On Environmental Issues, Conservative Groups and Labor Unions are Natural Born Allies, by Tom Randall

“We’ll remember in November… we’ll remember in November… we’ll remember in November,” the words rang out, time after time from the speakers – nearly a dozen of them – at one of the most unlikely rallies in the history of Washington, DC. 1

It was a balmy March morning on the front steps of the headquarters of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The lead speaker was John LaHood, a Teamsters leader from Alaska, surrounded by a chorus of other Teamsters officials, rank and file members and three politicians who were playing to a crowd of union members from a variety of locals and a smattering of journalists.

Nothing new, you say? Labor union rallies happen all the time? Not like this one.

The three political speakers – the only ones in attendance – were not the usual liberal Democratic labor movement backers. They were Republicans. Very conservative Republicans: Frank Murkowski (R-AK), Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX) and Rick Santorum (R-PA).

What brought this unlikely gathering together?

Jobs. Jobs that would be created by oil exploration on the desolate coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – an area set aside for exploration by Congress when it established the refuge2 – and the jobs that would be lost by failing to explore.

After the rally, Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, Jr., confirmed and strengthened the “remember in November” warning. “ANWR provides expanded energy resources and increased work opportunities for Teamster members and their families, Hoffa told us. “We cannot understand how so-called friends of working families can stand in the way of responsible job creation like ANWR, which already has bi-partisan support to pass on a straight up on down vote.”

“Teamsters will ‘remember in November,'” Hoffa added in a clear warning to both Democratic and Republican opponents of ANWR oil exploration, “and hold those politicians accountable for their actions which hurt working families. We can do no less.”3

Political conservatives, such as the senators speaking at the rally, and labor unions are not allies on most issues.

There are exceptions, and the fight to open ANWR to oil exploration has been an ongoing one.

Labor unions and conservatives have also worked closely together to defeat a bill sponsored by John Kerry (D-MA) and John McCain (R-AZ) that would have unrealistically and arbitrarily raised the corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE) for both cars and light trucks to 36 miles per gallon.4 The bill was defeated by a lopsided, bipartisan majority of 62 to 38.

Conservatives and labor unions have also formed the base of support for the recent decision by President Bush to open the Yucca Mountain, Nevada nuclear fuel repository. Opening the repository was hailed by both groups as an essential national security step, leading to safeguarding our most vulnerable nuclear material.

But these few examples don’t begin to explore the wide range of environmental and energy issues on which conservatives and labor unions can and should work together.

The reason is simple.

Labor unions and conservatives have the same goal.

The goal that brought them together that sunny morning in March: Jobs.

Virtually every American is in favor of protecting the environment. After all, we all have to live in it. However, environmental and energy policies, as promoted and enforced by environmental organizations and their liberal allies, inevitably cost American jobs.

Some examples:

Clinton Roadless Plan. This scheme to prevent road-building on federal lands was the culmination of an eight-year effort to restrict timber harvests in our national forests by 90 percent – ostensibly to protect already well-managed forests. It cost thousands of American jobs, left our forests in a state where record-setting forest fires destroyed millions of acres of timber and wildlife habitat and simply sent logging jobs to other countries. 5

Climate change. By now, the empirical evidence is pretty clear that the computer models that predicted global warming due to man-made greenhouse gases were wrong all along. Yet the environmental drumbeat to drastically cut emissions of carbon dioxide continues. If the environmentalists are successful, the energy cuts and higher prices needed to achieve their goals will cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, particularly among minority workers.

Endangered Species Act. Abuse of this well-intentioned, but hugely-flawed, piece of legislation has been used by liberal environmentalists to quash housing developments, factory construction and road building across the country.

When it comes to environmental issues, conservative groups and labor unions are natural born allies.

Tom Randall is the Director of Environmental & Regulatory Affairs of the John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs of The National Center for Public Policy Research. 

1 Quote taken from a rally conducted by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters at their 25 Louisiana Avenue, NW headquarters in Washington, DC, March 6, 2002.
2 Tom Randall, “Senate Democrats Fight Energy Bill,” Ten Second Response, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, October 18, 2001, available on the Internet at https://nationalcenter.org/TSR101801.html.
3 Statement of James P. Hoffa, general president, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Washington, DC, to the author on March 27, 2002.
4 Gretchen Randall, “Fuel Efficiency Standards: What to Do Next?” National Policy Analysis #393, The National Center for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, February 2002, available on the Internet at https://nationalcenter.org/NPA393.html.
5 “Roadless Plan Developed Illegally,” Environment & Climate News, The Heartland Institute, Chicago, Illinois, May 2000.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.