Union Leaders, Except UMW’s Roberts, Back Obama Carbon Cut Plan; Trumka, Others, Worry About Jobs

WASHINGTON –Except for United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, selected union leaders endorsed the Obama Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule ordering existing coal-fired power plants to cut their carbon emissions by 2020.
Backers included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Roberts’ predecessor as UMW’s chief.  But Trumka, and all the others,  warned the cuts must be done the right way so that thousands of U.S. jobs would not go up in smoke.  And new jobs created by “green” technologies should be well-paying family-supporting jobs, they said.
The proposal, announced by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy on June 2, orders existing coal-fired plants to cut carbon emissions by 702,000 short tons by 2020, compared to emissions in 2005.  The carbon/greenhouse gas emissions lead to global warming.
Environmental groups applauded the cut plan, with one, Public Citizen, noting the affected plants are already halfway to the goal.  Businesses, plus coal-state lawmakers of both parties blasted the cuts, saying they would cost tens of thousands of jobs.  So did Roberts.
Roberts called the EPA plan “a recipe for disaster” for U.S. coalfields, especially those in the East – where UMW is strongest.  He predicted the rule would cost 75,000 direct jobs in coal mines, power plants and railroads by 2020, and 152,000 by 2035.
“That amounts to about a 50 percent cut in these well-paying, highly skilled jobs. When a U.S. government economic multiplier used to calculate the impact of job losses is applied to the entire economy, we estimate that the total impact will be about 485,000 permanent jobs lost.”
“The hammer of the rule will fall the hardest” in the East, rather than in the non-union, mostly strip-mined West, he added.
“And it’s not just that these jobs will be lost, it’s that the ability of companies to continue funding pension and retiree health care benefits will be at great risk. That puts hundreds of thousands more people — mostly senior citizens living on already-low fixed incomes — squarely in the crosshairs of this rule.
“And no one — no one — can point to a significant reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions that is guaranteed to come from this rule,” Roberts said.  He challenged statements by Trumka and McCarthy that other nations, notably China and India, would follow the U.S. lead and cut their greenhouse-gas emissions. Instead, those nations’ emissions will increase and they’ll grab more U.S. jobs, industry and national wealth, he said.
The government, Roberts said, decided that coal miners, after 100 years of supplying U.S. energy needs, should be “out of sight and kicked to the curb” and “soon forgotten.” He vowed:  “If that is the choice before us, we will not go quietly.  We will not be out of sight.  We will not be forgotten.  You will hear from us.”
Trumka said “President Obama is right to lead on this issue,  since other nations won’t act if the United States does not. Acting first can confer long-term advantages — if we do it right.
“Moving forward now increases the pressure to conclude a climate treaty that binds all nations to action, doesn’t disadvantage the U.S. economy, and explicitly commits governments to measures that help people.
“However, the immediate focus for the labor movement will be what happens right here at home: Will our efforts to fight climate change be another excuse to beat down working Americans, or will we use this opportunity to lift employment standards, to create good jobs in places that need them, to make sure that the promise of a decent retirement after decades of dangerous, difficult work is honored?”
“We must think seriously about the nature of our national commitment to the people and communities who will suffer, through no fault of their own, because of the need to reduce climate-altering pollution,” he warned.
Trumka also challenged billionaire climate-change backers to create business plans and invest in the coal towns and asked whether the GOP leadership “allow the government to help, or will it exploit the suffering for political purposes?”
The initial answer to his political question is “no.”  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kent., accused Obama of trashing his coal state in favor of catering to environmentalists in New York and California. But coal-state Democrats also blasted EPA.
Statements from other union leaders, compiled by the BlueGreen Alliance, a joint union-environmentalist group, showed support for the EPA’s rules:
Steel Workers President Leo Gerard said “Obama has taken steps to address climate change at a time when it has never been more important.  The president and EPA have crafted a proposal that is a starting point for even more important work yet to come.”  The Steel Workers co-founded the alliance and Gerard co-chairs it.
Communications Workers President Larry Cohen called the EPA plan “a starting point in a much-needed effort to address both climate change and the need to keep and create good jobs in our communities.” He also used EPA”s plan to take another, deserved, shot at a GOP-hamstrung Congress.  Republican filibuster threats killed a comprehensive climate change bill in 2010.
“Because we have a Senate that doesn’t function, many opportunities for positive change, whether in restoring workers’ rights or supporting cleaner energy initiatives, have been lost.  As we build a movement of progressive activists who are committed to real change on these and other critical issues, we appreciate the president’s action to limit carbon pollution while encouraging more-efficient energy sources,” Cohen said
Utility Workers President Mike Langford warned that U.S. “workers must come out ahead and the electric grid must be strengthened.” Workers and communities must be ”able to navigate this transition as smoothly as possible and the infrastructure is put in place to ensure reliability of the grid.  That means investing in infrastructure, minimizing disruption and that affected workers and their communities receive direct support through wages, benefits, training and education.”
Plumbers and Pipefitters President William Hite agreed with Langford.  “Proposed existing source standards can be written and implemented effectively, so long as they strive for maximum flexibility while also continuing to meet high standards of power reliability, foster economic stability and meet our environmental responsibilities,” Hite said.
Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry praised Obama’s “strong leadership in addressing climate change to protect our families and communities.  Over our history, we have seen leaders make other decisions in the midst of difficult times – from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to efforts to strengthen the rights of working people at the beginning of the labor movement – that today are making a tremendous difference in our lives.  This will have a similar lasting impact.”
Teachers President Randi Weingarten said Obama’s plan will make kids healthier. “We strongly support the EPA’s proposed plan to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants. Nearly 7 million children suffer from asthma, and every day, 36,000 children miss school due to asthma.  A cleaner environment will provide a healthier life for today¹s children and families and for generations to come,” she said.
-PAI