There's Plenty of Skilled Labor To Fight Air Pollution

Unions dispute industry excuses about labor shortage

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It takes chutzpah to assert that there aren’t enough skilled workers—during the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression—to comply with EPA regulations to reduce air pollution. But the power sector has done just that. For example, American Electric Power Co. has suggested that there are not enough specialized workers to comply with air pollution reduction regulations.

Thankfully, organized labor has forcefully rebutted these claims.

In letters to Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), an AFL-CIO affiliate for building and construction trades and the Institute for Clean Air Companies declared that power companies have access to enough skilled labor to comply with EPA requirements under the proposed "transport rule." Proposed in July 2010, the transport rule strives to reduce the amount of air pollution that travels across state lines. In order to comply with the proposed rule, power companies would be required to install and maintain air pollution control technology.

Here are some noteworthy declarations from labor that they have the people with the right skills to keep the power sector reliable and cleaner:

AFL-CIO, Building and Construction Trades
• "There is no evidence to suggest that the availability of skilled manpower will constrain pollution-control technology deployment. In fact, given the high levels of unemployment in the construction sector, these jobs are much needed."
• "…in prior years our union were able to provide the skilled labor necessary for compliance, we have every confidence we will be equipped to enable regulated entities to comply in this case."
• "The member unions…continually invest in the apprenticeship and skills training program to ensure adequate supply of craftsmen to meet contractor demand."

Institute of Clean Air Companies
• "Less resource and time-intensive technologies are available to be quickly deployed offering the electric generating industry the needed flexibility to comply with the proposed Clean Air Transport Rule and the upcoming utility MACT."
• "We estimate that over the past seven years, the implementation of CAIR Phase 1 [first phase of Transport Rule] resulted in 200,000 jobs in the [air pollution control] APC industry."

With so many skilled laborers seeking employment, it’s galling that the power sector would so blatantly insult the American worker. Reducing air pollution makes us healthier and will also put thousands of Americans back to work.

Stephanie Maddin worked on Capitol Hill with the Policy & Legislation team from 2010–2016. She lobbied on air pollution issues to ensure that all Americans enjoy the full promise of the Clean Air Act.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.