Jerry Cornfield

(Washington State Standard) A coalition of unions on Monday released a report laying out an ambitious “worker-centered climate roadmap” to create more than 800,000 jobs across Washington in the building, transportation, energy, and low-carbon manufacturing sectors.

The 104-page blueprint details 20 actions including making Washington a center for offshore wind power and sustainable aviation fuel, building modular nuclear reactors, reopening the Intalco aluminum smelter, and installing cool roofs on buildings in the Tri-Cities area.

Collectively, labor leaders say, the recommendations will promote a healthier environment and economy by curbing greenhouse gas emissions and providing workers with family-sustaining wages.

“Washington state has a crisis of climate change and a crisis of inequality and these two crises need to be addressed simultaneously,” said Washington State Labor Council President April Sims, at a news conference. The council is among the founders of the Climate Jobs WA coalition.

The report, produced by Cornell University’s Climate Jobs Institute, opens with a critique of the path the state is on, concluding “many of its landmark policies reflect business as usual.”

Gov. Jay Inslee’s office pushed back on that characterization and some of the figures in the report.

Washington’s portfolio includes a cap-and-trade program that puts a price on carbon emissions and a low carbon fuel standard. Other laws commit Washington to an electricity supply free of greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and to a growing percentage of electric vehicle ownership.

Authors of the report contend new climate investments “have not created a substantial number of union jobs or strong career pathways for frontline communities.”

The cap-and-invest program – which has generated $857 million to date – only addresses 15%–18% of state emissions and its exemptions “could sustain emissions-intensive practices” in communities suffering greater impacts from a changing climate, the report says.

The law intended to get utilities to switch to clean energy sources lacks incentives for in-state production of wind power. That “incentivizes more wind farms to be built out of state and at the loss of high-quality union jobs,” the report concludes.

A spokesman for Inslee on Monday said cap-and-invest covers 75% of statewide emissions, not the smaller figure cited in the report. And press secretary Mike Faulk disputed the researchers’ general conclusion about the efficacy of the state’s efforts.

“The idea that ‘our approach isn’t working’ on emissions doesn’t take into account that it wasn’t until 2018 or so when we finally had legislative majorities willing to take action on climate” and those policies are just starting to take effect, he said in an email.

He also cited numerous examples in which the governor has “partnered closely with Washington labor unions” including legislation to ensure strong labor standards in climate projects, promote sustainable aviation fuel production and speed up permitting of clean energy facilities.

“The report seems like it has the same goal we do: to build a clean energy economy that creates good jobs and addresses challenges in racial and economic equity,” he wrote.

Nuts and bolts

Some ideas in the report are already on the state’s to-do list, like expanding public transit to increase ridership, committing to 100% electric school buses, and building out electric vehicle public charging infrastructure.

Some are bound to stir debate should they gain traction in the Legislature.

For example, establishing Washington state as the West Coast center of offshore wind manufacturing. This idea requires investing in onshore facilities where the foundations, towers, cabling and blades for offshore wind turbines can be made.

The report also calls for constructing two large vessels for transporting and assembling the towers, plus ongoing operations of what would essentially be a wind farm on water. The report estimates this could create 2,000 jobs by 2030

Another recommendation is to set up a publicly-owned local corporation in the Tri-Cities area to install cool roofs on all buildings by 2030. Work should be done under project labor agreements with local hiring requirements, the report says.

Cool roofs are designed to reflect solar radiation and reduce energy consumption. They come in different forms such as spray-on, paint-on or special tiles for steeper roofs, according to the report.

Tri-Cities was chosen because it is the most heat-vulnerable area in the state, per the report. Authors estimate this action would create 2,711 jobs in the next seven years.

The report also recommends reopening the Alcoa Intalco aluminum smelter. The facility was permanently closed in March, though it had been idle since 2020. Hundreds of union jobs were lost with the closure.

Jon Holden, president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751, said in the news conference that this one isn’t likely to happen. Workers have been trying to secure investors and formulate a restart plan the last couple years without success. Members of the Inslee Administration took part too.

“We don’t see Intalco coming back at this time,” he said.

The Climate Jobs Institute has prepared similar climate reports for New York City and the states of Maine and Rhode Island. The institute partners with the Climate Jobs National Resource Center, a labor-led organization focused on combating climate change.