WSLC’s Johnson: Carbon market will spur clean-energy economy

OLYMPIA (May 15, 2015) — Following is the testimony of Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, submitted at Thursday’s House Appropriations Committee hearing on PSSB 1314, which would implement a carbon pollution market program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

Chairman Hunter and Committee members, for the record my name is Jeff Johnson and I am the President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. We represent over 400,000 union members in the state of Washington.

While the “Great Recession” is over for corporate America and the wealthy, income and job insecurity dominates kitchen table discussions and arguments in working class families.

We are plagued with two great crises/challenges: extreme income inequality and devastating climate disruptions. We truly face an existential crisis that, in the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, must be addressed now since “there is no plan B, because there is no planet B.”

The good thing is we can act now. The American economy can be a powerful engine for economic opportunity and broadly shared prosperity.

The bill before you today, PSSB 1314, and the long-term dialogue and transformation it envisions, begins to break our dependence on fossil fuels and the resulting catastrophic climate change caused by carbon emissions that are wreaking havoc on our communities, our state, and our planet.

For a century, carbon emissions were considered by economists as “externalities.” But we know then better as asthma, COPD, lung disease, ocean acidification, rapid glacial melt, prolonged droughts, 100-year flooding, rising sea levels, prolific wild fires and land slides, and disruption in our food supply.

Climate change is an existential issue impacting our environment, our public health and safety, food production, jobs and the economy, and it exacerbates extreme income and wealth inequality and challenges our sense of the “common good.”

From a labor perspective, the lens through which we look at climate change is one that allows us, through lowering carbon emissions, to build a clean energy economy, create tens of thousands of family-wage union jobs, reverse negative health trends, and address issues of equity and income inequality.

Lowering carbon emissions and reversing climate disturbances is a long-term endeavor. We won’t solve this problem overnight. Setting a cap on carbon and reducing the cap over time allows us to transition to a clean energy economy over time.

During the transition period we need to be sensitive to, protect, and invest in communities of color that have been most impacted by decades of carbon pollution and least able to avoid the impacts of climate change as well as paying attention to workers who work and live in carbon-dependent industries and communities. These workers didn’t cause the problems we now face, but they have incomes, health, and pension benefits that we need to protect. We need to develop a real “just transition” set of policies and funding that fairly and equitably moves us beyond fossil fuels.

PSSB 1314 begins to address some of these issues through funding the Working Families Tax Rebate program, which will help mitigate the increased energy costs for low- and middle-income families during the transition phase. Funding the cumulative impacts task force will also help direct funds to communities that have been disproportionally impacted by pollution and climate.

PSSB 1314 also eases the transition by expanding the rebate program for energy intensive trade-exposed industries and refineries which allows these industries time to adjust their energy consumption practices and to invest in new technology to reduce emissions, while protecting the associated workforce and communities. Adding timber and agriculture communities to this makes sense.

We also appreciate that 1314 creates a mechanism to level the playing field between electricity produced in state and electricity imported from out of state. This will help prevent the leakage of jobs and production from Washington state.

What is not particularly embraced in the bill, but hopefully will be taken up over time, is using carbon funding to both leverage investing in the new clean energy economy and investing in modernizing our infrastructure to protect our communities from the impacts of climate disruption. Corollary to this, we should, whenever possible, domestic source the content and materials for our infrastructure projects to both lower our carbon footprint and to create local and domestic jobs.

Finally, I hope that the cumulative impacts task force uses an economic, equity, and environmental lens to evaluate the suite of carbon policies for purpose of setting the most appropriate price for carbon, to evaluate carbon reduction levels, to make sure that our carbon revenues are used to maximize good public health outcomes, maximize job creation, maximize equity, and to create a sustainable environment.

The labor community looks forward to continuing our work with you on these issues and we recommend your passing PSSB 1314 out of committee.

Thank you.

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