November 2010, Week 5


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Tue, 30 Nov 2010 22:00:16 -0500
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EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gasses Is Good for Labor: Five
Reasons Why

Labor Network for Sustainability
November 30, 2010


With the collapse of climate protection legislation in
Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, acting under a
mandate from the US Supreme Court, is stepping in to regulate
the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change.
At the end of 2009 it issued an "endangerment finding" that
greenhouse gases in the atmosphere "threaten the public
health and welfare of current and future generations." New
regulations are scheduled to go into effect early in 2011.

While American labor unions have been heavily involved in the
discussion of climate legislation and green jobs, since the
defeat of climate legislation few have publicly raised their
voices yet on EPA regulation of greenhouse gasses.  Here are
five reasons they should support it.

1. Labor has identified "green jobs" as the key to its
future.  But recent experience shows that there is no way to
grow green jobs without putting the pressure on to reduce
emissions - that's why green jobs have been growing so slowly
in the US.  EPA regulation is a powerful tool to do that.
Only with such pressure will the many players in the US
economy use whatever subsidies and public investments are
made to actually create green jobs by transitioning to a
lower-GHG basis.  Compared with overall spending in the
economy, spending on environmental protection and clean-up
employs more than twice as many workers in construction (11
percent versus 4 percent) and 25 percent more in
manufacturing (20 percent versus 16 percent). Plant closings
and layoffs in response to environmental regulation are very
rare, affecting only 1/10th of 1 percent of all layoffs
nationwide. Science-based targets and timelines are essential
to spur investment and create green jobs. [More...]

2.  US standards are necessary to keep other countries from
capturing the entire climate protection industry.  In the
absence of carbon reduction policies, US companies have
little incentive to invest in low-carbon energy technologies
like wind and solar.  As a result, corporations have actually
been taking manufacturing jobs away from the US and moving
them to countries like China that are investing heavily in
carbon-reducing technologies.  A strong domestic clean-energy
industry will only develop when we have a strong domestic
demand for clean energy.  Right now EPA regulation is a
crucial means to achieve that.

3.  EPA regulation will strengthen domestic manufacturing.  A
recent study by the World Resources Institute shows that new
restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions will lead to
corporate investment in energy efficiency.  That in turn will
lead to energy cost savings for American manufacturers.  Not
to mention new jobs created by that investment.

4.  Climate change is already threatening millions of
American jobs.  A study from the University of Maryland
concludes that, "The true economic impact of climate change
is fraught with 'hidden' costs."  These costs will vary
regionally and will put a strain on public sector budgets.
For example, even under current conditions, the combined
storm impact for the nation since 1980 has surpassed $560
billion. More frequent and intense storms would raise the
price tag even higher.  A recent study of the economic
effects of climate change on California found that the
damages if no action is taken will include tens of billions
of dollars per year in direct costs, even higher indirect
costs, and trillions of dollars of assets exposed to climate

5.  Climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions must be
reduced to the level climate science says is acceptable - the
consequences of not doing so are just too devastating.  With
labor-supported climate legislation defeated, EPA regulation
is the primary means available now to get started.  While the
cuts mandated by the EPA are far less than those in labor-
supported climate legislation, and far below targets
established by climate scientists as necessary to avoid the
worst effects of climate change, they do provide an
opportunity to start moving in the right direction.  For the
sake of its members, their communities, and their children,
organized labor must help take the lead.

Of course, the fossil fuel lobby, climate change deniers, and
right-wing ideologues are trying to scare American workers
that climate protection will mean vast loss of jobs.  But
most studies indicate exactly the opposite: money invested in
the transition to clean energy will produce far more jobs
than continuing to expand the use of fossil fuels. For
example, a research group at the University of Massachusetts,
Amherst estimates that $150 billion in clean-energy spending
will generate 1.7 million new jobs.

With so much to gain from effective climate protection,
American labor should strongly support EPA regulation of
greenhouse gasses.  We should be insisting that EPA
regulation maximize the creation of new green jobs.  And we
should be taking the lead in recommending ways to protect any
specific groups of workers from being inadvertently harmed
along the way.  Labor should insist that every worker who may
be adversely affected by climate change policies receive a
package like the "GI Bill of Rights" that provides guaranteed
income during transition, pensions, health care, and
education and financial support for new careers.  And we
should insist that communities dependent on fossil fuel-
related jobs in regions like Appalachia, the Midwest, and the
Gulf Coast be targeted for massive community and regional
development programs focused on new, renewable forms of

Only if organized labor constructively engages with the EPA
regulation process are we likely to have a result that
protects both workers' jobs and the health and welfare of
workers, our children, and our communities.


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