Unions Set Their Sights on Climate Change Bill

Organized labor this week is warning Senate Democrats not to renege on trade protections included in House climate change legislation that would buffer domestic manufacturers from cheap consumer products made in China and elsewhere.

“We need to have global warming legislation that makes sure we don’t create perverse incentives that encourage these energy-intensive industries to leave the United States and invest elsewhere in the world where they don’t have the same environmental costs,— said David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance.

The Blue Green Alliance is a coalition of unions and environmental groups including the Sierra Club, the Communications Workers of America, the Service Employees International Union and the Laborers’ International Union of North America.

Foster’s group spent the past month blanketing Congressional districts with television and newspaper advertisements, first prodding wavering House Members to vote for the cap-and-trade legislation and later applauding them for helping the bill pass, 219-212.

But in an interview Tuesday, Foster warned that the Blue Green Alliance’s media buys could turn from laudatory to lambasting if the proposed trade protections, which would help companies overcome the costs of tougher environmental standards, do not end up in the bill.

While the House version included all of the “essentials— on the trade front, he said the group is pressing Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to strengthen the proposed protections.

Bob Baugh, an AFL-CIO industrial policy expert, said the legislation is drawing scrutiny from labor groups up and down the industrial food chain, including glass, steel, aluminum, cement and paper. Labor groups representing workers that make finished consumer products are also concerned about the tariffs, he said.

“You not only need to apply it not only against a raw material like a slab of steel, but you really need to look at what that steel turns into,— Baugh said. “For example, the Chinese are making tons of auto parts that are going into cars in Mexico that are brought to the United States.—

With unemployment numbers in double digits in many districts nationwide, Foster also said Senate Republicans and Democrats alike could be the subject of negative ads by his group.

“The House largely adopted a measured approach toward encouraging every other country and every energy intensive industry in the world to enter into the negotiating process,— he said.

“I don’t think that any Democrats should view this as protectionist. In the middle of a steep recession, it’s inconceivable to me that we would pass climate change legislation without addressing a clear and present problem.—

He added: “I don’t think most Republicans are going to want to throw caution to the wind.—

Foster’s group ran television ads in Ohio and Indiana during the runup to the historic June 26 climate change vote, which would cap domestic carbon emissions and create a private marketplace for the purchase of pollution offsets.

Last weekend, the Blue Green Alliance also bought ads praising lawmakers who voted for the bill.

As of late Tuesday, a Senate version of the climate change bill still awaited introduction in the chamber, which could happen as early as Monday. Boxer is expected to start marking up legislation on July 27.

According to one Democratic lobbyist, Boxer on Monday night told her fellow Democrats on the panel that she intended to strengthen House climate change legislation, which was co-authored by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

By the lobbyist’s account, some Democratic Senators expressed concerns at the meeting that they would be shut out of the process — but then expected to vote for it later.

The legislation “will have to be re-written on the floor anyway, so she probably figures this is her best chance to put out a more progressive marker,— the lobbyist said.

In prepared remarks at a climate change hearing Tuesday, Boxer pitched the cap-and-trade legislation as a jobs bill that “will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create millions of clean energy jobs and protect our children from pollution.—

Boxer also cited a recent study of environmental policies from her home state.

“A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that more than 10,000 new clean energy businesses were launched in California from 1998 to 2007,— Boxer said. “During that period, clean energy investments created more than 125,000 jobs and generated jobs 15 percent faster than the California economy as a whole.—

In his opening remarks Tuesday, the panel’s ranking member, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), said the final bill should not favor one region of the country over another. He also touched on the Blue Green Alliance’s primary issue: encouraging companies to move overseas.

“We have been accused of being the party of no’ for too long,— Inhofe said in a statement. “Well, it’s true that we say no to higher energy taxes, no to subsidizing the East and West coasts at the expense of the heartland, no to more bureaucracy and red tape, and no to sending our manufacturing jobs to China and India.—