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Climate Change: Fighting for the Common Interest

By Bobby Righi 

Our corporate controlled political system and ‘free trade’ economy is not only waging war on workers, on communities, on public services and social safety nets. They are also waging war on the very ecological systems that sustain life on our planet earth. Climate change forces us to realize that if we don’t stop destroying our eco-system, we literally threaten the future of life on our planet.

Workers have the most to gain from the fight around climate change. When its full economic and moral implications are understood, climate change is the most powerful weapon workers and their unions have in the fight for equality and social justice. The climate threat makes the need to fight austerity all the more pressing, since we need public services and public infrastructure to both bring down our emissions and prepare for the coming storms.

If we spend our money on a pipeline or a coal train we will get some construction jobs, but we will also add to the growing profits of big corporations at the heavy public cost of environmental damage. Spend that money on public transit, building retrofits and renewable energy, and you get many more jobs and a healthier future for all communities.

Today the deposits of easy to get fossil fuels are running out so the coal, oil, and gas industry is engaging in new forms of energy extraction: mountain top removal for coal, tar sands mining for oil, deep-sea drilling, and fracking for oil and gas captured in horizontal layers of deep bedrock.

All of these methods release more toxic chemicals into the air and water than before, and are injuring the health of our children and grandchildren because children are more vulnerable to toxins. These methods of extraction also burn more carbon fuels to get to and transport the deposits and they release carbon and methane gas into the atmosphere, all of which accelerates climate change.

In California, oil companies are planning to use fracking to get the large reserves of oil in the Monterey Shale formation. This will require large amounts of water, a resource we are running out of and in short supply in California. There is evidence from Pennsylvania, Wyoming and Texas where fracking for gas has been going on for a while that the drinking water is contaminated with toxic chemicals and radioactive metals. In California environmental organizations and state regulators are fighting the plans for fracking and trying to place strict regulations on the process.

As President Obama went through New York and Pennsylvania, he was met by groups of people who were protesting fracking in their communities. More than 100 municipalities in the country have passed bans on fracking, putting them in the crosshairs of the powerful and arrogant energy industry.

Fracking is exempted from regulations such as the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and other legislation that governs other industrial activities. Fracking operations do not report their air and water emissions under the Toxics Release Inventory. A special amendment to the 2005 Energy Policy Act specifically exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorizes the EPA to regulate all injection of toxic chemicals into the ground.

If all of this isn’t bad enough, there is the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement looming over us. It will make it easier for corporations to challenge any laws that interfere with their profit. An example: the province of Quebec has put a time-out on fracking near the St. Lawrence River to study the impacts on its watershed, however under NAFTA, it is being challenged by Lone Pine Resources, an Alberta based company using its subsidiary in the US to sue its own country. This is the first time that a company has sued its own country using a trade agreement.

Many groups here in Washington and around the country have been waging an active battle against the XL Pipeline, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for gas and oil, and coal industry plans to ship mile-long trainloads of coal through west coast states to new ports that will ship the coal to China.

Environmental groups, along with unions and community organizations have succeeded in delaying the XL pipeline pending more research. Many organizations in Washington, including PSARA, are calling on the WA State Department of Ecology to further study the impact of coal trains through Washington. And the state of New York is currently banning


All of this hard work can be threatened by NAFTA and the supersized version of NAFTA we are facing in the TPP. Corporations could claim these are ‘barriers to trade’ and sue for potential profits and make tax payers shoulder the expense and force communities to change their laws.

Currently, the US Trade Representative (USTR) is calling on the US Congress to give up its Constitutional obligation to regulate foreign commerce. USTR appointed negotiators, many from large corporations, want the power to negotiate the TPP with limited input from Congress. This is called Fast-Track and it gave us NAFTA and CAFTA and our planet can not afford more.

Call your Congressional Representatives to demand they oppose fast-track and the TPP. Urge state officials to take into account the environmental costs of corporate-backed polices and programs. We need to uphold our values in WA State; healthy jobs and healthy communities.

Bobby Righi is a PSARA member, on the PSARA Environmental Committee, & a retired member of AFT-WA. Some parts of this article reference a speech by Naomi Kline, author of the The Shock Doctrine. The speech was delivered on September 1, 2013 at the founding convention of UNIFOR, a new mega union created by the Canadian Autoworkers and the Canadian Energy and Paper Workers Union. 

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