Tioga Marine Terminal to announce a $7 billion initiative meant to curb carbon dioxide emissions and vastly increase the availability of hydrogen as a fuel source, he was, expectedly, greeted by an audience packed with high-profile politicians — people like U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney.

Perhaps unbeknownst to the president, however, two men from the Boilermakers Local 13 union, which represents workers in the eastern half of Pennsylvania and a portion of Delaware, were major fans of his speech. Matthew Fink and B.J. Cryder sat at the back of a sea of white folding chairs perched a stone’s throw from the Delaware River, their heads often nodding vigorously in approval of Biden’s statements about creating “good paying jobs, union jobs” at seven regional hydrogen hubs.

Those hubs, including one serving the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware region, will create the hydrogen that the Biden administration hopes will move the country away from fossil fuels. Hydrogen can power vehicles and could potentially be used to supplement or replace the natural gas used by some power plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The U.S. Department of Energy wrote on its website that hydrogen has the “potential for near-zero greenhouse gas emissions.”

“We’ve been waiting for this for a couple years,” Fink said of Biden’s announcement. “It’s going to create a lot of good-paying jobs, and also it’s going to clean up the environment. Hydrogen is the future of energy.”

The Mid-Atlantic Hydrogen Hub, which covers the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Delaware area, is estimated to create 20,800 jobs. Cryder said it’s welcome news for Philadelphia’s troubled manufacturing landscape. The area, he explained, is still reeling from the 2019 closure of a South Philadelphia oil refinery damaged by an on-site explosion, which resulted in about 1,000 layoffs.

Pennsylvania’s manufacturing industry as a whole has experienced significant job loss over the past two decades. The state lost 298,500 manufacturing jobs between January 2000 and July 2023, the most recent month for which federal data is available, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Hopefully it’ll make it easier on them,” Cryder, the president of Boilermakers Local 13, said of people who have lost manufacturing work in the Philadelphia area. “They’ll have good-paying jobs close to home, be able to raise a family a little bit easier, you know, bring pride back to the city of Philadelphia. It’s supplying a lot more union jobs and bringing the jobs back in general.”

The $7 billion funding for hydrogen hubs comes from federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure law provides federal funding to repair crumbling roads, expand internet access in rural areas, invest in ports, replace aging lead pipes, and more. Congress passed the bill in November 2021 with support from all nine of Pennsylvania’s Congressional Democrats. All but one of the state’s eight House Republicans, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, voted against the legislation that Biden signed into law.

In addition to the Mid-Atlantic Hydrogen Hub, southwestern Pennsylvania will also be covered by the Appalachian Hydrogen Hub. The Appalachian site will include West Virginia and Ohio. The remaining five hubs will cover California, Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, and Montana.

The hubs, which create a network of both hydrogen producers and consumers, are part of the Biden administration’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a 100% clean electrical grid by 2035.

“Look, let me get one thing straight about unions,” the president continued. “The reason I’m so pro-union: The middle class built America. Wall Street did not build the middle class. Unions built the middle class.”

Ryan Boyer, the first Black leader of the Philadelphia Building and Constructions Trades Council, introduced the president with a statement regarding the union workers who will benefit from the hydrogen hub jobs. The council is an umbrella organization for about 50 local unions that represent workers in the greater Philadelphia region’s construction industry.

“These jobs and opportunities they present will change the trajectories of many of our communities,” Boyer said.

The union leader went on to rally support for Biden in the upcoming 2024 presidential election.

“Joe Biden has earned our support time and time again,” Boyer said. “Next year we will send him back to the White House to continue this critical and most important work.

“For us and the whole city and the whole region, there’s really no alternative,” Boyer continued. “It’s either Joe Biden or we go to hell in a handbasket.”

Other government officials praised the plan. Granholm, formerly the governor of Michigan, called it the “dawn of a new manufacturing sector right here in the United States.”

“America will create the highest-paying, longest-lasting, cleanest energy jobs in the world,” Granholm said. “This is what a national clean energy policy looks like: projects that bring pride to our workers, work that delivers prosperity and security to our communities, and communities that save money while breathing cleaner air and saving the planet.”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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