IBEW president gets it wrong

By Nancy Churchill

“Supreme Court Gets it Right” says the headline in the August, 2015 issue of The Electrical Worker, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) newsletter. IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson touted the Supreme Court’s “victory for our nation’s energy future” by “striking down a proposed Environment Protection Agency (EPA) rule that would have closed more coal-fired power plants, threatening the electrical grid and forcing thousands more middle-class workers out onto the street.”

The EPA’s proposed regulation of mercury emissions under the Clean Air Act, he pointed out, would have cost $9 billion a year to save a bit more than $5 million in health care costs. It has already shut down about 450 plants, and would have eliminated the remaining 150 which he says are particularly “critical to power flow on the grid.”

Operating these plants for at least another year, he argues, is “huge — especially considering the aging workforce at these facilities.” Really, Mr. Stephenson? I’m not a scientist, but I’m thinking that mercury exposure might just age that workforce a tad faster than they might otherwise have aged were they forced to go to work for, say, a solar-powered installation instead.

“Obviously,” says Stephenson, “we all want clean water and a healthy environment.” But the EPA doesn’t have “the track record we do” to get that job done, because “the EPA doesn’t employ people who are experts in energy — we do.” Unfortunately, his workers are experts in antiquated, toxic ways of obtaining energy, not in the kind of energy that would ensure clean water and a healthy environment. I think Mr. Stephenson has missed the point of clean air and water entirely. I hope I’m wrong.

“So the IBEW will continue our efforts with lawmakers,” he concludes, “ensuring America’s energy needs are met while continuing to provide good wages and benefits for the professionals who keep the lights on.” Read: we’ll continue to press legislators to keep those antiquated mercury-emitting energy plants operating as long as we can. Groan.

I’m all for good wages and benefits for workers, and I’m all for keeping the lights on. But with all due respect, the need for those same professionals would be just as great within sustainable energy installations that do not emit mercury as a byproduct.

And nowhere do I see that Stephenson and his international union have in any way contributed to ensuring that America’s energy needs are met sustainably, without toxic emissions that threaten the health of his electrical workers.

Rather, I see union leaders completely disinterested in developing new forms of energy that, had they been applied even a decade ago, would have by now improved conditions for those workers plus help ensure cleaner water and a healthier environment for all of us.

Meanwhile, the children are suing! Emily Schwartz Greco writes that, “Following their victory in a Seattle court, eight children are pressing Washington State’s Department of Ecology to crack down on carbon pollution. The agency has until August 7 to reach an agreement with the youths, who sued after the department rejected their petition. Otherwise, the kids will go back to court.”

“’I hope our voices are heard,’ said Aji Piper, a 14-year-old and one of the plaintiffs.”

Judge Hollis Hill heard, and has “agreed with the teens and tweens in a first-of-its-kind ruling, citing a ‘historical lack of political will to respond adequately to the urgent and dire acceleration of global warming.’”

“Proving liability might also be easier than you’d think,” Greco says. “The record shows that US officials began to fret about climate change in 1965.”

“50 years ago, they knew exactly what was happening and how to stop it,” the children’s lawyer said.

Had IBEW leadership seen the writing on the wall 50 years ago, and begun pushing then for safer working environments within sustainable energy installations, we’d likely not be having this conversation, and the children wouldn’t likely be suing now.

It’s long past time we get this right!

You might also like