Wed, May 22, 2019 - Page 9 News List

New York aims to fight climate change by
creating green union jobs

An effort to build offshore wind turbines to power up to 6 million homes would create more than 10,000 jobs under the Climate Jobs New York plan

By Steven Greenhouse  /  The Guardian

Illustration: Mountain People

As global warming has worsened in the past few years, environmentalists and union members have often protested against each other, whether over fracking, oil pipelines, coal production or the Green New Deal.

However, an innovative new labor-environmentalist effort in New York — to build offshore wind turbines to power up to 6 million homes — is a sharp departure from all that feuding, and shows that these two groups can work together to advance renewable energy and reduce dependence on carbon-based energy.

Giving the plan a vital boost, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced plans to have the state’s energy authority invest billions of US dollars to build hundreds of offshore wind turbines.

For Cuomo, the plan is key to New York state’s ambitious mandate to obtain 70 percent of its energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, by 2030.

Pushed by a professor at Cornell University, more than a dozen unions came together to develop what they call Climate Jobs New York, a plan that they say would create more than 10,000 jobs — jobs that they agree should be middle-class, union jobs.

“We brought together more than a dozen unions, and said things are not good at the national level in terms of how unions are relating to environmental organizations and the climate movement,” said Lara Skinner, the labor relations professor at Cornell who spearheaded the effort.

She said that several unions were furious at environmentalists for opposing fracking and the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines, which many unions viewed as a boon for job creation.

“Climate change impacts working people,” Skinner said. “There are some major opportunities here for labor if we can get ahead of this thing. What we’ve done is a very investment-led strategy, a very jobs-led strategy.”

The offshore wind turbines are at the heart of the climate plan the unions developed, but it also calls for installing more solar panels, improving and expanding mass transit and renovating buildings to make them more energy-efficient.

The unions’ plan talks repeatedly of a “just transition” so that workers who lose good-paying jobs when, for instance, coal-fired power plants close could be trained for good-paying new renewable energy jobs.

“This is a very practical approach in that we’re not going to the extreme saying tomorrow there should be no fossil fuel. We understand that an immediate transition is not going to happen,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, a federation of construction unions.

“We recognize that our climate is in danger and climate change is real. We’re certainly concerned about future generations,” he said.

In an unusual move, more than a dozen unions and labor federations developed the climate plan, without inviting environmental groups to participate in the early discussions.

One fear was that if the two sides were together from the start, there might be fights over fracking and pipelines that blew up, and prevented progress on other fronts.

One union leader involved in the effort said: “The labor movement and environmental community agree on probably 90 percent of things, so we shouldn’t focus on the things that are going to destroy goodwill.”

In the US, just 30 megawatts (MW) of energy are obtained from offshore wind — a wind farm with five turbines off Rhode Island.

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