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Letter to the Editor: Comment on “A Legacy in Jeopardy” in the Retiree Advocate, March 2014

My strong suggestion to PSARA is for the organization and its members to seek the counsel of all concerned when discussing “Big Coal.” Has PSARA spoken with miners, workers at coal preparation plants, and those involved in its transport? What are the alternatives that are going to replace those jobs? Where are the new jobs going to be coming from? While proclaiming a “dawn of a new era of sustainability, a future of clean, renewable energy” one wonders where workers figure into that grand design.

Our environment is more than the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food we eat. Economic and societal needs must also be included in the discussion. The purest water, food, and air means exactly what to an undernourished kid living in a vermin-infested tenement, or to a dirt-poor parent seeking family-sustaining employment?

PSARA would be wise to very publicly align itself with organizations that seek win-win solutions to conflicts dealing with climate change – in all its manifestations. A recent study called Jobs Beyond Coal found that in a number of cases unions representing workers in coal-fired power plants have actually supported the planned closing of their highly-polluting workplaces – because environmentalists and government officials worked with them to ensure a “just transition” in which workers’ livelihoods and the needs of their communities were addressed.

Just as the New Deal in the Great Depression of the 1930s put millions of unemployed people to work doing the jobs America’s communities needed, so today we need a “Green New Deal” to rebuild our energy, transportation, building, and other systems to drastically reduce the climate-destroying greenhouse gas pollution that pours into the air. Such a program would put an end to the “jobs versus environment” conflict because environmental protection would produce millions of new jobs, and expansion of jobs would protect the environment. Such a program provides a road for both labor and environmentalists to move beyond our current dilemma.

We must pursue the vision of a new economy. Just expanding the kind of economy we have will just expand the problems of inequality and environmental catastrophe our current economy is already creating. Instead, we need to be guided by the vision of a new economy where we all have secure livelihoods based on work that builds a sustainable world.

A job with equal or better benefits must await the miner the Monday following the Friday he leaves the pit for the last time. Without Just Transition the “dawn of a new era” will be in danger of “postponement,” perhaps terminally so.

Rich Austin, PSARA Member – Mount Vernon, WA 

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