By Kristen Beifus
PSARA recently participated in the “Repair Washington: Creating Good Jobs, Strengthening Infrastructure and Building Climate Solutions” forum convened by the Blue-Green Alliance (BGA). The BGA is a national and local coalition of labor and environmental groups working together to address the environmental climate crisis and the crisis of an economy that is failing to produce enough family-wage jobs.
David Foster, the Executive Director of BGA, opened the forum with a wake-up call about the problems we are collectively facing. Since 1980, the US has faced 144 major natural events that have caused over $1 billion in damage and resulted in an excess of $1 trillion for recovery. Our 19th/20th century infrastructure is not holding up to the climate challenges that we are facing in the 21st century.
There are 800 water main breaks in the US each day, resulting in the loss of 15% or 7 billion gallons of drinking water. With rising temperatures we are even more dependent on water, a scarce resource in a growing number of areas in the US and worldwide.
In a recent study, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the US an overall rating of D+ for infrastructure, including aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, schools, transit, roads, rail and solid waste. WA State received a C.
Failing infrastructure and growing natural disasters linked to climate change provide an imperative for government to invest heavily in repairing WA and the US infrastructure. Essential public investment would create hundreds of thousands of jobs, reduce income inequality, and reduce the impacts of climate change on our communities. The Blue-Green Alliance estimates that in WA State alone, some 77,900 jobs could be supported through investment in our infrastructure.
Local government officials who attended the forum pointed out that local jurisdictions are taking the lead. For example, Seattle is taking a leadership role in transitioning power to be more carbon neutral.
Bob Guenther, a labor leader from the Centralia area, discussed the Washington state plan to phase out the coal plant in Centralia by 2025. Along with the phase-out comes a commitment to keep the community whole and to transition coal power plant workers to new jobs so that healing our environment does not cause economic suffering in the community. Bob expressed hope that this model could also be used in Montana and Wyoming for similar phase-outs.
Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, spoke of a Blue Green trip to Denmark of which he had been a part. He expressed hope that we can be inspired by Denmark, which has committed to being fossil fuel-free in 2050 with a “just transition” jobs policy.
KC Golden, Senior Policy Advisor of Climate Solutions (Seattle) reminded those at the forum that we need to challenge our own assumptions about the best way to address climate change and inequity. The environmental movement needs to support building more, not less, and the labor movement needs to support building more sustainably.
For the work that needs to be done to sustain our planet, we need government investment, we need private investment and we need community investment. The National Infrastructure Development Bank Act, co-sponsored by Susan DelBene, is a good start.
However WA State can not wait for federal support. Washington legislators and local officials need to be part of repairing WA, because the condition of our infrastructure is unacceptable. In the process, we can create tens of thousands of family-wage jobs, reduce our carbon footprint and prepare our communities for the 21st century.
Kristen Beifus is co-chair of PSARA’s Environmental Committee and serves on the PSARA Executive Board.