Oct 9, 2007

Labor goes green with BlueGreen Alliance

Labor union leaders and environmentalists have traditionally been on opposite ends of issues with environmentalists fighting for stringent pollution controls and regulations and unions taking the opposite position that those measures kill jobs. However, that is changing with the formation of the BlueGreen Alliance last summer.

Last June the 850,000-strong United Steelworkers (USW) and the Sierra Club, the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization with 750,000 members, formed the strategic alliance to pursue a joint public policy agenda that includes four policy areas of global warming, clean energy, fair trade and reducing toxins in the environment. The effort began in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington with a planned expansion to 10 other states. Since May of this year Sue Browne has been the BlueGreen Alliance organizer here in Michigan, but she has been a member of the USW for 19 years.

“It’s a new alliance, but our concern over environmental issues have gone back 30 years,” she said.

The USW and the Sierra Club have worked together in the past on such issues as clean air, free trade and corporate responsibility. Anne Woiwode, the director of the Mackinac Chapter of the Sierra Club that covers all of Michigan, said the alliance is a concept that will pay dividends for both groups.

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” she said. “We are often put in a position where we are defined by our differences not our common goals.”

Dwindling natural resources coupled with the challenge of the global economy and the sticky issue of how to provide good jobs and a clean environment helped drive the decision for the alliance. Organizers believe good jobs and a clean environment have to go together. There is a push in the state to make Michigan a leader in clean, renewable energy, and the belief is it will grow jobs. One way to do that is with a Renewable Portfolio Standard that mandates a certain percentage of a power company's supply to consumers be generated from renewable fuel sources, and that is a goal of the alliance.

“One thing the BlueGreen Alliance has done is point out what we have in common,” Woiwode said. “One of those things is renewable energy, like wind and solar.”

Despite the good intentions of the alliance, there are a few issues and projects on the horizon that have the potential to derail the new alliance.

One issue is the fight over granting a mining permit for Kennecott Eagle Minerals Company to mine copper and nickel in the Upper Peninsula’s Marquette County. At recent public hearings held across the state last month union members spoke in support of the mine for the estimated 420 jobs it will bring, but environmentalist spoke against it claiming it will the drain the aquifer, destroy wetlands, destroy wildlife habitat, destroy fisheries, pollute the air and pollute the water.

“I think no matter who you are you don’t want mining to pollute the water and land,” Woiwode said. “It’s more of a question of how we do it, and we should be smart about it.”

Another potential wedge is the planned $1 billon expansion of the Marathon Petroleum Co.'s refinery in southwest Detroit that is expected to add 1,000 jobs with 800 temporary construction jobs, but it may also add more pollution to the area.

“I think there are always obstacles to overcome,” Browne said. “We have to look at the outcome.
“We have to get both sides together at the table to work out these issues,” she said.

No comments: