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Environment & Energy

Unions Call For Local Jobs to be Part of Green Energy Future

The theme of taking action today to combat climate change tomorrow ran rampant through Tuesday’s BlueGreen Alliance roundtable on president Obama’s recently released climate change plan. 

While the event spent very little time talking about the specifics of the president’s plan, it did offer several opinions on making sure climate control efforts also benefit the local economy.

United Steelworkers International (USW) President Leo Gerard jumped quickly on the idea of upgrading various types of infrastructure to both create construction jobs and reduce greenhouse emissions. But he warned that any government spending on such projects must have a “buy local” provision. 

“For every ton of steel that comes from China they produce three to five times the amount of carbon emissions just to produce it,” Gerard said.  “Let alone that they got to … ship the steel from (the mill) to a port, put it on a boat, ship it to America (probably the west coast), then ship it by rail and truck to the east coast.”

During the hour-and-a-half event at the USW’s downtown office building, Gerard noted that the union is just about to launch a program to upgrade the building’s infrastructure system and that the work would pay for itself in 18 years through energy savings.

“There’s no reason why we couldn’t be helping schools to do that, we couldn’t be helping public buildings to do that, we should have federal dollars to help the state and municipalities upgrade their buildings,” Gerard said.  “We would create jobs and fix the environment.”

Gerard was joined by Allegheny County Labor Council President Jack Shea in calling for action beyond the event.  Both men encouraged everyone in attendance to vote for politicians that would help the president implement his plan, and Shea said it was up to the unions to lead the charge in making energy production in the future, including production using natural gas and coal, safe and green.

“We started in the deep mines they were treacherous, they were unsafe, but labor did not wait until they became clean and safe … We got into the (steel) mills, that was never a safe environment, but it got a lot safer once the United Steel Workers and other unions got in there and got on those safety committees and helped it get better,” Shea said.