Three months ago, the Clean Jobs for Pennsylvania coalition formed to fight for Three Mile Island’s future. What’s changed since then?
Not much, officials concede. And that’s the problem.
The iconic nuclear plant, situated on a Susquehanna River island in Londonderry Township, is still facing closure in 2019, as operator Exelon Corp. says it cannot continue to operate the money-losing facility unless state officials enact legislation favorable to the struggling nuclear industry.
State officials, meanwhile, have more immediate issues on their plate — most pressing being the need to pass a budget.
Dauphin County Commissioner and coalition co-chairman Mike Pries acknowledged that point during a news conference Tuesday at the Tattered Flag brewery in Middletown, a few miles from the plant.
But he had a message for them.
“We need the governor and the state legislature to step up to the plate and get this done,” Pries said.
The event and venue were chosen to remind lawmakers and the public that the clock is still ticking on TMI’s future — and with it, on the economic boost that the plant and its workers have on local municipalities and businesses, such as the brewpub.
TMI employs 675 full-time workers from Dauphin, Lancaster, York and surrounding counties, and has a payroll of $60 million. As well, biennial refueling outages at the plant — the latest is now underway — bring in an additional 1,200 skilled tradespeople, many of whom patronize area businesses, including Tattered Flag.
“These workers use as many as 36,000 hotel room nights over the course of the outages, while also eating and shopping in local establishments,” said Tattered Flag co-owner Pat Devlin, whose operation employs about 30 people.
“It would be a big blow to lose them,” Devlin said of TMI’s workers.
An official with the union that represents many of those workers agreed.
“TMI and these regular refueling and maintenance outages provide good pay for specialized workers,” said John Levengood, president of IBEW Local 777.
“At the same time, the workers deliver an influx of economic benefits to the community,” Levengood added, saying it is “a very depressing time for those individuals.”
“Policy change is needed to ensure these jobs stay in the community,” Levengood said.
So far, however, there has been little formal discussion in the capitol about crafting legislation to give tax incentives to nuclear power in Pennsylvania, which is something Pries and the coalition say other states have successfully done.
They argue that supporting TMI and the nuclear industry will help level the playing field as it looks to compete against cheaper natural gas and other non-fossil sources which do receive government support.
That is needed not just to aid TMI, Pries added, but to help all of the state’s nuclear plants, which provide 40 percent of Pennsylvania’s power and create millions of dollars in economic impact through employment, taxes and purchase of services.
At the same time, any such move is facing opposition from forces aligned with the gas and oil industries, who argue that public support for “bailing out” the struggling nuclear industry is tepid at best.
Pries, Devlin and Levengood were joined by elected officials from Londonderry Township and York County during Tuesday’s event.
“There are thousands of people who aren’t here today, but we are speaking for them,” Pries said. “We all suffer if TMI closes.”