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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.

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