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Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins Headshot

Sacrificing safety

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The recent disasters in West Virginia and the Gulf Coast make one thing shockingly clear: the cost of dirty energy is too high for America's workers.

In West Virginia last month, twenty nine coal miners perished from an explosion in a coal mine, devastating a community. And in the Gulf Coast eleven days ago, an explosion on a BP offshore oil rig killed eleven people and is creating the biggest environmental disaster American has seen in decades. An estimated 5,000 barrels of crude oil continue to flow into the gulf each day. The oil slick, now approximately the size of West Virginia, reached shore today, and is only just beginning to wreak havoc on the region's environment, economy, and health.

These disasters shed light on the destruction caused by our dirty energy system, and just how unsafe it is for American workers.

A shift to a clean, green economy would be a fundamental improvement to the health and safety of planet, our communities, and our workers. It is about building a world in which people don't have to choose between a job and their health, in which economic opportunity sustains our well being, rather than threatening it.

In some cases, a green economy would create entirely new jobs in new sectors, like renewable energy. But a substantial component of the green economy is about upgrading existing jobs to make them better and safer - both for the planet and the people working them.

For example, diesel trucking, which is concentrated around America's major port cities, is one of the dirtiest jobs in America. And it harms public health too; Eighty-seven million Americans live and work near ports that violate Federal air quality standards. Asthma, cancer, and other diseases cause by pollution have astronomical rates in these regions.

But a campaign to clean up America's ports is not seeking to eradicate these jobs entirely; instead it's making them clean and safe for workers and surrounding communities. The EPA Award-winning Los Angeles Clean Truck Program has put more than 6,000 clean diesel and alternative energy trucks on the road and reduced diesel emissions by 80 percent since it was first enacted in 2008. The key to the success of this program is a requirement that trucking companies, not individual low-income truck drivers, pay for the purchase, operation and maintenance of new, clean trucks.

This success is having national impact, thanks in part to organizations like the Partnership for Working Families, Los Angeles Alliance for a Clean Economy, and the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, which are bringing together environmental and labor partners to promote clean and safe ports in cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, New York and Newark.

Congress is beginning to pay attention. On Wednesday, it is holding a hearing on port trucking.

Please take action: Encourage your representatives to update antiquated federal laws and allow cities and states to implement life-saving clean air programs.

The Clean and Safe Ports campaign is just one example of how the transition to a green economy is improving worker safety and community health.

Out of the pain of the disasters in West Virginia and the Gulf Coast, comes a powerful lesson: we must wean ourselves off of the inherently dangerous business of extracting fossil fuels from below the earth surface, and spewing them into the air our children breathe.

With a clean, green economy, we don't need to sacrifice our workers' health, safety, and lives for our energy needs.

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