A Superfund for Workers – Providing a Just Transition From the Fossil Fuel Economy

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Writer and historian Jeremy Brecher has some compelling suggestions for “drawing together workers, unions, and allies around a broader program for protecting jobs by protecting the environment” in the November/December issue of Dollars and Sense magazine:

A Superfund for Workers: How to Promote a Just Transition and Break Out of the Jobs vs. Environment Trap.

When the Dominion Corporation proposed, on April 1, 2013, to build a liquefied natural gas export facility at Cove Point, Md., right on the Chesapeake Bay, seven hundred people demonstrated against it and many were arrested in a series of civil disobedience actions. But an open letter endorsing the project maintained it would “create more than 3,000 construction jobs” most of which would go “to local union members.” The letter—on Dominion letterhead—was signed not only by business leaders, but also by twenty local and national trade union leaders.

Similarly, in the struggle over the Keystone XL pipeline, pipeline proponents were quick to seize on the “jobs issue” and tout support from building trades unions and eventually the AFL-CIO. In a press release titled “U.S. Chamber Calls Politically-Charged Decision to Deny Keystone a Job Killer,” the Chamber said President Obama’s denial of the Keystone permit was “sacrificing tens of thousands of good-paying American jobs in the short term, and many more than that in the long term.”

The media repeat the jobs vs. environment frame again and again: an NPR headline on Keystone was typical of many: “Pipeline Decision Pits Jobs Against Environment.” A similar dynamic has marked the “beyond coal” campaign, the fracking battle, and the struggle for EPA regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Is there a persuasive answer to the charge that climate protection policies are job-killers? A common environmentalist response has been that environmental protection produces far more jobs than it eliminates. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson explained, “environmental protection creates jobs—1.7 million of them as of 2008.” It is true that, on balance, environmental policies usually create jobs; unfortunately, this is of little comfort to the small number of workers in fossil-fuel producing and using industries who are likely to lose their jobs as a result of climate protection policies, including coal miners, power-plant workers, and oil refinery workers. And such workers can rapidly become Fox News poster children for the threat posed to workers by climate protection.

Fortunately, a strategy has been emerging to protect workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by climate protection policies.

Read the full story of that superfund strategy here.

 

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