Local labor, environmental, and social justice groups are sick of hearing debates over clean energy framed as "jobs versus the environment." Today, a sweeping alliance of these groups announced that they're reframing the argument by working together toward a climate initiative on the 2016 ballot.
Jeff Johnson, the head of the Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO, stated his position unequivocally: "We're here to say this is the beginning of the end of the dependence on fossil fuels."
The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy isn't the first group in Washington to attempt a 2016 ballot initiative in the face of the state legislature's stunning inaction on climate policy. Earlier this year, a group called Carbon Washington proposed a carbon tax "swap" to go on the ballot—a revenue-neutral plan that would put a price on carbon while reducing the state sales tax by a percentage point.
Carbon WA also proposed using the revenue from the carbon tax to decrease the business and occupation tax for manufacturers and fund a tax rebate for 400,000 low-income families. Carbon WA's idea drew criticism from the climate justice community, however, which argued that the initiative didn't address inequity in the impacts of climate change and didn't sufficiently involve input from low-income communities and communities of color.
Yoram Bauman, a "stand up" economist who works for Carbon WA, expressed his frustration with this perspective in a recent New York Times op-ed. "I am increasingly convinced that the path to climate action is through the Republican Party," he told economist N. Gregory Mankiw. "Yes, there are challenges on the right — skepticism about climate science and about tax reform — but those are surmountable with time and effort. The same cannot be said of the challenges on the left: an unyielding desire to tie everything to bigger government, and a willingness to use race and class as political weapons in order to pursue that desire."
A coalition of climate and social justice groups—including Got Green, Puget Sound Sage, Washington CAN, OneAmerica, the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, the Latino Community Fund, and Community to Community—penned a letter to Bauman in response to his quote in the Times piece. "We call on you to publicly recognize that (1) racial and economic justice are critical issues for any effective climate policy and (2) communities of color and people with lower incomes have experience, expertise, and leadership essential to the climate movement," they wrote.
At this morning's Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy press conference, Peter Bloch Garcia, executive director of the Latino Community Fund of Washington, explained why the Alliance couldn't support a revenue-neutral proposal.
"Revenue-neutral is not going to get us to accelerate the investments in communities that are most severely impacted," Garcia said. "If we just cap carbon across everything, communities of color and low-income communities are not ever going to proportionally become equal. They will always be more affected."
That said, the Alliance hasn't yet put forward a detailed plan for their initiative. Today they simply announced that they intend to get the necessary signatures to put a carbon pricing idea on the 2016 ballot.
It's worth noting, too, that the green-blue solidarity demonstrated at today's presser was very different from the debate that took place earlier this year at the Port of Seattle, in which some labor groups and environmentalists butted heads over the presence of an Arctic drilling rig at Terminal 5.
Johnson, of the Washington State Labor Council, thinks that conflict resulted from not having a plan for enviros, social justice groups, and unions to work on climate together.
"When you have struggles like what happened during the summer, and you don't have a just transition [to renewable energy] mechanism in place, then things become very real, very quickly—these jobs versus this environmental concern," Johnson said. "So you're talking about bread on people's tables. When you put a just transition piece into place and you can back it up with investment, then the argument changes significantly. Because what we're saying is that we're not going to allow workers to sacrifice their income, or their health, or their pension benefits because we want to do something around climate. We want to do both."