With President Obama's State of the Union address set for today, leaders of the labor-environmental group Blue-Green Alliance called on the president to launch and prioritize a national dialogue on climate change. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, they also underscored a strong need to rebuild the nation's crumbling infrastructure and create new jobs to prepare for future environmental hurdles.
"From Sandy to droughts that covered more than 60 percent of the U.S., the impacts on infrastructure and economy were profound. Our electrical grid is vulnerable; it needs to be made more resilient," said Michael Langford, president of the Utility Workers of America at a Feb. 11 press conference called by the labor and environmental leaders. "By investing in our infrastructure, we can also create good American jobs and make sure our systems are reliable even under threat of climate change."
He and the others outlined six steps for how strong improvements can be made:
1.) Reduce carbon pollution by regulating greenhouse gases emitted by power plants
We are calling for "intensive investment in preparing the country for climate change," said Kevin Knobloch, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and that means "deeply reducing heat-trapping emissions." Though the Obama administration significantly curbed and set limits on carbon and mercury output last year, environmental and labor activists stress that it is not yet enough.
2.) Invest in clean energy manufacturing
"The country is ready for this," said Knobloch. "We have a skilled and ready work force, which we can use to ramp up energy efficiency and begin to lean on solar energy." Even Republican governors, he noted, are beginning to look more closely at solar technology - which is especially significant, given that the Republican Party is notable for its pro-fossil fuels stance and its frequent denial of climate change. "The auto industry is adapting as well, giving consumers cleaner choices."
3.) Update schools/homes/businesses to save energy and reduce emissions
This, activists say, can become a matter of getting the word out; of getting people to recognize the imminence of the threat of climate change. It involves pushing clean energy products, as well. "We need to manufacture clean energy products here in America," said USW president Leo Gerard. It is important to "put forward common-sense steps America can take to be ready for the changing climate."
4.) Rebuild our water systems
"Much infrastructure is still damaged in the wake of Sandy," said Langford. "We need to strengthen" our water systems. "This is something that's do-able, and we should prepare now, rather than lose enormous amounts of money by cleaning up the mess after the fact."
5.) Fix gas pipelines
"Across the country, pipelines are leaking pollution into our air and water," said the Blue-Green Alliance. "We can fix this by fixing existing pipelines and improving oversight and implementing strong safety regulations."
6.) Build a 21st century transportation system
"This will ensure that our nation competes effectively in a global economy," the Alliance concluded.
The idea in highlighting these steps is getting the word out in the hope that it might find its way into the dialogue during the president's State of the Union address. It is vital, environmentalists feel, that these issues are addressed.
Alliance executive director David Foster remarked, "We were all energized by the president's statement on dealing with climate change in his inaugural speech. We're looking forward to hearing more on that during the State of the Union address." Fighting global warming "will be an important part of his legacy as president."
Photo: Superstorm Sandy has left the already-crumbling U.S. infrastructure in a sorry state. Flickr