Opinion | Getting blue-collar workers to work for the environment may save the economy


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The Green New Deal is proposed legislation that focuses on climate change and reducing economic inequality.

By Ethan Tessler, Staff Columnist

It’s no secret that this is a pressing time for the vast majority of Americans. Jobless claims increase everyday, putting more and more strain on the economy. Though there are signs of recovery, it’s highly likely that only the wealthy will be fortunate enough to experience it. This will only further exacerbate the extreme income inequality America has faced since the early 1980s.

Simultaneously, we are in the midst of a climate crisis. As wildfires continue to ravage California, the air quality has dropped dramatically, causing many communities, such as some in the Bay Area, to evacuate. The fires have gotten so bad that even surrounding states such as Oregon are experiencing orange skies and unhealthy air quality. While it is true that California’s arid climate makes the area ripe for wildfires, a rapidly warming climate aggravates the frequency and intensity of these fires, making the air so dry that forests are essentially tinderboxes.

Because these two issues are so critical and have no current viable solutions, it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide an infrastructure program that addresses the climate crisis and brings back American jobs. Countless blue-collar jobs have already been outsourced, and many others are not coming back. Therefore, the focus of such a plan would be struggling blue-collar industry areas such as western Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Ohio. Instituting a Green New Deal would help revive industry in these areas, bring back American jobs and transition to green energy.

The free market is currently in shambles and has never once substantially corrected environmentally destructive practices, such as drilling for oil or burning coal. In order for a Green New Deal to really work, the government needs to get serious and mobilize like they did in World War II. The first step would be to establish government agencies that oversee this massive transition. Each agency would accomplish one of the many facets of this plan, including implementing labor force strategies, building various infrastructure works, setting energy efficiency standards and much more. Like the many alphabet agencies created during President Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure, a new slew of these agencies would ensure this public works plan operates effectively.

A key reason why the market has failed to correct the current level of fossil fuel production is because the government has not heavily incentivized these companies to change their ways. A first step could include the implementation of federal renewable portfolio standards, “which require that a specified percentage of the electricity that utilities sell comes from renewable resources,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Currently, these standards are being left for the states to decide, but to achieve a total and organic energy transformation, it is imperative that the federal government establishes standards that all states must meet.

Of course, these changes will not happen overnight. This will need to be a gradual process that allows companies to adapt to the changing standards. Some resistant to a Green New Deal fear that certain parts of the country will be left behind without jobs because fossil fuel workers like their jobs. To calm those worries, it is necessary to transform not just locations and economic sectors but also the policies of whole industries. Government agencies would need to work with companies in each industry to establish level playing fields and realistic standards, giving everyone a head start in this new energy reality.

For example, President Barack Obama did something like this during his tenure. In an effort to make the automobile industry more green, he got auto companies and the United Auto Workers union to agree to a large-scale, long-term effort to cut carbon emissions. This resulted in lower carbon pollution and more jobs — a win-win.

With all of this in mind, we must remember that the backbone of this plan would be to get millions of disenfranchised workers into a workforce that provides good-paying, stable jobs. As COVID-19 continues to decimate our economic infrastructure, it is crucial that the government teams up with labor organizations like the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations to recruit workers in hard-hit sectors across all 50 states, making sure no worker gets left behind. To truly make sure these workers are taken care of, they must be provided with on-the-job training, health care, child care and potentially housing.

While all of this may sound like a pipe dream, remember the United States has already done this. The federal government in 1933 created the Tennessee Valley Authority — a federally owned corporation that supercharged the Tennessee Valley, which was one of the areas hardest hit by the Depression. The TVA modernized the region by way of its powerful economic development. Countless citizens in states such as Tennesee, Alabama and others still continue to work for and benefit from the authority, to this day.

Despite popular belief, this plan would not have to raise your taxes. After all, the average citizen didn’t create this mess, the government and big corporations did. There are numerous ways the government can raise the necessary funds.

A one-time wealth tax on the top 1% of Americans would create a colossal amount of funding that we could swim in. Closing tax loopholes for the wealthy would also generate tons of funding. President Donald Trump paid $750 in income taxes for 2016 and 2017 — a figure so staggeringly low that the person reading this probably paid more in taxes. For a man valued at $2.5 billion, this is beyond appalling.

Beyond new taxes for a miniscule portion of the country that owns half the wealth, if we effectively reorganized our budget, we could fund the Green New Deal with no issues. We all know that America loves having a strong military, but it can still lead the world in defense spending while cutting the budget in half — even more.

Beyond that, polluters should have to pay fees to adjust to this new environment, which can be used to fund the majority of the deal. After all, they caused the mess, and it’s not like these companies would go bankrupt — they’re worth billions of dollars and would adjust to the new policies. If these companies choose to lay off workers, those individuals would be able to find new jobs easily in the emerging government projects.

When I hear qualms about lack of funding for this project, I simply laugh at the hypocrisy of such a statement. How did we pay for the Iraq War? How did we pay for the hundreds of billions of dollars of our defense budget? We need to end this scarcity mindset and instead recognize that America is one of the world’s wealthiest countries and can pay for virtually anything. And instead of being a burden on the average taxpayer and an absolute waste of time, money and human lives, like the Iraq War, this Green New Deal will pay for itself, since a fossil-free economy will definitely be cheaper than our current one, saving American consumers money in the long run.

The time to enact this plan was about 10 years ago, so to say we’re behind would be a gross understatement. We should be treating this fight like the war that it is and operate like we did during World War II. It’s time for our government to lead the world in cleaning up the environment and bringing back American jobs that will be here to stay.

Ethan Tessler writes about issues that don’t seem to get enough attention in national media. If you like what he had to say or hate the column with a passion, write to him at [email protected].