Phillip Bannowsky 6:51 p.m. EDT May 28, 2014:
The same lack of choices and vision that saw auto plants razed and the economy stall dominates the power plant dispute in Newark.
When the 2007 banker’s debacle hit and closing Chrysler’s Newark Assembly Plant loomed, labor and environmental visionaries proposed building wind turbines, rail cars, and solar collectors there.
NAP workers would have been happy with Green New Deal jobs that would not be wiped out with the next energy crisis and with a future not choked on contaminants, flooded by rising seas, or swept away by superstorms. But they did not have that choice.
Instead, groups like the Heritage Foundation spread lies about $70 autoworker wages, promoted bankruptcy for the auto industry, salivated over the shredding of union contracts, and condemned any kind of New Deal as a socialistic threat to free enterprise. In December 2008, Chrysler NAP shut down.
Choices diminished when my current employer, the University of Delaware, bidding for the old Chrysler site, scared off competitors by threatening to seize the property through eminent domain.
When UD began converting NAP to its new STAR campus, we hoped for green jobs, given UD’s written commitments to environmental sustainability and the state’s renewable energy credits. Maybe we’d make windmills after all.
But that choice was not to be. When UD invited Bloom Energy to its Star Campus, the state redefined “renewable” to include Bloom’s fuel cells even though they ran on non-renewable natural gas, since they at least used less gas. Not considered was how the earth and its aquifers are contaminated and destabilized to extract gas with “fracking.”
Like many others, I supported the Bloom deal, rationalizing it was only a small pact with the devil, and anyway, what choice did we have? A new generation needed jobs. Pollution? Hell, before I retired from NAP in 2001, I’d made good dough grinding lead solder and sloshing around in solvents toxic to kidney, brain and kin.
We even got Delmarva’s ratepayers to kick in. So we got a few jobs, but not the thanks of Delmarva customers and not a healthy future that would sustain our children. UD had not considered sustainable energy technology like that promoted by the Omega Institute or the Oberlin Project.
So before we choose this power plant, let’s have a debate that includes all the choices, not just those chosen by UD, corporate politicians, and the carbon barons. Recently, I got a call from a geology prof studying attitudes about the power plant. So far everyone was against it, and the prof wanted to talk to someone for it. I was torn, so I put her in touch with my corporate friend Ken Grant and UAW Local 1183 president Mack McDonaugh, both pro-plant. It isn’t fair if only one side is heard.
Recently the debate got very unfair, with attempts to excommunicate pro-sustainability trade unionists and distort the words of environmentalist Amy Roe. James Maravelias, acting president of the Delaware Building & Construction Trades Council, donned his pontifical miter and declared not only would he not endorse the re-election of Newark Rep. John Kowalko, his union brother, but he would not “support any legislative initiatives” that Kowalko leads. Presumably then, Maravelias opposes making UD comply with Freedom of Information requests, as Kowalko has proposed.
Similarly, Ken Grant accessed his inner Glenn Beck to characterize Roe as “classist, elitist, and racist,” a charge immediately dismissed by Newark NAACP president Gary Hayman, who said, “Amy Roe is not a racist. She is not a classist. That’s crazy.”
What’s racist and classist is corporations’ extorting tax breaks from states and sheltering riches offshore instead of investing in a working and equal America. What’s crazy is yielding to corporate divide and conquer tactics.
Ken Grant’s corporate friends do not side with labor against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a NAFTA on steroids that would surrender American sovereignty to global corporations. Before the labor movement gets stuck in the mud that Grant is slinging, it should consider a better alliance, that of blue-collar and green.
The Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, for example, rejects the “false choice” of “jobs vs. the environment,” and seeks to build “a worker-oriented environmental movement … to protect not only the environment, but also the livelihoods of working people.”
Nationally, the Blue-Green Alliance unites 15 of the biggest labor and environmental organizations, including the UAW and the Sierra Club, locally at odds over this power plant.
Labor and environmentalists must not be blinded by limited choices and slanderous distractions. They need to renew their friendships and envision a future with sustainable industry, thriving communities, and an America still beautiful and free.
If for no other reason, it might keep us from having to explain why asthma is up in Newark or why a new Sandy just took out Rehoboth.
Phillip Bannowsky is a retired autoworker who currently teaches writing at the University of Delaware and lives in Newark.