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July 24, 2014

The EPA's Clean Power Plan: A Chance to Get It Right for Workers, Communities, and Our Climate

ActonclimateLast month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan, the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants.   Besides re-establishing the United States as a leader in the drive to reduce the carbon pollution that is disrupting our planet's climate and threatening civilization itself, the Clean Power Plan will spur the growth of cleaner energy sources and energy efficiency, maintain and create family-sustaining jobs, and ensure America's infrastructure is prepared for the impacts of climate change.

Next week, the EPA is holding four hearings around the country; in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Denver, and Washington DC. Some people will be arguing for protecting the environment. Some people will be arguing for good jobs. What we all need to keep in mind is that these two things are not in conflict -- the Clean Power Plan lets us do both.  

From a union perspective, the Clean Power Plan presents a tremendous organizing opportunity in every state of the nation. That's because the EPA has structured the plan to give each state, or groups of states, enough time to comply in a way best suited for their local economies, meaning they can create their own plans to protect existing jobs and spur the creation of new ones all while reducing pollution. In fact, states have until 2015 to put a plan in place, until between 2020 and 2029 to meet reduction goals, and until 2030 to meet final targets, meaning they have time to make any needed adjustments to accommodate local needs.  

We should use the next two years to come together, talk through our differences, and find common ground to get this done in the best way possible. That's because both the Clean Power Plan and the transition to a clean economy are NOT about "jobs versus the environment" --- they are about creating good jobs in healthy communities on a living planet.   

The tools states can use include making existing plants more efficient and effective, increasing renewable energy sources, and increasing energy efficiency. And all of these can help create jobs.  As Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) said about the Clean Power Plan,

"It seems pretty clear that you're giving an incentive for states to put in more solar panels, erect more wind turbines, weatherize more homes, install more energy-efficient appliances and machinery. This is the direction we're heading -- these are jobs that pay well, they can't be exported, they're here to stay.”

That's one of the reasons the BlueGreen Alliance (a coalition of 15 unions and environmental organizations representing nearly 16 million people) is supporting the Plan. BlueGreen Alliance leaders have also been urging the EPA - and the administration broadly - to consider how working families have been affected by America's energy transition, and how they will be affected. The President responded by appointing Jason Walsh (formerly of the BlueGreen Alliance) to head an interagency effort to help ensure the Clean Power Plan does just that, by protecting workers affected by the transition away from fossil fuels to good-paying clean energy jobs.

The good news is that renewable energy and energy efficiency investments create far more jobs per dollar spent than fossil fuels -- including natural gas.  Specifically, a clean-energy investment agenda generates more than three times the number of jobs within the United States as does spending the same amount of money in the fossil fuel sectors.   And, the clean energy sector is growing at a rate nearly double the growth rate of the overall economy.  In fact, according to 2010 analysis from the Brookings Institution and Battelle, the clean energy economy already directly employs 300,000 more people than the fossil fuel industry.  These numbers will only increase as the clean energy economy grows.

If done properly, retooling our economy for clean energy - which the Clean Power Plan would help do -- will lead to a massive expansion of good jobs, providing one of the biggest opportunities for growth of the labor movement over the next generation.

However, the market alone will not create a fair and just clean energy economy. For that to happen, we must reverse the destructive policies of at least the past 35 years, that have seen workers' rights eroded as manufacturing moves offshore, union density at historic lows while the middle class is endangered, and a widening chasm between the wealthiest one percent and everyone else that has disproportionately hurt people of color, undocumented immigrants, and women.

That's why the Sierra Club and our allies are determined to work to ensure the implementation of the Clean Power Plan is strong AND JUST. That means:

  • Ensuring that workers and communities affected by the phasing out of fossil fuels are treated fairly and justly;
  • The jobs the Plan creates are family-sustaining union jobs;
  • Disadvantaged communities receive equitable access to clean energy-related economic opportunities.

The Sierra Club has been involved for many years in discussions with our partners in the labor movement about how to make a fair and just transition that protects workers and communities that have depended on fossil fuels. Now is the time for all of us to turn those discussions into action.  

In developing and advocating a strong and just Clean Power Plan, we should be guided by working with representatives of the affected communities, like the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). We need to build momentum for a major funding stream to help workers and communities in Appalachia and other hard-pressed regions to heal their land and water and have real family-supporting jobs,.  

Most of all, we need to continue working together, and refuse to be divided by our common enemies. Beyond some unions that legitimately fear harmful effects on their members, the attacks on the Clean Power Plan are coming from the same anti-union corporate polluters that have sought to destroy the labor movement and fought any attempt to address global climate disruption for decades.

Anytime there’s a proposal to protect workers or clean up air or water pollution, you can count on the Chamber of Commerce and their ilk will come out with a forecast of economic disaster. You can also count on them to be dead wrong. The Washington Post Fact Checker gave the Chamber's dire prediction that the Clean Power Plan would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars Four Pinocchios, the rating received for only the most egregious whoppers. Its history repeating itself, as the Chamber has made false claims about economic costs on everything from  acid rain protections in 1990, to smog reduction measures of 1997, to mercury standards of 2011.
 
Having endured recent years where climate disruption contributed to damaging floods, widespread wildfires, record drought, and Superstorm Sandy, which together cost Americans hundreds of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, we can't afford to wait any longer to act. For the health and welfare of Americans, for the nation's economy, and for the stability of the planet, now is the time for the labor and environmental movements to come together for a Plan that dramatically reduces pollution from America's power plants, increases the energy efficiency of our economy, and reduces the threat of climate disruption.

-- Dean Hubbard, director of the Sierra Club's Labor Program

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