Can Environmental Mandates Reverse Pittsburgh’s Decline?

President Trump summed up his opposition to the Paris Climate Accord by saying he was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris. In response, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order honoring Pittsburgh's commitment to the climate agreement. Peduto remarked: “This exposure will show Pittsburgh as a shining example of how you can change an economy through innovation, if you're willing to be a part of understanding where the future is.”

Sadly, Pittsburgh’s economy is anything but an example for others to emulate. The city is losing population, public schools are underperforming, and poverty exceeds the national average. Instead of doubling down on mandates and subsidizing alternative energy companies, Mayor Peduto should focus on five obstacles to the city's success.

  1. Population Decline: Pittsburgh lost population in the latest Census figures and has lost 2,100 residents since 2010. The city dropped four spots in population ranking since 2013.
    • The Pittsburgh Metro Area lost 11,742 residents in net domestic migration –residents moving out for better economic opportunities.
  2. Underperforming Schools: Pittsburgh schools’ graduation rate was only 83% in 2015-16.
    • Only 51% of High School students were proficient on the Algebra 1 Keystone, and only 66% on the Literature Keystone.
    • Low achievement is not for lack of funds. The district spends $23,146 per student – 31st among Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.
  3. High Unemployment: Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate of 4.7% exceeds the national average of 4.1%. 
    • Since 2000, the city has seen virtually no job growth.
  4. High Poverty: The city’s poverty rate of 22.9% is almost 10 points higher than the national rate. In addition. Pittsburgh has among the worst racial disparities in education, employment, and healthcare in the nation.
  5. Below Average Income: The median household income for Pittsburgh is $40,715; that’s $13,000 less than the national average. 
    • In real dollars, the median income has barely grown (0.5%, adjusted for inflation) for Pittsburgh families.

Mayor Peduto is not alone in focusing on climate mandates instead of attracting new residents. Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) issued a statement revealing plans to introduce legislation requiring the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to adopt President Obama’s Clean Power Plan regulations, even though he voted to delay those regulations last year.

Achieving 100 percent renewable electricity consumption for municipal operations or reducing energy consumption by 50 percent by 2023 may sound positive, but the track record of these government-directed initiatives reveals little success in reducing carbon and much to harm local economies. In fact, the Heritage Foundation estimates the Paris Agreement would cost 28,926 Pennsylvania jobs by 2023. NERA estimates a loss of 26,000 full-time jobs by 2025.

Worse, many local officials are actively fighting against the very things that could make Pittsburgh a destination city. For example, Mayor Peduto opposed natural gas drilling while on City Council, an industry that’s created thousands of jobs in the region.

Pittsburgh’s stagnant economy and fleeing population mirror the problems of Pennsylvania as a whole. Increasing educational choice for parents, emphasizing work in anti-poverty programs, and lowering taxes will do more to spur innovation and grow the Steel City than any executive order.