Today the EPA took the historic step of proposing to regulate existing electrical generation power plants in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA’s proposal will result in significant changes throughout a broad swath of our economy. These changes will not be easy to achieve.
We must take every measure to maintain the reliability of the nation’s electrical system. We should strive to enhance fuel diversity and make continued significant investments in an all-of-the-above technology portfolio, including nuclear power and carbon capture and storage.
It is widely understood that if the United States acts to reduce climate pollution, but nations like China and India do not, the trajectory of climate change damage will not be mitigated. That’s why deploying cost-effective carbon capture and storage is essential: China and other developing nations are not in a position to significantly reduce their use of coal any time soon.
And if other nations don’t act, our economy could wind up at a cost disadvantage, shifting jobs and emissions overseas. Still, 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 the world’s governments to measures that help people. Absent a strong agreement, the premise underlying unilateral emissions reductions will face a reexamination.
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?
If nothing happens, we will create more places like McDowell County, West Virginia, where the economy and the schools were devastated after coal production declined. 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.
Solving the most global of problems will come with a very heavy cost to many communities. Will any climate-activist billionaires form business plans and drive investment to these places? Will the Republican Party leadership allow the government to help, or will it exploit the suffering for political purposes?
If the final rule incentivizes more energy efficiency and more renewable energy, it matters to the nation whether the jobs created pay a middle-class wage, or are of the low-wage variety with few benefits. Will any of the new jobs go to people who lose jobs because of changes in the energy sector?
These are the questions that working men and women will ask about our efforts to mitigate climate change, with some left wondering if their employer or their community will come out of this okay.
And these are the challenges our nation must meet as we change our energy sector and build new industries. The AFL-CIO and the entire labor movement will fight to make sure that our efforts to prevent climate change are as good for working families as they are for the planet, and that will be the true measure of success.
Contact: Amaya Smith (202) 637-5018