New green world waits in the wings

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Mid-December brought developments at global, national, state and local levels in the race to reverse global warming and grow the economy.

California’s Air Resources Board, Dec. 11, unanimously passed a first-ever comprehensive blueprint to reach the goal set by the state’s groundbreaking legislation — Global Warming Solutions Act — that requires cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. CARB is part of the state’s Environmental Protection Agency.

The plan will cut greenhouse gas emissions, diversify energy sources, save energy, create new jobs and enhance public health. CARB says the so-called “scoping plan” is built on a “balanced mix of strategies” that will cut emission by some 30 percent and “grow the economy in a clean and sustainable direction.”

“California is sending a message to Congress that we can fight global warming and invest in a clean energy economy that spurs job growth and economic security,” Annie Notthoff, California advocacy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

The plan is expected to substantially cut premature deaths, lung disease and lost workdays. The University of California at Berkeley says it can create over 400,000 new efficiency and climate-action-driven jobs.

The day after it approved the blueprint, CARB passed new regulations to sharply cut noxious emissions from the estimated 1 million diesel trucks operating in the state. By 2014, all truck owners must install diesel exhaust filters on their trucks. Owners must replace pre-2010 engines on a staggered schedule by 2022. Long-haul truckers must install fuel-efficient tires and aerodynamic devices on their trailers to lower greenhouse gas emissions and boost fuel economy.

The Union of Concerned Scientists said that by 2020, the new rules would save 1.4 billion gallons of fuel and prevent nearly 10,000 premature deaths and many thousands of hospitalizations for heart and lung diseases.

While CARB emphasized its commitment to make sure disadvantaged communities are not harmed, environmental justice advocates fear the plan’s cap-and-trade provisions will lead to more heavily polluting sites

in low-income and minority communities.

As California was taking action, the latest United Nations conference on climate change was finishing its work. The gathering, to prepare a new global pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions, brought nearly 4,000 delegates and 5,500 observers and journalists to Poznan, Poland Dec. 1-12.

The International Trade Union Confederation delegation of over 100 unionists from more than 40 countries, including over 20 from North America, had “official constituency” status for the first time. Among U.S. unions were steelworkers, farmworkers, mineworkers, utility workers and public sector workers.

The delegation emphasized a “just transition framework” including investment in good union jobs, green technologies and infrastructure, and help for workers displaced or negatively affected by the new treaty’s implementation, whether in developed or developing countries.

“I’ve represented unions in international conferences since the mid-’90s, and this was the best example I’ve seen of overall coordination on strategy,” Carl Wood, national regulatory affairs director for the Utility Workers Union of America, said in a telephone interview.

Wood said labor representatives from more developed countries feel their countries are obligated to help less developed nations with the transition. “From the labor standpoint it’s a seamless web,” he said. “The developing world isn’t responsible for much of the climate change, but they are on the receiving end of the problems. Countries need help to develop in an ecologically sound way.”

Conference participants saw energy efficiency as having great potential for employment, Wood said. Bringing buildings up to energy efficiency standards is very labor intensive, and when it is done in a labor-friendly way, lots of new good union jobs can be created.

Many participants felt the conference was hampered by continued foot-dragging from the lame-duck Bush administration delegation, but expressed confidence that progress for a new treaty to replace the Kyoto agreement will pick up when the new administration takes office.

Cities are also developing their own plans. Earlier this month, the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced a list of more than 11,000 “ready-to-go” infrastructure projects with a price tag of over $73 billion, that it says would create nearly 850,000 jobs in the next two years.

On Dec. 11 the City of Oakland held a public workshop to help develop its Energy and Climate Action Plan. In a far-ranging discussion, participants emphasized the importance of environmental justice measures and the broad benefits to the community from good green jobs.

mbechtel @pww.org