When is an Environmental Concern not an Environmental Concern?

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Green, Product Developments

Having read this article twice (I couldn’t quite believe it the first time) I think I know the answer. The NY Times ran a disturbing piece this week reporting on the intense environmental objections that some (and only some) solar energy planning applications are experiencing in California. The license application rightly gives all stakeholders the opportunity to question the developers commitment to (among other things) environmental protection, but the paper reported that some applications received intense scrutiny, in some cases over 140 questions requiring substantial data over the most trivial  of environmental issues, while others received no probing at all. So what was the difference between them? The first had given commitments to use unionized construction companies, the second had not. Lawyers for the California Unions for Reliable Energy, a coalition of construction unions, both negotiate labor agreements with solar developers and participate in the environmental review of the projects. When developers cooperate, they support the application without objections, when they decline to pay the estimated 20% premiums union friendly construction firms cost they face lengthy and costly environmental challenges.

The unions have aligned themselves with environmental groups and claim they are merely ensuring sustainable and environmentally friendly projects are funded. But whatever the official line union representatives are more candid. You only have so much land that can accept solar power plants, said Mr. Balgenorth, chairman of the labor group. So the question is, should that land be used for low-paid jobs or should that land be used for high-paid jobs? The reality is the work is the same, either the work only qualifies for unskilled rates or it qualifies for skilled rates ” depending on the complexity of the work required. These environmental challenges are the unions’ major tactic to maintain their share of industrial construction we call it greenmail, said Kevin Dayton, state government affairs director for the Associated Builders and Contractors of California. By forcing up the costs, all the unions are doing is burdening the enterprise with unnecessary costs, just as the unions did to the steel industry and the big three car makers ” and we all know what happened there.

–Stuart Burns

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