Cornell University

Cornell Global Labor Institute

16 East 34th Street, 4th Floor, 212-340-2840

EPA and labor leaders come together to discuss job, economic and environmental impacts of the Clean Air Act

April 20, 2011

Following recent attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a Wall Street Journal article citing labor as a main critic of the EPA and the Clean Air Act, Cornell Global Labor Institute (GLI) and the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) organized a discussion between thirty labor leaders and Gina McCarthy, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation on April 20th, 2011. In a very productive conversation, McCarthy thanked unions for the support they’ve already shown for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Air Act (CAA) and encouraged labor leaders to continue working with the EPA to ensure CAA rules protect existing jobs and industries. “What we need to do is to bring facts to the table, explain to people, that our rules are smarter than they give us credit for. We learned a long time ago that you don't need to pit the economy against public health. Why would we want to? How is that to anybody's advantage? Labor can speak to that better than anybody can and we look forward to them doing that and continuing to work with us. So we hit the mark to get the protections we need and the American people want, but we do it in a way that's as sensitive as possible, as flexible as possible, that looks to achieve those reductions cost effectively, in a way that doesn't just protect jobs, but grows them today and tomorrow," she said in a previous interview conducted by Labor Network for Sustainability.

A wide array of unions and labor organizations participated in the discussion, including the Association of Flight Attendants, Air Line Pilots Association, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Labor Council on Latin American Advancement, Laborers’ Union, Operating Engineers, Service Employees International Union, Teamsters, United Auto Workers, and Utility Workers.

More than ten unions have gone on record in support of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act, including the United Auto Workers. On March 17, it testified on the issue before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “What our experience shows us is that the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles under the Clean Air Act is good for our industries and good for American jobs,” said Barbara Somson, Legislative Director for the United Auto Workers. Somson went on to say, “The members of the UAW are also citizens who are deeply affected by the environment in which they live and raise their families. They are concerned about the effects of human-induced climate change for themselves and for future generations. The benefits to human health and welfare flowing from the regulation of greenhouse gasses under the Clean Air Act are substantial and have decided positive economic effects.”

Andrea Delgado with the Labor Council on Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) spoke at the meeting, “LCLAA is a co-founder and member of the National Latino Coalition on Climate Change, a coalition created to build support for action on climate change and clean energy among the Latino community and build awareness about the issue. Traditionally, LCLAA has not worked on “environmental” issues or reducing emissions. But now, we realize it is not just about tackling climate change and job creation, it’s a public health imperative for our community. Latinos are more likely to live in areas with air pollution levels that don’t meet federal standards. For us, it is about growing a clean energy economy, creating good jobs, and ensuring our workers and communities are well-trained…but it’s also about improving air quality and making sure that it’s not exacerbating economic hardship and poor health outcomes in our communities.”

Due to challenges from energy intensive industry, the implementation of numerous CAA rules has been delayed in the last ten years. As a result, several rules that require updating have amassed recently and are scheduled for implementation over the next year. While the health, environmental and overall economic benefits of the rules are tremendously positive, specific sectors, especially large utilities, may face closure and job loss eventually (after 2016) because it won’t be financially worthwhile to update older plants to meet current rules. McCarthy made clear in her conversation with labor leaders that she’s pleased with the overall benefits these new rules will deliver but is also fully committed to working closely with labor leaders in energy intensive industries to better understand how the rules will affect their jobs and how the EPA can work with them to best mitigate any negative impacts. As these new Clean Air Act rules unfold over the next year, GLI will continue to provide technical assistance to labor leaders and organize policy conversations which help inform labor’s intervention in the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air Act debate.

For more information about the issue:

EPA Tangles with New Critic: Labor, Wall Street Journal
Power Plant Union Asks Congress to Delay EPA's Air Pollution Rules, New York Times 
Citing Jobs and Environment, More Unions Backing EPA, Labor Network for Sustainability 
Protecting Our Health and Safety, Building a Stronger Economy, Blue Green Alliance