Unions have been less than receptive to action on climate change. Eugene M. Trisko is a globally well-known environmental and legislative consultant who represented the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in testimony before the U.S. House Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

The UMWA is aware that climate change legislation poses the greatest threat to its membership and to the continued use of coal. President Trisko says, “Our initial analysis indicates that there will be a loss of 75,000 direct coal generation jobs in the U.S. by 2020. Those jobs are primarily in coalmines, power plants, and railroads. By 2035, those job losses will more than double to 152,000, amounting in a 50% cut in those jobs. A U.S. government economic multiplier estimated a total of 485,000 permanent jobs will be lost.

In addition to the loss of jobs, companies will lose the ability to fund pension and retiree health care benefits, putting more citizens, mostly senior citizens, on extremely low fixed incomes. Those who are employed by the UMWA feel strongly that their jobs are the best paying jobs in America. They are under the impression that jobs created under the category of “green jobs” will not pay well, will not have benefits and will not allow workers to realize the American Dream. It president says, “The UMWA has not and does not dispute the science regarding climate change. Our dispute is with how our government is going about addressing it, and on whom the administration is placing the greatest burden in dealing with this challenge.”

The president genuinely believes he is protecting the 485,000 employees by helping them to keep their jobs. To bring the UMWA on board with environmentalism, we will have to guarantee high paying jobs that will save the pension of retirees.

Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO made similar remarks at a UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk, “To those who say climate risk is a far off problem, I can tell you that I have hunted the same woods in Western Pennsylvania my entire live and climate change is happening now- I see it in the summer droughts that kill the trees, the warm winter nights when flowers bloom in January, the snows that fall less frequently and melt more quickly.”

Trumka goes on to discuss the fact that climate risk is closely linked to our economic problems. Thus, solving one will help fix the other. Factories and power plants and rail lines and highways and vehicles should all be replaced with something cleaner, more efficient and less wasteful. If our environment is healthier, we will actually have fewer costs to maintain it.

It seems that the Unions are ready to work on addressing climate change if we can show them that their needs will also be addressed. There is some good news. We have, in the past, gotten miners on the side of environmentalists, which means there is precedent for getting more on in the future. About 45 years ago, coal miners protested strip mines, nuclear power and the air pollution caused by coal. In 1972, the Miners for Democracy stated that if coal could not be mined safely and cleanly, it would not be mined at all. West Virginians called the companies out for the misleading policy of land “reclamation” and the storage of dangerous chemicals and toxic coal slurry hear their homes. West Virginias hopped on buses and marched against the development on nuclear power. Unfortunately the West Virginians lost and the energy companies won in the end. People were isolated and unable to get support. The people of coal country were left in the face of a massive, oppressive power. Will this cause hesitance to fight back again?

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