Union chief: Congress controlled by 'climate change deniers'

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Thursday that climate change deniers call the shots in Congress. 

“[I]t is clear that as long as Congress is effectively controlled by climate change deniers, all of us — investors, companies, workers and the broader public — must take action ourselves,” Trumka said.

In a wide-ranging speech in New York at the Investor Summit on Climate Risk & Energy Solutions, Trumka made the case for creating jobs with the build-out of low-carbon infrastructure.

He said the collapse of global warming legislation has prompted the labor federation to seek other means to spur investments in climate-friendly technologies. The federation backed the sweeping climate bill that passed the House in 2009, but climate legislation collapsed in the Senate the following year and remains politically moribund amid GOP control of the House and the Democrats' slim Senate majority.

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“So a year ago, as the climate bill failed in Congress, as the jobs crisis deepened and as workers’ pension funds continued to suffer from microscopic fixed-income yields, the American labor movement decided we couldn’t wait — we had to act to help advance profitable, risk-weighted investments that would create jobs and address climate change,” he said, according to prepared remarks.

The speech — which cites the risk of “catastrophic” climate change — touts efforts such as investments by the AFL-CIO’s Housing Investment Trust in efficiency retrofits, and work with the Clinton Global Initiative on spurring investments in retrofits, transportation and other infrastructure.

But Trumka also urges renewed efforts to pass climate legislation, arguing capital markets aren’t currently addressing climate risks because it remains an “externality.”

He states:

That’s why investors need, for our own economic reasons, government policies to make sure that critical investments get made — investments in building retrofits, in high-speed rail and the smart grid, in carbon capture and sequestration. That’s what comprehensive climate legislation is about — and that’s why we as nation must return to the work of passing a climate bill.

Trumka also notes concerns that tackling climate change and Environmental Protection Agency rules to curb other pollution from coal-fired power plants will be economically harmful to regions like West Virginia and the Ohio Valley.

“The truth is that in many places — and not just places where coal is mined — there is fear that the 'green economy' will turn into another version of the radical inequality that now haunts our society — another economy that works for the 1 percent and not for the 99 percent,” he states.

Trumka says the AFL-CIO wants new dialogue between workers, environmentalists, companies and investors to “forge pathways to fair and politically sustainable change.”

He said labor will help lead talks to discuss strategies for boosting technologies like “smart” power grids, building high-speed rail, retrofitting coal plants and expanding renewable power.

Trumka argues such talks must consider how to help communities thrive when coal plants and mines close, and how to create jobs for unemployed construction workers.

“In particular, we need dialogue between environmentalists and workers and communities about the future of coal. About what the global labor movement calls a Just Transition to a low-carbon-emissions economy. And the AFL-CIO is ready to host that dialogue,” he states.