Forest issue pits labor unions vs. environmentalists

Andrew Langer
President of the Institute for Liberty

In announcing his re-election, the president has repeatedly stressed the importance of green jobs and exhaustive environmental regulations, measures taken over Obama’s term in office to appease one of his key constituencies. The pandering quickly paid off last month as Obama racked up the endorsement of green crusaders Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Clean Water Action and Environment America. The same is true of labor unions. Despite his best efforts to get card check legislation passed in Congress, labor unions are still backing their guy. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reportedly has “unfettered access” to the president, visiting the White House some 71 times since the president was sworn in over three years ago. But not everything is well in the once blissful Obama coalition, with green groups and labor unions on opposite ends in a number of key debates.

The president’s decision to block the Keystone XL Pipeline was resoundingly criticized by free market groups, the Canadian government and members of Congress. However, the AFL-CIO has been one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration intransigence over the issue, stating that the pipeline can still be done in an “environmentally friendly way and still create the jobs.” But what Trumka failed to mention was green groups like WWF, Greenpeace and the Sierra Club are all opposed to the pipeline. Period. The Natural Resources Defense Council has claimed that the president has “no choice but to reject the pipeline.” And in doing so, greens are destroying union jobs—thousands of them. But this is no spat. The so-called BlueGreen Alliance is now in jeopardy after the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) quit the group in protest against the environmentalists refusing to even negotiate over Keystone.

But as Keystone continues to dominate the headlines, the greens and labor are currently embroiled in another contentious – and equally as heated – confrontation in the forestry industry. At present the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) is considering revisions to its LEED rating tool, a policy that is currently rigged in favor of the Greenpeace-backed Forest Stewardship Council. Although the overall quality and durability of FSC-endorsed products has been widely criticized by leading architects and furniture manufacturers both and in US and internationally, the environmentalist movement has been able to prevent the USGBC from revising its LEED scheme—at great cost to taxpayers nonetheless. However, moves are afoot to revise LEED to include wood certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), one of FSC’s competing certifiers.

Late last year Maine’s Governor Paul LePage stated that he would no longer allow FSC-certified wood to maintain its monopoly over state buildings and infrastructure, a move that boosted the state’s small landholders who could not afford the burdensome regulatory costs to receive FSC certification. But unions, such as the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), have vocally supported revisions to LEED standards, revisions that would allow SFI and other certifiers to have a more level playing field. In fact, the fissure between the greens and labor has become so severe that complaints have been filed to the Federal Trade Commission, accusing FSC and USGBC of operating “in tandem to disadvantage wood products certified by SFI and other certification systems.” FSC and USGBC have clearly been complicit in the restriction of trade and competition both within the US and from Emerging Markets.

The past few years under President Obama have hardly been a golden era for job creators. The president’s blind faith in government action has been entirely at odds with the free market principles that lead to foster innovation and prosperity. But even when business and labor unions can find solid grounds for collaboration on matters such as Keystone and revising LEED ratings, the green movement still represents a perennial threat to the integrity and economic well-being of the country. A minority in the labor union movement may well still believe that the greens are their allies. But try getting new members when these allies are endeavoring to destroy jobs at every conceivable opportunity.

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