Former state Sen. Pippy to lead coal group |

Former state Sen. Pippy to lead coal group

Former state Sen. John Pippy will announce on Monday that he will become the leader of a new organization representing the state's coal industry.

The Republican, who represented Moon in the Senate from 2003 until June 30, told the Tribune-Review he was hired as CEO of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, which was formed from the merger of the Pennsylvania Coal Association and Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy, or FORCE.

The formal announcement was expected to be made during a news conference at the Sheraton Station Square.

Pippy, 41, a member of the National Guard who has been deployed to Iraq and Kuwait, said he will focus on “telling the positive story of coal” on behalf of the 41,000-member alliance.

“When you have low-cost, reliable energy, you have a better quality of life and an economy that's humming,” Pippy said.

Pippy said his role will be to recruit and engage membership and communicate with the media. Lobbying and government relations work will be handled by George Ellis, president of the Coal Association.

In taking over a statewide advocacy group, Pippy joins a long line of former legislators to make the jump from public office to lobbying or public relations.

“It's something we see quite often,” said Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. Hiring a former representative or senator “can certainly supercharge a lobbying effort,” he said.

In 2010, UPMC hired former state Sen. Sean Logan as its vice president for community relations. The Plum Democrat had served in the Senate since 2000.

Former Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato this year was hired by health insurer Highmark Inc. to head up its public and government relations efforts.

Former Gov. Tom Ridge runs his own lobbying firm, Ridge Policy Group, with offices in Harrisburg and Washington.

Several powerful leaders from other parts of the state, including Robert Jubelirer, David “Chip” Brightbill and Joe Loeper, have settled into lobbying jobs after leaving office, Kauffman said.

Kauffman said organizations hire ex-lawmakers because “they have familiarity with the players, they know the system, they have access to internal information sources that many other people don't have.”

Pippy said he will split his time between FORCE's office in Washington County and the Coal Association's office in Harrisburg. While there will be travel demands, he expects to have more time with family, which he said was a major factor in his announcement in January that he would not seek re-election.

“I've enjoyed my 16 years in office,” he said. “But it's a service job; you put a lot of time and hours in.”

The coal industry is facing a number of pressures, including stronger government regulation and competition from low-cost natural gas produced from the Marcellus shale formation.

But Pippy said the greatest threat comes from Washington, where new regulations meant to clean up air pollution from coal-fired power plants have led to energy companies closing plants. FirstEnergy Corp. and GenOn Energy Inc. have announced plans to close power plants in Pennsylvania and neighboring states rather than pay to upgrade environmental controls.

“The reality is coal provides more than 45 percent of the base load (of electricity),” Pippy said. “Instead of attacking it, the (Obama) administration should be finding ways to make us more efficient.”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or [email protected].

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