How to prioritize climate action with workers, communities in mind

The climate is changing and avoiding the most devastating impacts of that change requires immediate action. That is a fact. Already, Americans across the country are being affected by more frequent and stronger storms, wildfires, flooding, droughts and sea level rise. At the same time, working people are struggling with stagnant or falling wages, an ever-increasing cost of living and crippling economic inequality.

For too long our nation has been presented with a false choice, told we can only fix one of these two problems. We know that is not that case. We do not have to choose between good jobs and a clean environment. We can — and must — have both.


While the task before us is formidable, if done correctly — putting working people and those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change front and center — we can emerge from this crisis with a stronger, more sustainable, and equitable economy.

That’s not to say there is a quick and easy solution. It will require a significant change at the speed and scale demanded by scientific reality and the urgent needs of our communities. It will require a bold plan — one that invests in infrastructure and making the cutting-edge technologies of the future here in the United States, and it will require ensuring that communities impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels are not left behind.

But we can see examples across the nation of carefully crafted efforts that have put workers and communities first to make sure that the shift to a clean economy is as just as possible.

For example, in Illinois, the Future Energy Jobs Act made sweeping changes to the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and increased efforts to boost renewable energy and energy efficiency, all while protecting the jobs of workers at current energy generation facilities, including nuclear power plants. The law also established standards for the solar industry to use a skilled and qualified workforce.

Efforts at the national level have also had positive impacts. The current fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for cars and trucks have helped support innovation, investment and job growth in the auto and automotive supplier industries.

In fact, BlueGreen Alliance research has found there are currently nearly 300,000 American workers in 1,200 U.S. factories and engineering facilities in 48 states building technologies that reduce pollution and improve fuel economy.

This progress is welcome, but this is no time to stop the fight for progress. Future policies should be drafted with climate change and the impact on workers and communities in mind. One crucial issue that has been avoided for far too long is our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. It’s an issue that is massive in scale and impacts every American.

Our infrastructure is in dire need of repair, putting communities across the country at risk. And it is certainly not built to stand up to the impacts of climate change, and that is resulting in devastation in communities in hurricane zones and areas prone to wildfires or flooding. We need to rebuild our infrastructure with the changing climate in mind, and also in such a way that grows family-sustaining jobs and makes our communities healthier and more resilient.


Infrastructure must be a priority for the Congress, and it should be addressed in such a way that puts workers and communities first. To do so, all projects should be subject to provisions that help ensure that improvements to American’s infrastructure benefit American workers, such as Buy America, Davis-Bacon, and local hire provisions as well as project labor and community benefit agreements. The use of efficient, resilient, clean materials must be prioritized. Projects should create economic opportunities for communities and local workers.

Climate change is a crisis we need to act on immediately and strategically. By implementing the right policies, we have the opportunity to create a more sustainable, equitable and clean future for our nation. That is the plan that the American people have tasked this Congress with developing. It is the plan this country needs. 

Michael Williams is the deputy director of the BlueGreen Alliance, which unites labor unions and environmental organizations to solve today’s environmental challenges in ways that build a stronger, fairer economy. Previously, Williams worked in the BlueGreen Alliance’s policy and advocacy operations. Prior to joining the BlueGreen Alliance, Williams worked as Congressman Lloyd DoggettLloyd Alton DoggettGreen says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely Appeals court strikes ObamaCare mandate, sends case back to lower court House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices MORE’s (D-Texas) legislative assistant, handling energy, environmental and transportation issues.