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LEAP speakers talk energy policy, the economy and 2020 elections

WITH THE UPCOMING 2020 elections gathering steam, Boilermaker delegates assembled in Washington, D.C., April 14-17 for the 51st annual Legislative Education Action Program (LEAP) Conference. Prior to lobbying their legislators on Capitol Hill, almost 140 attendees representing 45 locals — including both the Construction and Industrial Sector Operations — listened raptly to a range of presentations by significant mainstage speakers from the Economic Policy Institute, The Cook Political Report, the AFL-CIO and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (GCCSI).

John T. Fultz, International Vice President of the Northeast Section, gave opening remarks on behalf of International President Newton B. Jones who was unable to attend.

“One of the most essential things we do as a union is to come together to make our voices heard,” Fultz read from remarks prepared by President Jones. “And making our voices heard in Washington, D.C.’s epicenter of political action is critical. This is our opportunity to educate the lawmaker leaders about the issues that affect us as union Boilermakers and to gain their support to activate positive change and legislative action that will benefit our livelihoods and our future.”

In addition to several ongoing legislative issues, such as the need for a strong Jones Act, the elimination of the health care “Cadillac Tax” and pension reform, Jones’ remarks addressed the frenzied public debate over renewable energy vs. coal and other fossil fuels.

Calling the Green New Deal “myopic,” he stressed the Boilermakers’ stance that climate change must be addressed using a mix of renewables and clean fossil fuels to save the planet and American jobs. He emphasized that a critical part of that mix is carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS), and he called for delegates to advocate for additional tax credits through the Carbon Capture Modernization Act and passage of the USE IT Act to help speed widespread implementation of the technology.

“Boilermakers are currently involved in several CCUS projects in Canada and in the United States, but we’re not yet scratching the surface on the scale needed,” Fultz said. “CCUS is a climate-change solution we must continue to promote to not only our legislators, but also our friends, family and neighbors who can advocate along with us.”

Fultz then introduced the Boilermaker-produced film "CCS: Bridge to a Cleaner Energy Future," which was packaged into small, easy-to-use video brochures for delegates to give their representatives and senators. At the conclusion of the video, International Director of Climate Change Policy Solutions Cory Channon took the stage to discuss the International’s larger, 10-year collaborative effort with other countries and organizations to promote CCUS.

Beck tackles CCUS hurdles

GCCSI’S SENIOR ADVISOR Lee Beck agreed with the assessment of CCUS scale needed. “We’re not on track to mitigate climate change,” she said. “And all options are needed to limit global warming. [Carbon capture] is essential if we’re serious about climate change.”

Studies show that 32 percent of emissions reductions can be delivered by CCUS. “But to do that, we need lawmakers to commit,” Beck said.

The biggest hurdles to global use of CCUS are cost and government awareness. As Beck pointed out, if nations don’t invest now, the costs skyrocket. “If we don’t deploy [carbon capture] today, the mitigation cost for climate change will be twice as high.”

The good news is that costs are declining. The price tag of the second power plant where CCUS was deployed cost 30 percent less than the first. And those numbers don’t even take into account the jobs created through CCUS.

Government awareness, Beck added, is imperative, because 70 percent of energy transition will be driven by government policy. “Right now there’s no business case to invest in [carbon capture],” she said. “Companies won’t invest until government takes the lead.” That’s why an updated Carbon Capture Modernization Act and passage of the USE IT Act are essential to help drive global climate change.

Lee tackles wage inequality

THEA LEE, PRESIDENT of the Economic Policy Institute, discussed the state of the U.S. economy, especially as it relates to working people. And it’s not great.

Ten years into a recovery from the Great Recession, “we should be in a healthier place,” she said. “People have only recovered their pre-crash income last year. We’ve been experiencing 30 to 40 years of wage stagnation with all the wealth going to the top.”

There’s been a 348 percent growth in earnings for the wealthiest Americans, compared to a 10 to 12 percent growth for the rest of the population, she noted.

“Even looking at the big picture of dramatic inequality, we’ve become hardened to how bad it is,” Lee said. “Inequality, on top of stagnant wages, makes it harder for people to make ends meet.”

Lee emphasized that this disparity is not simply due to current administration policies but a decades-long trend in which working people have been marginalized through a series of deliberate policy decisions made by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Results of this disregard for the social and economic contributions made by working people include a chipping away at union power, poor trade policies and a stagnant minimum wage, to name a few. Lee said the “time is now” for unions to get involved to reverse poor policies from the past and fight for worker power, fair wages and income equality.

“I hope you’re ready to roll up your sleeves, because we have a lot to do,” she said. “Your commitment to the principles of the labor movement are what we need right now.”

Walter talks 2020

AMY WALTER, NATIONAL editor for The Cook Political Report, considered indications about the 2020 presidential race, including the many Democratic candidates and the current political environment’s impact on the sitting president.

One indicator she explored was how — or if — presidential approval ratings are an effective predictor.

“It’s hard to beat a president when the economy is doing well,” she said. “All but five presidents in good economies have been reelected.”

Walter noted that while currently 50 percent of people think the economy is doing well, that doesn’t appear to be influencing the current president’s popularity.

She also pointed out that independent voters continue to be a wild card. “They’re not as engaged in politics,” she said. “They just don’t spend a lot of time thinking about politics. Right now independents give [Trump] a 38 percent approval rating. It’s Trump’s base that has kept the [Republican] party together.”

She stressed that voters are tired and are basically “looking for a soothing bubble bath.”

AFL-CIO’s Greene offers actionable steps for election wins

JULIE GREENE, DIRECTOR of political/electoral issues for the AFL-CIO, took delegates through the back-end of wins from the 2018 mid-term elections before giving them a tool-kit on how to get their fellow brothers and sisters excited and involved in issues that matter to unions.

In the mid-terms, Democrats (who historically have favored union-friendly legislation) gained 40 seats in the House. Greene said unions “won where we weren’t supposed to win.” Such as in the case of Iowa’s third district winner Cindy Axne, who won because AFL-CIO affiliated union members knocked on 32,000 doors and “got out the vote.”

Which is what, according to Greene, needs to be done to see union members vote in favor of union-backed issues and candidates. “Only we can reach our members,” she said. “Persuadable members trust their union more than any other source.”

Greene said there’s power in the labor movement. Not just elections but issues in general. But, she cautioned, it’s important to understand that members don’t like to be told how to vote.

“Members want info on all of the candidates,” she said. “They don’t like biased info. It’s clear they don’t want to be told what to do. They want the opportunity to make up their own minds.”

She advised that to reach members, unions need to provide information on union-endorsed candidates, including past voting records. Offer members information on debates and town halls. Also, get job stewards involved, because data shows that people who receive a personal contact from someone within their local lodge tend to vote more often and support union issues.

“Many union members feel as if they’re participating simply because they’re paying dues,” Green said, adding it’s going to take an extra nudge to get members involved through the voting booth.