By Greg Pallesen and Josh Estes / For The Herald
Our state has a long and proud tradition of being a place that provides family-wage jobs in manufacturing while also striving to be responsible stewards of the environment.
Washington isn’t perfect in balancing these priorities, but state and local leaders are committed to establishing Washington as a leader in the transition to a greener economy that creates new clean energy jobs in the process. Today, this legacy is in jeopardy as lawmakers grapple with how to reduce carbon emissions while also protecting a skilled workforce, much of which is led by unions that help promote safety and good labor standards.
Current legislation being considered in Olympia, which is aimed at establishing a reduction in carbon emissions, will place many industries at risk while leaving thousands of families and the jobs they rely on hanging in the balance. As members of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Union, we have witnessed first-hand the devastating impacts that well-intentioned policies can have on workers and local economies, such as the now shuttered Kimberly-Clark Mill in Everett, and we urge lawmakers to spare other communities this same fate by including adequate worker and industry protections in the Climate Commitment Act.
While debating new policies such as Senate Bill 5126 to reduce carbon emissions, our state should be proud of the environmental leadership of manufacturers based here. Many manufacturers in Washington — such as pulp and paper mills — are categorized as energy-intensive, trade-exposed (EITE). EITE manufacturers represent only about 5 percent of Washington’s carbon emissions and benefit significantly from access to our local clean hydroelectric power. They are also vulnerable to global competition from manufacturers abroad that rely on dirty coal power and produce cheaper products at the expense of environmental and labor standards.
In contrast to manufacturers overseas that rely on coal power, manufacturers in Washington have long invested in reducing carbon emissions. For example, one paper mill in our state has reduced its carbon emissions by 90 percent since 2010. Today, only 1 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in Washington are generated by pulp and paper mills. These investments in improved environmental performance and efficiency reflect the commitment to uphold Washington’s values. For the people who pass through our doors every day, the safety and health of their work environment as well as that of the local communities where they live, too, is always top of mind.
Workers for EITE manufacturers know we can reduce emissions and protect jobs because we embody this vision every single day. But despite how casually you may consider the tissue in the box at your bedside or the cardboard that your packages are delivered in, the people who make them should be respected for their contributions to your daily life and the local economy.
Our skilled workers and tradespeople have sought-after jobs, that include good benefits and pensions. Acknowledging the unique role of EITE manufacturers in legislation such as SB 5126 isn’t just about reducing carbon emissions effectively, it’s about protecting and stabilizing opportunities for the current and next generation of professionals in our workforce. If we make it impossible for local companies to compete globally, the essential products that we manufacture here won’t go away, they will simply be made elsewhere, and in countries like China, which has a demonstrated history of pollution and little to no regard for any sort of carbon reduction policies.
This means losing more than 6,000 predominately family-wage, union-backed jobs in Washington pulp and paper mills alone.
In Everett, we know what it means for a manufacturer to close down and ship jobs overseas, leaving families and communities to start over. The well-intentioned, but unintended consequences of proposals like SB 5126 will have devastating effects for EITE businesses and sectors if adequate protections are not included. These potentially disastrous impacts to Washington workers and their families can, and should be avoided.
Greg Pallesen is the president of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers Union. Josh Estes is a managing partner with Pacific NW Regional Strategies, LLC and the former local union president for the Kimberly-Clark Everett Mill.