Friday, June 27, 2003

Workers are From Mars, Environmentalists are From Venus?

Solution: Just Transition

The alleged conflict between people who are tired of polluted air and water and people who need to work for a living -- especially in the energy producing industry -- is as old as the conflict between dogs and cats. And as unnecessary. Do environmentalists and unions need to be on opposing sides fighting over drilling in Alaska, global warming and automobile fuel efficiency standards?

Not necessarily, argues Jim Young in an article about the Just Transition movement in the Sierra Club magazine.

Just Transition "advocates financial support, health care, and retraining for employees displaced by environmental regulation, and would be funded by a tax on pollution." And how does that work?
One recent transition proposal calls for two years of full, unconditional wage replacement and up to four years of full-time training or educational benefits, stipends for another two years for those who remain in training, health insurance, and retirement contributions. The proposal estimates its cost would average $122,000 per worker, or about 150 percent of the average amount lost by a dislocated worker. The taxĂ‚–on fossil-fuel production and energy-intensive manufacturingĂ‚–plus a small surcharge on nuclear and hydroelectric power, would be phased in over a five-year period, increasing to $50 per ton of carbon emitted, roughly equal to 13 cents per gallon of gasoline.
Costly? Perhaps, but why should workers be the only ones to pay (with their jobs) for a clean environment that benefits everyone?
It's supported by the Blue/Green Working Group, which includes the United Steelworkers of America, District 11; the Service Employees International Union; and the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees (UNITE!). It is led on the environmental side by the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
It won't be easy, but ultimately, it's the only way we will protect the environment, workers' livelihoods AND put workers and environmentalists on the same side where they belong.