As unemployment and hard times lead many to believe the issue is “protecting jobs vs. protecting the environment,” labor, religious, environmental, and community leaders in Connecticut decided to join together proactively to fight for job-creating climate protection progress while seeking win-win solutions for their disagreements. Their Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, created with help from the Labor Network for Sustainability, is already impacting the state’s energy policy.

Connecticut Group Argues Climate, Jobs Are Not Issues in Opposition
By Kathryn Boughton,

There is often the supposition that job creation and environmental responsibility are mutually exclusive, but a growing effort in Connecticut may expose the problems with that prejudicial thought.

The Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs is drawing together disparate groups who agree on two things: Connecticut needs more jobs and it needs to address climate change.

“The roundtable is focused on strengthening collaboration among Connecticut’s labor leaders, business, community organizations, environmentalists and religious communities to advocate for public policies that address urgent concerns about climate change while creating good-paying jobs right here in our state,” said Jeremy Brecher of Cornwall, a historian and the author of 10 books on labor and social movements.

Mr. Brecher said the roundtable had its origin when opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline called on John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, to talk about the issue. “We had an interesting conversation during the course of which he said, “˜The AFL-CIO nationally doesn’t have a position on the pipeline, therefore I don’t have a position. But it seems to me we have other things to talk about””things that would make that pipeline unnecessary.'”

Mr. Olsen suggested gathering groups with different backgrounds and perspectives that are concerned about the climate and jobs. “Sometimes those groups conflict with each other because we haven’t talked about things before conflicts arise,” Mr. Brecher said. “We wanted to know what we could do to get ahead of those kinds of problems.”

Energized by Mr. Olsen’s suggestions, they asked Joseph Uehlein, an officer in the AFL-CIO and executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, and Voices for a Sustainable Future, to give a presentation on labor and climate for selected people from organized labor, environmental and religious groups and community groups. “There is tension and difficulty between organized labor and environmental groups,” said Mr. Brecher. “It seemed like a really good way to start off on another foot and to look for common ground.”

More than 40 people gathered last June for a workshop on climate and jobs in Connecticut, co-sponsored by the Connecticut AFL-CIO, Interreligious Eco-Justice Network and Connecticut Center for a New Economy.

“The reality is that the climate protection movement goes way, way beyond the conventional environment movement,” said Mr. Brecher. “After going through [Hurricane] Sandy, etc., there is a huge swath of people who are taking it as a wake-up call and looking at it as a question of human survival. This is the kind of threat we all need to start thinking about. When people say we should take our time and think carefully, Joe Olsen says that was a great position 25 years ago.”

Mr. Brecher said his own interest in environmental issues goes back to 1988. “This is way overdue,” he observed, adding that he is a member of the Labor Network for Sustainability, a national agency that bears the motto “No Jobs on a Dead Planet.”

The first meeting revealed areas of agreement that gave hope that common goals may lead to real change. He said the movement is a “very significant straw in the wind,” and described that first meeting as “very powerful for people.”

In October, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) released a draft Comprehensive Energy Strategy (CES) for public comment, and the steering committee seized the opportunity for the roundtable to voice concerns about the interrelated climate and economic crises. In November, a diverse group of nearly 60 people came together to learn more about the draft CES and to discuss opportunities for collaboration in shaping state policies. Most of the participants signed a joint statement submitted as written testimony to DEEP.

“The drafted statement was amazing because just about everyone there was able to support it,” said Mr. Brecher. “There will be major energy policy coming from the governor and DEEP and this pertains to both of these things. It addresses quite a broad range of what we should do this year but is also crucial for the next decade and in some cases would lock in energy policy for decades.”

The roundtable is slated to meet again Tuesday in Hartford, in a session designed to engage policy-makers in discussions about its concerns during the current legislative session. “There will be a lot of negotiations around the statement,” Mr. Brecher said, “but there is amazingly broad agreement about what needs to be done.”

In a statement released last week, the roundtable concluded that it rejects the “false choice of “˜jobs or the environment.’ We know that environmental change is coming and will require changes in how we produce and consume both energy and goods and services. “¦ .”

Members believe the transition to a climate-safe Connecticut can provide the basis for an economy with good jobs. “We know that in most cases renewable fuels and energy use reduction provide the greatest employment per dollar. We urge that all energy-related policy proposals include job-impact statements based on a uniform method of evaluation,” the statement said.

It urges that Connecticut’s Global Warming Solutions Act, which established a goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, be translated into a concrete plan of action and be moved forward rapidly.

It strongly supports the emphasis on energy efficiency in the DEEP’s Comprehensive Energy Strategy as the least-cost means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Energy efficiency programs also create large numbers of local jobs that cannot be outsourced, it asserts.

The statement urges that funding to implement programs be found immediately. But Mr. Brecher says this is not the problem for the cash-strapped state that it appears to be. “The first thing is that we are all paying for energy every time we pay an electric bill,” he explained. “The question is how to do that in a way that represents our real long-term interests. Let’s use our money for what we want and need””and overwhelmingly, the thriftiest energy is the energy we save””energy we don’t pay for because we haven’t wasted it.”

A second piece also focuses on what is being spent already. Connecticut has a mandate to spend 20 percent of its electric payments toward the development of renewable resources such as wind, solar, energy efficiency and other forms of non-fossil fuel energy. “We believe the Renewable Portfolio Standards should be expanded and used to expand jobs in Connecticut,” he reported. “In the long run, renewable energy and conservation will be the cheapest forms of energy for individuals and Connecticut. We know the cost of fossil fuels will go crazy because global demand will soar and soar.”

While energy dollars are already being spent on conventional fuels, Mr. Brecher said the biggest problem is recovering money spent on sustainable systems such as wind or solar. “If you put solar panels on your house, over 20 years you will be richer,” he said. “But the first year you will pay many times what your electric bill would have been. One thing we are calling for is exploring on-bill financing where, basically, the energy company, state or bank puts up the money for the work and whoever pays the electric bill pays back the money being saved.”

There are other possibilities for funding the upfront costs that would allow homeowners to become more ecologically sound while saving on energy costs. “Financing should make possible a job-creating transition to climate-safe energy for people of all economic levels,” the statement says. “We urge the legislative and administrative steps necessary to ensure use of the Conservation Adjustment Mechanism to provide additional funding for energy efficiency. If increased fees cause any hardships for low-income consumers, they should be offset by rate or tax relief.”

The roundtable opposes reclassifying large-scale Canadian hydropower and waste-to-energy projects as Class I renewables, saying this would produce no new jobs and would reduce incentives to expand wind energy production, solar and fuel cell development, as well as local recycling programs. (See the story on one Connecticut wind power venture’s problems)

It further urges Gov. Dannel Malloy and the Connecticut General Assembly to join other states in approving and implementing the proposed reduction in CO2 emissions.

The roundtable wants investment in energy to create a market for Connecticut manufacturing, thereby creating jobs and encourages state economic development agencies to expand incentives and other forms of support for a growing renewable energy manufacturing.

“We need to get universities and corporations to cooperate in developing technologies and markets for industries that will create jobs and enhance our economic base,” Mr. Brecher said. “Funding for that comes from business and investors. The state is already deeply involved in economic development, but we want to see that it is used toward building skills for environmental protection.”

Mr. Brecher said one area where there is disagreement among roundtable participants is natural gas. “When we originally discussed the roundtable, one idea was let’s create a space where can talk about issues before we find ourselves coming to fisticuffs. One area I was concerned would be major area of disagreement was natural gas. Environmentalists have lot of questions about it because of fracking, pipeline problems and because there is increasing evidence natural gas has severe negative impacts on the climate. That it is a clean fuel is becoming very questionable.”

It appeared there might be a collision course between environmentalists and labor groups over the issue. “But in discussions, we found quite a bit of common ground. First of all, we agreed to disagree, but we also agreed to structure a discussion where we could learn from each other and from experts. We responded to the fact we didn’t start out on the same page,” he said.

Later discussion disclosed that the two sides agreed with the DEEP proposal that aging pipelines be upgraded. “We found very wide agreement that replacement would be appropriate and that is where lion’s share of jobs would be,” he said.

There was also agreement that investing in a new natural gas infrastructure would lock in the state’s energy future. “Natural gas is now cheap compared to fossil fuels, but it is very questionable whether that will be true in the long run,” Mr. Brecher said. “For reasons that have to do with short-term issues, it’s cheap now, but if you invest in a pipeline you might find it doubles in a few years.”

Fracking is an unknown in terms of its environmental impact, but also promises to increase in expense as drillers have to go deeper and deeper. “The price of fracked oil could go up dramatically. There was wide agreement that caution is called for before locking ourselves in,” Mr. Brecher concluded.