Thursday, November 21, 2013

Forget coal

Posted on Thu, Nov 21, 2013 at 4:00 AM

As a union supporter and past president of my local, I read with interest John Roeber’s letter advocating for a new energy policy based on coal (see “Coal and conservation” in Letters, Nov. 14). It’s clear Roeber languishes in an early stage of grief: denial. Coal is in its death throes. Numerous states limit or prohibit coal-fired energy, including West Coast markets served by Montana. Pennsylvania Power and Light, an owner of Colstrip, hopes to divest of this dinosaur, if they can find a buyer out of touch with reality and the best interests of ratepayers.

The push to export coal is a desperate measure to prolong the inevitable. It is a race against the clock. Even China recently released an energy policy phasing out coal in favor of clean energy development this decade. I say, let America lead the way.

The ultimate irony for a union man like Roeber is that his ardent support for coal is more aligned with Tea Party Republicans than Democrats who have long advocated for labor rights. Arch Coal, which plans to develop Otter Creek, is notoriously anti-union. Arch, along with Peabody Coal, shifted its union employees to Patriot Coal. Roeber should know the intent was to bankrupt Patriot and not honor union pensions, which occurred in 2012. United Mine Workers is still fighting this. In his important role as union leader, his advocacy for the coal industry does a disservice to the employees he represents and to the future of the labor movement as a whole.

I do not envy Roeber’s position, nor condone his trumpeting big coal or attacking environmentalists. Where was he during the decades wasted when we could have been transitioning to a new energy paradigm? With the grossly expensive specter of climate change facing societies worldwide, the time for transition is overdue and the time for real action is now.

While we cannot afford delay, consideration of coal workers complicates immediate actions. Along with debunking any notion of clean coal, it is important to consider a “just transition” for our labor brothers and sisters in the coal industry. Their fate is intertwined with the promise of labor unions—collective bargaining, safe working conditions and wages that support a middle class. Labor and conservationists know companies like Arch and Peabody do not support strong unions or a clean environment.

Like Roeber, I have been involved in the BlueGreen Alliance and attended a national convention. Unlike his Rally for American Energy Jobs, BlueGreen advocates a jobs strategy in the clean economy based on renewable energy, energy efficiency and a smart electrical grid, improving our transportation and water infrastructures, and redeveloping domestic manufacturing. BlueGreen’s Jobs 21! plan supports EPA standards regulating greenhouse gases, which creates jobs retrofitting Montana power plants.

At the state and national levels, the AFL-CIO is also working to build alliances. All these represent opportunities for good jobs, vibrant economies and sustainable communities, without compromising strong unions or clean environment. Together, labor and conservationists can build a promising future, one that “does not count on coal.”

Claudia Narcisco

Missoula

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