BlueGreen Alliance

Good Jobs, Clean Environment, Green Economy

Nov 23

"Environmental Goods." Really?

By Lee Anderson, Director of Legislation and Policy for the BlueGreen Alliance.

For the last year and a half, while much of the world has been focused on two of the largest international trade agreements ever proposed—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—the United States has been simultaneously working on an under-the-radar trade agreement with a seemingly benign title, the Environmental Goods Agreement (EGA). Working with 13 other World Trade Organization (WTO) members, the U.S., to hear the U.S. Trade Representative’s office tell it, has simply been negotiating the EGA in order to remove tariffs on hundreds of items deemed to be “environmental goods.”

So, what’s wrong with that, you ask? After all, wouldn’t it be great if environmentally beneficial things like clean energy technologies could be traded around the world as easily as possible? Well, maybe, but first we’d all have to agree what is meant by that innocent sounding term: environmental good. For instance, would you consider a yacht to be an environmental good? How about bulldozers, lasers or, my personal favorite, human blood? All those things, and many, many more items of uncertain relation to the environment are on a lengthy list of goods slated for inclusion in the EGA and, as a result, a removal of tariffs on their trade.

As a part of the negotiation process, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) has been asked to evaluate the probable economic effects of providing duty-free treatment to the various items being proposed for duty-free trade under the EGA.While recognizing that America’s economy depends in large part on our ability to export domestically manufactured goods to markets around the world, we at the BlueGreen Alliance asked USITC, via public comment, to first take a step back and consider what is meant by that term environmental good. After all, how can the economic impacts of trade in a particular good be assessed without understanding the environmental—and human—costs such trade might cause?

While some of the goods on the proposed list are arguably beneficial to the environment, the list has grown to increasingly include a host of goods for which the connection to environmental benefit is at best tangential and, at worst, actively detrimental to the environment. In fact, a recent Transport & Environment study found that 120 items on the list are either potentially environmentally destructive or have no environmental connection.

In order to maintain basic credibility, it is essential that this agreement not be undertaken simply to seek reduced duties for a host of traded goods under the auspices that these goods are “environmental,” inferring that they are—simply by virtue of being included on the list—somehow of environmental benefit. The potential of products being added to the list, absent criteria as to why, significantly erodes the very purpose of such an agreement. Without objective criteria, this just becomes a back door for countries and industries that are giving no commitments on either labor or environmental standards to receive preferential treatment in the U.S. market, making the EGA a cash cow for those merely seeking to achieve hundreds of millions of dollars in duty savings.

The very fact that these products would be transported across oceans would lead to an expansion of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. For example, the environmental costs associated with moving dense, bulk materials on the list, materials such as glass cullet, multitudes of scrap metal, and pulp scrap paper, must be acknowledged and accounted for in any economic evaluation of removing trade tariffs purportedly for environmental reasons. Nor does the list begin to account for the GHG emissions associated with making or processing certain products in countries with poor or unenforced environmental standards as compared with the U.S. or other countries with well-developed environmental safeguards.

Here’s another example. U.S. steel producers emit far fewer greenhouse gasses per ton than producers in China, Russia, Brazil, and other foreign countries. Nonetheless, the U.S. is already experiencing the negative environmental impacts of weak environmental regulations in foreign countries. The National Academy of Sciences recently identified unregulated manufacturing in China of goods intended for export to the United States as the source of significant air pollution in the western United States.

Lowering tariff barriers for reasons divorced from environmental criteria would have the perverse effect of further encouraging environmentally irresponsible manufacturing abroad, and increasing rates of global GHG emissions. Failing to account for the economic follow-on effects of such environmentally disastrous practices would only further compound this mistake and undermine the basic credibility of the goals purportedly being pursued through negotiation of the EGA.

While we appreciate the concept being advanced of promoting trade in goods that are truly beneficial to the environment, we call on the Obama administration to first engage with the public to define the term environmental good in a thoughtful, responsible manner. We must be sure the EGA aims to enhance our natural environment, and help to fight climate change—offset against any potential costs to the environment, and to workers and communities. Millions of hard-working American women and men, upon whose livelihoods international trade agreements can have such a profound effect, deserve no less.

Posted In: Trade/Make it in America
Oct 30

The BlueGreen Source for Friday, October 30, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: After a hiatus we’re back! From here on out, the BlueGreen Source will now be a once-weekly recap of the news sent out on Friday mornings.


A top economist looks at how the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could be used to undermine climate change protections. (Grist)


“On Oct. 14, I took part in a national day of action organized by the People’s Climate Movement. A diverse group of people banded together to talk about how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan can help Minnesota. The Clean Power Plan is an opportunity to become more energy independent, reduce the pollution driving climate change and impacting all of us—especially communities of color and low-income communities—and drive the growth of quality jobs in our state.” – Jamie Gulley is the president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and the SEIU Minnesota State Council. (MinnPost)


Paris – Read this opinion piece from United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres about how the world is gearing up to tackle climate change. (The Guardian)

Business show support for Clean Power Plan – Here’s a look at why some big businesses are showing their support for the first-ever limits to carbon pollution from existing sources. (Michigan Radio)

On trial – Don Blankenship, the former CEO of the mining company that owned the Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers when it exploded, is on trial for his part in the safety violations that lead to the explosion. (New York Times)

Climate justice – Our very own Michael Williams took part in a roundtable discussion on how the climate talks in Paris could be used as a path to achieve climate justice. (The Morning News)

A good question – Three years after Hurricane Sandy battered the East Coast, this piece asks if coastal cities are any safer from events like it. (New York Times)


Stop stalling on Lake Erie (Toledo Blade)

Greenland Is Melting Away ( New York Times)

McConnell sets up Senate fight on Obama water oversight rule ( The Hill)

Climate Change is Real, and Important (Medium)

That's it for The Source this week. resource. If you want to share this with others, they can sign up here.

Posted In: The Source
Oct 20

Businesses leading on climate change ahead of Paris climate summit

The White House yesterday announced new commitments from 81 companies around the country to push for an international climate deal in Paris and to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to climate action. The companies that took the American Business Act on Climate pledge have operations in all 50 states and employ over 9 million people. 

The pledge is straight forward, it states: 

We applaud the growing number of countries that have already set ambitious targets for climate action. In this context, we support the conclusion of a climate change agreement in Paris that takes a strong step forward toward a low-carbon, sustainable future. 

We recognize that delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters, and the health of the global environment.

Companies from aluminum-maker Alcoa to AT&T to International Paper to General Motors to UPS all committed to specific, new, goals to help reduce their carbon footprint and grow clean energy. This is a big deal. 

International Paper is already doing a lot to reduce their carbon footprint, with approximately 70 percent of their energy in their global mill system coming from carbon neutral energy. Their newly announced goals include reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over the next five years. They’re also going to improve purchased energy efficiency by 15 percent (or 34 trillion BTUs a year!). 

AT&T is set to reduce their GHG emission by 20 percent (from 2008 levels) and reduce the amount of electricity consumed by the company by 60 percent (from 2013 levels). 

UPS has already exceeded their goal of reducing carbon intensity by 2016 and the company is now committing to doubling their goal to 20 percent by 2020. They’ll also be moving much more freight and packages via alternative fuel/technology truck fleets. By the end of the year, that fleet will include 7,700 trucks. 

When you think about why it’s smarter to use American made goods, the impact on our climate cannot be ignored. 

Reducing energy intensity from facility 20 percent by 2020 and promoting the use of 125 megawatts of renewable energy are two of the goals put forward by General Motors. In addition, GM will reduce water and waste (achieving 150 landfill-free facilities by 2020) and continue to work to maximize fuel efficiency in their cars and trucks. 

Alcoa pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. by 50 percent (from 2005 levels) by 2025. Alcoa will also demonstrate a net reduction of GHG emissions from the use of their products equal to three times the emissions created by their production. 

Alcoa is a long-time leader in addressing climate change the right way; they’ve consistently committed to reducing their climate impact—especially compared to aluminum manufacturing in other countries. Aluminum made in China is much more carbon intensive than product made in the U.S., creating more than double the amount of GHG per metric ton of product. In fact, China’s aluminum industry has the highest carbon dioxide emissions on the globe—accounting for 68 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions from aluminum production in 2014 alone. 

When you think about why it’s smarter to use American made goods, the impact on our climate cannot be ignored. American aluminum and many other products quite simply are light-years ahead in terms of manufacturing products and generating significantly less GHG compared to China and other nations. Investing in our own products is the smart bet for our pocketbooks and our climate. 

We applaud companies like Alcoa, AT&T, GM, International Paper, UPS and others for their action. Addressing climate change will create economic opportunity and quality jobs. But we all need to work together to do it. 

We can continue our progress on addressing climate change in Paris. The U.S. needs to lead the way to a global agreement that reduces greenhouse gas emissions world wide, that ensures a just transition for workers, and that requires transparency and verification so nations can’t simply say they’re taking action climate—they have to prove it. 

Posted In: Climate Change
Oct 8

From Union of Concerned Scientists: Shockingly, Americans Don’t Want Chemical Disasters

The following blog post is from Gretchen Goldman, lead analyst, Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. The original post can be found here.

Today, a new public poll was released showing Americans’ widespread support for chemical safety reform. The headline might not seem so remarkable but the data show an impressive level of support across demographics. Let’s dig in, shall we?

The poll was sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists, along with the BlueGreen Alliance, Center for Effective Government, Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace, and United Steelworkers, and conducted by Lake Research Partners. The poll surveyed 1,009 adults, including 794 likely 2016 voters and asked about chemical safety issues.

Across demographics, the majority of likely voters polled favored requiring chemical facilities to use safer chemicals and processes in order to protect communities.

Across demographics, the majority of likely voters polled favored requiring chemical facilities to use safer chemicals and processes in order to protect communities.

The people have spoken and they want better chemical policies

The poll found that 79 percent of likely voters favor requiring chemical facilities to use safer chemicals and processes when they were effective, available, and affordable. And this finding was similar across demographics, with a majority in support across political parties, racial identity, education level, and age.

In addition, the poll found that by and large people reject the notion that stronger policies on chemical safety kill jobs, an argument often used by opponents of stronger protections against chemical disasters. Only 16 percent of likely voters thought such protections should not be put in place because of job impacts, with nearly three-quarters of those polled favoring setting stronger safety standards to protect Americans.

The toll of chemical disasters

But it shouldn’t be surprising that these issues would be so unifying. Chemical disasters occur everywhere and can affect many across the country. The explosion of a fertilizer plant is West, Texas last year is a recent high-profile example of the devastating impact these events can have. The blast—which was enabled because the plant was storing unsafe levels of ammonium nitrate on site—killed 15 people and destroyed or damaged 150 buildings.

However, it is important to remember that for every West, Texas, there are dozens of chemical explosions that don’t get the same kind of headlines. Yearly, there are about30,000 documented accidents at U.S. chemical facilities, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths per year. Recent studies have shown that 134 million Americans live in the vicinity of 3,400 facilities that use or store hazardous chemicals. And although these risks are wide reaching, the families who live in the most vulnerable zones are disproportionately poor, African-American, or Latino.

Yet, members of the public and local public safety officials often have little information about the chemicals stored and used in their communities or about the associated risks for explosion, spills, and accidental or intentional release of chemicals. Despite laws intended to promote sharing of information about local chemical hazards, there is often ineffective communication of these hazards to the public and local public safety officials. This failure to communicate persists and is potentially most tragic when community emergency responders respond to chemical fires and explosions at facilities.

The EPA Risk Management Plan: A need for better public access

The EPA is currently updating its Risk Management Plan (RMP), the agency’s primary mechanism for managing chemical disaster risks. Under the current RMP, companies report information about the worse-case scenario risks at their facilities and what they are doing to mitigate those risks. This information is technically public but no one would say it’s easy to get. One must schedule in advance an appointment at an EPA or Department of Justice reading room—of which some states don’t have any. Once there, you are allowed to view information for ten facilities only (though more if you are a local resident) and you cannot take a photo or type up the information. Instead, you must manually copy the information with pen and paper. Finally, you are able to follow this procedure only once per month.

As my colleague Andrew Rosenberg has said in a public comment to the EPA, the bottom line is that this process is neither convenient nor easy for large parts of the population who don’t have the time, patience, or geographic proximity to manage such a process. The EPA is currently developing a revised draft rule on the RMP and I hope they consider making the valuable information it contains more accessible to communities.

The bottom line: We need chemical safety reform

So what does the poll suggest? First and foremost, it suggests we need better chemical policies in this country. We need greater accountability for the companies responsible for such disasters. And we need more oversight from regulators to ensure that companies aren’t operating under risky conditions. Local communities deserve access to information about what chemicals are in their area and what the risks are. Emergency personnel and medical professionals also need access to this information, to ensure that people are kept safe or treated appropriately with any exposure.

Posted In: Work, Environment and Public Health, Union of Concerned Scientists
Sep 23

In Construction Sector, Green is Growing

Green buildings and more efficient building practices and materials have taken the construction sector in the U.S. by storm and a new study shows that a third of the U.S. construction market could be green by 2018. 

The growth of green in construction is a huge boon to the U.S. economy and to workers. The report from the US Green Building Council (USGBC) found that green construction has generated $167 billion in the U.S. over the last three years and will account for an estimated 2.3 million American jobs this year. 

By 2018, the study finds that green construction will account for more than 3.3 million U.S. jobs, which is more than a third of the entire U.S. construction sector. It will also generate $190.3 billion in labor earnings. In Texas alone, almost 1.26 million jobs in the green building sector are projected between 2015 and 2018.  

“Our research shows that green building has created millions of jobs and contributed hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy, with the construction of LEED-certified buildings accounting for about 40 percent of green construction’s overall contribution to GDP in 2015,” said David Erne, a Senior Associate at Booz Allen, the group that conducted the study on behalf of USGBC. 

While the economic news is great, the big byproduct of greener buildings is that making our buildings more energy and water efficient is vital to tackling climate change. Since buildings account for 39 percent of carbon emission in the U.S., there’s certainly no shortage of opportunity to improve our building stock, while growing good jobs for workers around the country. 

Green design, techniques and products are a growing part of our construction sector. And, as efforts to tackle climate change continue here in America and the around the world, it looks like the future will only get brighter for our economy and environment. 

Posted In: Energy Efficiency
Sep 16

Keep the Crude Oil Export Ban to Protect Jobs, Environment

The following blog post is from Kim Glas, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, and is cross-posted from the Huffington Post

It's expected that the House will soon vote on a bill to lift the long-standing ban on crude oil exports. We should take a step back and see how this 180-degree shift in policy will impact us all. Lifting the export ban would not only risk undoing recent gains in America's energy security, but would also threaten jobs, economic security and the environment.

The bill—H.R. 702would amend the Energy Policy and Conservation Act and would prohibit any federal office from imposing or enforcing the ban on crude oil exports.

In terms of economic impact, lifting the crude oil ban would provide an incentive for companies to move refining offshore, which would impact jobs of the men and women employed at U.S. refineries and the communities that rely on the tax base generated from these wages. Refinery and related industry occupations are good paying, middle-class jobs. They support more than $1.8 million in value-added to the economy per employee, which translates to jobs that support families and sustain local economies and communities.

Removing the ban would be bad for our environment. In 2014, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that lifting the export ban would increase greenhouse gases and other emissions and increase the risk of oil spills. In that report, the GAO referenced a report by Resources for the Future, which estimated that lifting the ban would increase carbon dioxide emissions worldwide by almost 22 million metric tons per year. What's more, shifting refining to parts of the world with lower environmental and labor standards may result in higher carbon emissions and greater environmental impacts overall.

This effort would also undermine the efforts of the federal and state governments to encourage upgrades at refinery facilities to meet new environmental standards and other investments that will lower the environmental footprint at these facilities. One such example—the EPA Tier 3 sulfur standard rule—will lower the overall sulfur content in gasoline from 30ppm to 10ppm, reducing asthma attacks and eliminating millions of tons of harmful emissions from the atmosphere.

It's time for Congress, instead, to get to work to improve safety for U.S. oil industry workers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This bill is bad for our economy and the environment and Congress should reject it.

Sep 8

Smarter Cities Will Help Fight Climate Change

Cities in the United States are struggling with aging and failing infrastructure systems—ones that will likely be unable to withstand the severe impacts of climate change. We’ve seen this with Hurricane Sandy, and in Duluth, Minnesota, where the roads were washed away several years ago by the worst flood in Duluth’s history.
This problem is observed in today’s Star Tribune, with an editorial outlining what the mayors of two of the state’s major cities say is the biggest problem they have yet to fix: the cities’ aging infrastructure for street, sewer and related systems.
Building smarter cities will not only improve our infrastructure and make our cities more efficient, it can have a significant impact in the fight against climate change.
A new working paper from the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate outlines the importance of building smarter cities as a strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In "Accelerating Low-Carbon Development in the World’s Cities," the Commission says that two-thirds of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050, and recommends that cities “commit to developing and implementing low-carbon urban development strategies by 2020,” calling for an aid package of $1 billion to unleash $5-10 billion in private investment. 
As reported by The Guardian:
“Putting cities on a course of smart growth – with expanded public transit, energy-saving buildings, and better waste management - could save as much as $22tn and avoid the equivalent in carbon pollution of India’s entire annual output of greenhouse gasses, according to leading economists.”
The report comes just a few months ahead of critical negotiations in Paris around a global agreement to fight climate change. The report’s contributors say that this strategy could help close the gap between currently committed reductions in greenhouse gases and that which is needed to limit the world’s global temperature increase to 2° C.
Building smarter cities seems like a no brainer. Building efficiency, transit, renewable energy and waste management are all strategies worth pursuing in cities in the United States and across the world.
But political will is needed to make these changes, both in Paris and here in the United States.  
Posted In: Minnesota, Infrastructure, Climate Change
Aug 28

The BlueGreen Source for Friday, August 28, 2015

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: The BlueGreen Source will be on hiatus until Monday, September 14.


Yesterday a federal judge in North Dakota blocked Clean Water Act protections just before it was set to take effect. The decision only applies to the 13 states that are a part of the lawsuit. (The Hill)


“We strongly believe that this investment is not, as some would say, an expenditure of money but a true investment that provides a return to the public in the form of economic growth along with the jobs that are created by that growth,” writes Oklahoma’s transportation secretary.


Message of hope – President Obama yesterday traveled to New Orleans yesterday on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. In a speech he said, “Americans like you—the people of New Orleans . . . you’re what recovery has been all about.” (Washington Post)

Six in 10 – Six in 10 voters support the administration’s final rule limiting carbon pollution fromexisting power plants according to a new poll commissioned by the League of Conservation Voters. (The Hill)

31 percent – In July Californians accomplished the goal of cutting water usage by 31 percent. (Los Angeles Times)


St. Louis Public Radio: Focus on 'right to work' gets more intense as legislators consider override attempt

The Guardian: Middle East faces water shortages for the next 25 years, study says

Bloomberg: U.K. to End Small-Scale Renewables Aid in Blow to Solar

Time: These Are the Cities Most Vulnerable to the Next Katrina

That's it for The Source today. Don't forget to tell your friends about this great resource. You can sign up here.

Posted In: The Source
Aug 27

The BlueGreen Source for Thursday, August 27, 2015


Despite the effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others to restore sediment and rebuild levees around New Orleans, rising sea levels continue to pose a threat to Louisiana. (Climate Central)


"We don't have time to waste. We don't have time to lose,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at a press conference yesterday urging leaders to accelerate climate change negotiations.


Ten years later – President Obama travels to New Orleans today to mark the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He’s expected to speak about the structural inequalities across the city that contributed to the severity of the destruction. (Reuters)

Under pressure – Water pressure on the site of the Gold King Mine that contaminated the Animas River was never checked, according to an internal Environmental Protection Agency review. (Denver Post)

Sights set – Transportation advocates have set their sights on Republican lawmakers in a radio ad advocating a long-term highway funding plan. (The Hill)

Smart, comprehensive - Reducing leaks in our natural gas distribution networks, along with broader efforts to keep gas in the system throughout the energy sector, offer ways to grow our economy and make it more efficient. (Huffington Post)


State Impact: Mayors call for city climate action amid Congressional ‘gridlock’

The Baltimore Sun: Baltimore wins grant to remove health hazards from homes

Washington Post: The troubling reasons why NASA is so focused on studying sea level rise

The Telegraph: Resource development expected topic during Obama trip

That's it for The Source today. Don't forget to tell your friends about this great resource. You cansign up here.

Posted In: The Source
Aug 26

From AFL-CIO: Worker Wins Update: Union Support and Union Numbers on the Rise

The following post by Anthony DeAngelo has been cross-posted from the AFL-CIO NOW blog. The original post is available online hereWorker Wins Update: Union Support and Union Numbers on the Rise

Workers across the country have stood up in the past month to fight for better wages and working conditions.

More Americans Are Backing Worker Efforts to Speak Out: According to a new Gallup poll released last week, nearly six in 10 Americans stated they approve of labor unions. Efforts by working people to rally around issues ranging from raising wages to improved access to collective bargaining have led to the highest approval rating since 2008. In addition, millennials reported being more pro-union than any other age group, while the number of respondents who want workers to have more influence in public debate has risen 12 points since 2009.

Online Newsmakers Make News with Organizing Wins: The last month has seen significant wins for reporters, especially those whose work is primarily focused online. From The Guardian’s U.S.-based staff, to writers for online giants GawkerVice and Salon, writers have pointed to a greater voice in the workplace, raising wages and increased benefits as reasons for forming unions.

Hoosier Workers Win First Contract Battle: Workers at the Bloomingfoods, a co-op grocery store chain in Bloomington, Ind., ratified their first union contract earlier this month as members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 700. Some 250 workers across the co-op’s five stores pointed to raising wages and a fair process for resolving workplace issues as big wins for their contract.

Department of Energy Workers Win Two and a Half Year Contract Fight: After nearly three years of negotiations, workers for Battelle, a contractor that operates the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington State, have agreed on a new contract. The members of the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council have cited raising wages and strong benefits as significant victories from the contract.

Sweet Home Raising Wages: The Birmingham, Ala., City Council passed an ordinance last week to increase the city’s minimum wage to $10.10 over the next two years. Alabama does not have a state minimum wage and instead uses the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  

North Carolina City Approves Significant Raising Wages Victory: By an overwhelming margin, the Greensboro, N.C., City Council voted to raise wages for city employees, citing a high percentage of working people living below the poverty line. The council’s decision will raise wages to $15 by 2020 for city employees and will begin with an initial wage hike to $10 an hour for regular employees and $12 for employees who receive benefits.

Working People Score Major Sick Leave Win in Pittsburgh: Working people rallied the Pittsburgh City Council earlier this month to pass sweeping new paid sick leave legislation. The bill, which passed by an overwhelming margin, requires employers with 15 employees or more to provide as much as 40 hours of paid sick leave per year, while smaller companies must provide up to 24 hours per year.