ORVI Insider – Volume 2

The newsletter of the Ohio River Valley Institute


As we reflect on Labor Day, a day to honor the significant contributions of the American worker, we are also reflecting on the continued importance of the labor movement in our region and the role of the working class in shaping a more equitable and prosperous future.

This edition of our newsletter features Ohio River Valley Institute Advisory Council member John Russo, who has made significant contributions to the study of labor and the working class in the Ohio Valley and throughout the nation. In addition, we feature research on why the economic impacts of an Appalachian petrochemical buildout won’t meet expectations, the challenge of microplastics pollution and demand for single-use plastics, and the fight over ballot drop boxes in Pennsylvania leading up to the November election. 

Advisor’s Corner: Meet Advisory Council Member Dr. John Russo

“Discussion of climate change cannot be simple, both because everyone has a stake of some kind in the issue and because even apparently obvious solutions stop relying on coal, for example come with costs that we cannot simply acknowledge and set aside.” 

John Russo is a visiting researcher at Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. With Sherry Lee Linkon, he wrote Steeltown U.S.A.: Work and Memory in Youngstown and edited the collection New Working-Class Studies. Russo was a founder of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University and is the managing editor of the blog Working-Class Perspectives. His political writing has appeared in the New York Times, The Plain Dealer, Bill Moyers and Company, Newgeography and The American Prospect.

Dr. Russo was recently featured in the Business Journal with co-author Sean O’Leary, Senior Researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute. 

ORVI Research Spotlight

Lies, Damned Lies, and Economic Impact Studies: why the economic impacts of an Appalachian petrochemical buildout won’t meet expectations.

The region’s policy makers should always keep in mind that, when economic studies say that a given number of jobs will be “supported” or “created”, those figures express a gross benefit, but not the net benefit, which would have to take into account the costs – something that the American Chemistry Council Appalachian petrochemical study and, before it, the American Petroleum Institute shale gas economic impact study, failed to do.

Pennsylvania’s Fight Over Election Drop Boxes: drop boxes could be a lifeline for voters this year, but that lifeline could also be yanked away.

Pennsylvania is a high-stakes case study demonstrating the vital link between mail service and the right to vote. This year in Pennsylvania and states across the US, drop boxes become more critical than ever in assuring every voter can have their voice heard.

The Macroproblem of Microplastics: consumer demand for plastic goods fuels nurdle pollution in the world’s oceans. 

In a world demanding more and more plastic, preventing nurdle pollution is not easy. In the United States, one logical step would be to enforce laws already on the books, like the Clean Water Act, which requires companies to obtain permission from regulators before they discharge pollutants into bodies of water. By defining nurdles as a pollutant, as California did in 2008, states could regulate and, in theory, prevent nurdle pollution at manufacturing sites. But in an interconnected world of plastics manufacturing and shipping, the most effective solutions to plastic pollution may be simple: to use less.

What We’re Reading at ORVI:

As presidential campaigns heat up leading into and following the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, and the COVID-19 pandemic persists across the country, energy and democracy issues are taking center stage in the news. Our researchers have compiled the top stories of the past week to keep you informed and up to date on key developments in the sectors that matter most to our region.

  • New job board promotes sustainable, clean energy opportunities. (Pittsburgh Business Times) The Reimagine Jobs Showcase shows opportunities in renewable energy; sustainable construction; green chemistry; sustainable/regenerative agriculture; recreation/tourism/hospitality; grid modernization/broadband expansion; sustainable transportation; land reclamation/conservation; and union labor/workforce development.           
  • Unions fracture over climate (Politico) Environmental protection and union jobs are a fault line among Democrats, which will only be magnified nationwide if Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump in November.