If Labor and Greens join forces

IBEW Local 76 apprentices in Washington are learning how to install solar panels — like this one on display Sept. 15 at the BlueGreen Alliance’s Clean and Fair Economy Summit in Olympia, Washington. At the summit, IBEW Local 48 was one of several organizations singled out for praise — for its commitment to electric cars and solar power. (Photos by Alex Garland, courtesy of the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation.)

By Don McIntosh

From the vantage point of the year 2017, it’s not hard to imagine two near-distant futures: one in which humankind rallies to stabilize global climate by using renewable energy to meet human needs, or one where humanity fails to do that, and ends up in a world of superstorms and rising seas, of wars and mass migrations as crop failures create millions of desperate refugees. Either way, the history that will be written in the near-distant future will be about decisions that are being made now.

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“This is a time for labor in particular to be bolder, rather than to hunker down.” — Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson

What role if any will organized labor play in those decisions? One possibility: Labor could ally with environmentalists to speed up the needed transition to a post-fossil-fuel economy— and make sure that it’s a “just transition” that improves economic opportunity for working people. To discuss that prospect, 180 environmental, labor, and political leaders from around the United States met in Olympia, Washington, Sept. 14 and 15 for a “Clean and Fair Economy Summit” organized by the BlueGreen Alliance, a group that unites labor and environmental groups around common issues.

“This is a time for labor in particular to be bolder, rather than to hunker down,” declared Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson.

Other countries are getting busy, converting from fossil fuels to renewable energy, making good on commitments they made at the 2016 Paris Climate Agreement.

But similar commitments made by President Obama are now stalled under President Trump. Unless Trump has a profound change of heart, action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be possible only at the state and local level for the next three-and-a-half years.

It appears the West Coast is moving ahead.

In Oregon, one third of state legislators (all Democrats) have signed on in support of a proposal to set up a “cap-and-invest” program which would generate $690 million a year by auctioning off a gradually declining number of greenhouse gas emission permits — and use that money to fund a transition to alternative energy and efficiency. Advocates are looking to the Democrat-led Oregon Legislature to pass it when it meets again in February 2018.

“Unless we fight to win now together, we’ll be defeated separately,” said Kim Glas, BlueGreen Alliance executive director.

Meanwhile, in the state of Washington, an unprecedented coalition of labor, environmental and community groups has come together around a carbon tax initiative that could be on the ballot in November 2018. The initiative would raise $1 billion a year for new investments in renewable energy, mass transit and conservation. The alliance comes after Washington labor opposed a 2016 carbon tax ballot measure because it would have used the revenue to cut business taxes instead of investing it in new clean energy infrastructure. It went down 59-41.

“Unless we fight to win now together, we’ll be defeated separately,” said Kim Glas, executive BlueGreen Alliance.

Authors of the pending Oregon and Washington proposals are working carefully to exempt energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries (EITEs) — because it doesn’t help climate or the local economy if added costs shift production to countries that have even more carbon-intensive production.

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