A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

‘Jobs vs. environment’ angle is misleading

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., June 2, 3 or 4

Although corporations and mainstream media often repeat the “jobs vs. the environment” angle to situations, that’s a false choice. Instead, the discussion should start with “the need to build a sustainable economy with good-paying jobs … while reducing the threat of climate disruption here and around the world,” as the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs says.

Joblessness, pollution and the future of energy are huge problems, but the nation’s coped with such massive needs before.

“Just as the New Deal in the Great Depression of the 1930s put millions of unemployed people to work doing the jobs America’s communities needed, so today we need a ‘Green New Deal’ to rebuild our energy, transportation, building and other systems to drastically reduce the climate-destroying greenhouse gas pollution they pour into the air,” commented Jeremy Brecher, author of “Global Village or Global Pillage: Economic Reconstruction from the Bottom Up.”

The standard story is imposed on many proposals. There’s the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry 830,000 barrels of "dirty" tar-sands oil across the central United States to Gulf Coast refineries every day; or the Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas export facility in Maryland; or many states’ fracking fights; or the “beyond coal” energy initiatives.

Repeatedly, media frame this as an either/or, “jobs or environment” choice, but that’s misleading.

“To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, if God had intended some people to fight just for the environment and others to fight just for the economy, he would have made some people who could live without money and others who could live without water and air,” Brecher said. “We all need a livelihood and we all need a livable planet to live on. If we don’t address both, we’ll starve together while we’re waiting to fry together.”

Nevertheless, Laborers President Terry O'Sullivan and Building Trades President Sean McGarvey have criticized President Obama’s April announcement that his administration will delay a final deadline for federal agencies to comment on the pipeline.

Keystone's owner, TransCanada – which signed a Project Labor Agreement with the Laborers, Operating Engineers, Teamsters and other unions – has claimed the project would create tens of thousands of jobs at a time when more than one of every nine construction workers is unemployed. But opponents say the number is dramatically inflated.

Meanwhile, the National Nurses United labor union is against the pipeline, saying workers should build “green” projects instead. And in Canada, both the Canadian Auto Workers and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers union – which represents workers in the tar sands and in refineries – also oppose it.

In the East, the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs involved the state AFL-CIO and a variety of labor unions, community organizations, religious groups and environmentalists, all working to find common ground around decent jobs and a clean planet.

Nationally, the BlueGreen Alliance, involving the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club, released a report, “Workers, Communities, and the Clean Energy Economy; Working Together for a Future That Works,” and other labor interests involved with the effort include the Communication Workers of America, the Utility Workers Union of America, and the United AutoWorkers.

UAW president Bob King said, "UAW is proud to have worked side by side with our environmental allies and President Obama to achieve landmark fuel economy standards that will save consumers money at the pump, cut carbon pollution, and create more than half a million new jobs. It is time for us to come together around a bolder vision and a strategy that can end the economic and environmental abuse of our planet and its people.”

Are there win-win solutions?

Two studies from the Labor Network for Sustainability offer hope – and practicality.

The first, “Jobs Beyond Coal: A Manual for Communities, Workers and Environmentalists,” found that in several cases, unions representing workers in coal-fired power plants have supported the planned closing of their highly polluting workplaces – because environmentalists and government officials worked with them to ensure a “just transition” in which workers livelihoods and the needs of their communities were addressed.

The other study, “The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy,” written with assistance from the Economics for Equity and Environment group, says that more jobs for pipeline workers could result from fixing failing water and sewer pipelines than from the pipeline project.

“Smart investments to save energy and resources, along with a sharp focus on green technology and manufacturing and high speed broadband build-out, will produce real benefits in terms of the quality jobs workers need to maintain and improve their standard of living,” said George Kohl, CWA’s Senior Director. “Our 21st century economy must create sustainable communities and good jobs that support working families.”

[PICTURED: Cartoon by Stephanie McMillan from]

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