“Leadership, innovation, forethought, and fearlessness; these are the qualities that define America, and these are the qualities that define the BlueGreen Alliance.” That was the main message of U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez during his keynote address of the 2016 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Cleveland.
Secretary Perez keynoted the morning session of the Conference—which was presented by the BlueGreen Alliance Foundation—along with U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Both leaders focused on how economic progress and environmental protection go hand-in-hand and called for an end to false choices that pit the two against each other.
U.S. Senator Brown focused on driving job creation by repairing America’s infrastructure and growing a clean energy economy. “For the first time in the history of the industrial age, economic growth is no longer tied to an increase in carbon emissions; we know that now. It’s only a start, but dozens of nations are showing it can be done. The landmark Paris Climate Agreement not only sets the stage for a long-term reduction in carbon emissions, but it will provide opportunities for American businesses—for manufacturers, for entrepreneurs—to lead the world in these new and emerging technologies,” said Brown.
“We have a real opportunity with fixing methane leaks, putting lots and lots and lots of plumbers and pipefitters to work in dealing with climate change in an important way,” Brown continued.
Hundreds of labor, environmental, business, and civic leaders attended the event. Workshops, the BlueGreen Champions award ceremony, and more dynamic speakers took place in the afternoon.
BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Kim Glas opened the afternoon plenary with a call to action. “America faces huge challenges when it comes to our infrastructure; there is no doubt that we need to take drastic actions to repair it. To get this done, we need strong leaders who are ready to tackle this challenge.”
Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga left the audience with an important message, “The labor and environmental movements are unique, but we have much more in common than we have in differences. Working together [the labor and environmental movements] we can ensure that new energy jobs of today and tomorrow create middle-class job opportunities in manufacturing, generation, and distribution. Leaders in the labor movement have recognized this and have built a coalition that is vital to achieving our goal of a stronger, fairer, and more prosperous America.”
Utility Workers President Mike Langford, Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune, and CERES President Mindy Lubber led an afternoon plenary panel, moderated by USW’s Assistant Legislative Director Roxanne Brown, to discuss clean energy jobs, transition, infrastructure, and the importance of Buy America provisions to ensure the domestic manufacturing of clean energy and energy efficiency technologies.
“We know that the U.S. is spending $450 billion less each year on infrastructure that it needs to, and as a result, we are missing out not just on safer communities and systems but we’re really missing out on a huge economic opportunity,” said Roxanne Brown, when opening the panel. The Sierra Club’s Michael Brune said that the main challenge we are facing right now is not that we will switch to a clean energy economy, but how we will provide good, sustainable jobs, during and after this switch.
“It is guaranteed that clean energy will continue to get cheaper,” said Brune. “It will become, in many cases, cheaper than most of the fossil fuels that are contributing to climate change. What is not guaranteed is whether or not those clean energy jobs will be good jobs, much less great jobs. That is the main focus, our main challenge. As a community right now, [it is our priority to make] sure that those clean energy jobs are good, high-road, family-sustaining jobs,” he continued.
Utility Workers Union of America National President D. Michael Langford said the United States needs to take a different approach when it comes to rebuilding our infrastructure in the face of climate change and more severe weather events. “The whole utility infrastructure was really turned upside down [by Superstorm Sandy]. There were literally hundreds of thousands of people without power, gas, water…Our folks see this stuff first hand all the time because the women and men of the utility workers operate and maintain all generation—gas, electric, water, nuclear, coal, renewables—and they also operate and maintain our distributions and transmission systems. They see the vulnerability and the lack of actual new technology being put into place…they are also consumers of that product; they live in the communities and its important to them to rebuild these communities.”
CERES President Mindy Lubber highlighted the opportunity before us. “To get to a 2-degree world by 2050, we need to be investing around $1 trillion a year to build the world economy and energy future we want…the issue is how do we create that future and where are the jobs, and how to we make sure that when we’re manufacturing solar panels or wind turbines or preparing all the materials for them, that those jobs are good jobs for the United States labor force and other countries for labor forces at reasonable salaries to allow people to support families and to build a future for their families.”