By ALFREDO ALVARADO
With President Donald J. Trump pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement and his appointment of a climate skeptic to lead the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the battle to protect the environment has gotten more contentious.
Those developments and the hurricanes that have swept across the Caribbean were some of the topics discussed at a forum sponsored by the DC 37 Climate Justice Committee. The committee chair, Local 1501 President Jeremy Sanders, Jon Foster, founder of the committee, and the union’s Political Action and Legislation Dept. organized a panel of activists for a lively discussion and a short film on Oct. 5 at union headquarters.
Eddie Bautista, one of the panelists and executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, said unions have stepped up their support for the transition to renewable energy and highlighted labor’s participation in support of the environmental movement.
“At the People’s Climate March in 2014, it was the labor unions who bought the largest groups of supporters to the march,” Bautista said.
Bautista also spoke out in favor of legislation that would penalize polluters and make them pay into a fund for the transition to renewable energy. The revenue would be used to train workers for new jobs, he added.
In his presentation, Eduardo Rosario, president of the New York City chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and the contract administration coordinator at DC 37’s Local 375, gave an overview of the National Environmental Policy Act.
Established in 1970, NEPA was one of the first laws to ensure that all branches of government take into account the effect on the environment when the federal government is involved in building highways, airports and bridges. NEPA instituted measures to protect the environment, like environmental impact statements, which are now required for construction and other work.
The United Steel Workers, the United Auto Workers and union environmental activists have a long history of fighting for clean water and against air pollution, Rosario said.
Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, president of the New York State Nurses Association, spoke of the victories achieved by the environmental movement.
“Let’s not forget the Gasoducto in Puerto Rico, it was the people who organized and stopped it,” she said, referring to the campaign to block the building of a massive natural gas pipeline on the island.
Ali Rivera, a member of SSEU Local 371, was one of the 200 people in the audience. It was the first time he attended a climate change event at the union. “I learned a lot tonight; it was very informative,” he said.
The evening closed with a lengthy question-and-answer session between guests and panelists.