What’s more, Smith says, if environmentalists “don’t support domestic production and fair wages, labor will turn elsewhere.” To nuclear and coal, specifically, where the workforces are unionized.
One State’s Climate Change Challenge
It’s not just low wages that need to be resolved to maintain a healthy alliance. Old feuds between labor and environmentalists erupted anew in Maryland’s bill limiting climate emissions. The debate was prompted by the threat of outsourcing jobs. The Global Warming Solutions Act set a target of reducing greenhouse emissions 25% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Local unions worried this would spur a job exodus.
There was “a lot of poor communication last year [when the bill was introduced],” says Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, an organization instrumental in fighting for the bill. “We were talking at cross-purposes.”
The bill was aimed at such areas as “land use, electricity use, recycling and green buildings,” explains Tidwell. Yet, because the 2008 bill did not specify where emissions would be cut, the manufacturing community, including labor, worried about harsh mandates and fought against it. If environmentalists had closely consulted with unions, Brad Heavner, state director of Environment Maryland, believes, “we could have avoided the fight we had.”
Already feeling beleaguered by the decline of manufacturing in Maryland, several unions opposed the bill. Jim Strong of Maryland’s United Steelworkers points to a Baltimore steel mill that has had three owners in the past few years. Strong cites “a perception in our membership that Maryland government wants to eliminate manufacturing and go to a different type of economy.” The state has aggressively supported the biotech industry. The move to high-tech, high-education jobs to the neglect (perceived or otherwise) of manufacturing revived the old mistrust of environmentalism.
In retrospect, Tidwell gives credence to some of these fears. “If it were held to a Maryland-only carbon-reduction mandate,” he says, “a lot of manufacturing would just go to Pennsylvania.”
Despite last-minute negotiations, the unions worried that an important bill needed further consideration and in 2008, the bill went down in defeat. Yet plans were already underway for its resurrection in a form likely to pass. “Basically, we did build relations, understanding each others’ concerns,” says Strong, and negotiations “started the very next day.” Active support from Maryland’s governor, Martin O”Malley, and the Maryland Department of the Environment was crucial. They sponsored a summit that brought business, labor and environmentalists together. Basically, “O”Malley’s people locked everyone in a room and said, “reach a settlement,”” Tidwell explains.
The compromise bill exempts manufacturing from carbon restrictions until 2016. And in April of 2009, the revamped bill, now known as the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act, passed and was signed by O”Malley. It calls for one of the most ambitious state greenhouse gas reductions in the country—requiring the state to cut 25% of GHG emissions from 2006 levels by 2020.
The negotiations changed the atmosphere between the labor and environmental movements in Maryland. “We agree on a lot of issues,” Strong says. “We support clean technology and environmental growth.” Strong also points to wind turbine projects off Maryland’s shore that will use steel manufactured locally. “At the end of the day we need to make steel, cement, bricks. We need to find technology to make these things and reduce greenhouse gases,” he says.
Scaling Up: The Blue Green Alliance and Climate Change
July of 2008 marked one sign of improved labor-environmental relations, when the Teamsters withdrew from the coalition to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). This was a dramatic switch on a key issue. “The solution to our nation’s energy problems is not ANWR,” explains Hoffa. “We cannot drill our way out. We must find a long-term approach by investing in alternative energy sources, which will create good union jobs.”
But the national scheme to cut GHG emissions, now being intensely debated within the Obama administration and among its supporters, has caused some worries in the labor movement. Gordon says he sees “a lot of union support for pricing carbon,” if it’s handled in a way that protects worker interests. In March, four unions and two environmental organizations, the United Steelworkers and Sierra Club among them, endorsed climate-change legislation, an outward sign that the alliance is working. Yet, with the exact scheme undetermined, much of the debate is not taking place in public. The dilemmas of globalization and outsourcing must be dealt with in any agreement endorsed by labor. Gerard, while supporting the idea of a cost on carbon, cautions that it must be structured so that it “doesn’t put North America at a disadvantage.” He points to China’s weak environmental standards.
Gerard argues that the best way to reduce GHG emissions “is global, with all countries working together.” Yet setting national standards holds more immediate promise. Gordon suggests one way this might be done is by charging a price at the border for the carbon cost of a product, effectively an environmental tariff. Countries such as China, India and Germany all have “significant policy behind their own markets,” she says, “so we can’t compete now.” Unless the U.S. is willing to “invest in workforce development and in our manufacturing sector,” she sees the country falling further behind.
Meanwhile, the alliance continues to work on a tough climate change bill. In April, the United Steelworkers and the Environmental Defense Fund launched a series of environmental ads supporting cap and trade, a method of controlling emissions through a market system, where a federal cap on emissions is set and businesses that pollute less can trade credits to heavier polluters, who must buy the credits to meet the emissions cap. The Steelworkers also played a part in negotiations forging the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, new climate legislation that passed the House of Representatives in June 2009 that includes cap-and-trade provisions, renewable requirements for utilities, and incentives for energy-efficient upgrades. By September 2009, Senate Democrats had submitted an even tougher draft version of the bill sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.). This bill calls for cutting emissions 20% by 2020 and 83% by 2050, includes investments in clean energy and energy-efficient transportation and renames cap-and-trade requirements “pollution reduction and investment incentives.” But with Congress focused on health care reform, quick passage of the bill is not likely.
The worry with such legislation, say labor leaders, is what the steelworkers refer to as “leakage,” the loss of jobs to countries that don’t require carbon reduction and the costs—even short-term costs—that entails. Simultaneously, “leakage” refers to the degradation of carbon caps when production moves to these countries, allowing emissions to continue. In other words: exporting pollution abroad.
Roxanne Brown, assistant legislative director for the United Steelworkers, explains two provisions critical to preventing leakage. Transition assistance to energy-intensive industries, a provision included in the American Clean Energy and Security Act, would “come in the form of rebates for indirect and direct compliance costs and would be pegged to efficiency.” Border measures, the second, and more long-term, provision, would charge for the embedded carbon in products coming into the U.S. from nations without similar policies. It would, for instance, “account for carbon in a ton of steel from China,” says Brown. Opponents of the border provision question whether such charges are allowable under international trade agreements, but Brown believes that if structured correctly, a border measure could “withstand a challenge at the World Trade Organization.”
On June 25, after intense negotiation, the United Steel Workers, convinced that safeguards on jobs were in place, endorsed the bill, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives the very next day. While the bill undergoes scrutiny in the Senate, the Blue Green Alliance still has reason to celebrate. They held fast, worked to strengthen each others’ positions and won an unprecedented victory. The coalition of labor and environmental leaders has united behind the promise of green jobs. However, the question of scale, of whether and how much these problems should be handled locally, nationally or internationally, remains. The conundrum of globalization that helped spark the current alliance has yet to be resolved.