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Sierra Club stands with workers from New Jersey to Wisconsin

titteljeff021110_optBY JEFF TITTEL
COMMENTARY

New Jersey Sierra Club stands in solidarity with workers, firefighters, police officers, and the people of Wisconsin. Union members and environmentalists share a common vision of creating healthy, safe, prosperous communities across America. We are joined together in fights for policies that will protect our air, water and lands, and provide for decent wages, health care, secure work environments, and good jobs.

We are all Cheeseheads. What happens to workers in Wisconsin effects workers across the country. The budget cuts, layoffs, and rollbacks on environmental and workers protections in Wisconsin are the same rollbacks they are trying to do in New Jersey and other places across the nation.

The Sierra Club is part of the Blue-Green Alliance with the Steel Workers Union, CWA, LIUNNA, and other organizations on promoting good paying, green jobs in the renewable energy field. We work with NJEA on healthy schools and classrooms for our children, including integrated pest management to protect kids from pesticides and harmful chemicals in schools. We work with Work Environment Council which is made up of environmental and labor groups on environmental, health, and workplace safety issues.

The Sierra Club has a long history of working with firefighters, especially the FMBA, on a range of issues that affect the environment and communities. Firefighters have worked very diligently on “Right To Know” legislation and the Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act. Firefighters have fought for chemical security issues, making industrial and other facilities more secure and using more benign chemicals. The Sierra Club and firefighters have worked together to prevent rollbacks and weakening of these programs.

The Sierra Club joined workers at the rally in Trenton last month not just to support Wisconsin but our own state workers and environmental policies that are coming under attack. Public workers in New Jersey help ensure our water is clean, our air is safe to breathe, and toxic sites cleaned. They have been under assault with budget cuts and loss through attrition, leaving less staff to do more.

The attacks on state workers are attacks on the environment because these are the people that work everyday to make sure our air and water is clean and our parks are open.

The DEP budget has been cut by one-third in the last three years. In the mid-90s the DEP had 4400 employees but is now down to 2800 staff members. Park staff has shrunk from 875 in the mid-90s to 450 today but the amount of open space they steward has doubled.

We have seen the work from scientists at DEP who have done ground-breaking research on toxins in our environment, worked with environmental regulators who have written some of the most protective standards in country, and seen the wonderful programs they run in our state parks. This assault on workers is part of Christie’s assault on the environment: as they rollback protections for workers they rollback protections for our air, water, and land.

Christie is trying to privatize parks and land use by bringing in unqualified consultants to do the work professionals use to do. We have seen this already happening in the site remediation program as people who work for polluters and now charged with overseeing the cleanup of toxic sites. Toxic clean up oversight is now in the hands of the polluters not the public.

Layoffs and cutbacks in police and firefighters in urban areas hurt our quality of life and stymie efforts to revitalize our cities by spurring economic vitality and redevelopment. When there are environmental hazards such as toxic spills, police and firefighters are the frontline to protect those communities from impacts.

Good jobs and a healthy clean environment are coming under attack from corporate polluters and their political allies. Across America we are seeing dangerous patterns develop: corporate polluters are hurting people’s health, dumping toxic pollution into our air and water, putting workers lives and risk, and reaping massive profits. And now, Big Coal and Big Oil are trying to use their profits to influence their friends in Congress and state legislatures to undermine fundamental health, environmental, and workers rights protections. We see Tea Party politicians trying to weaken environmental protections pushing the similar legislation and policies across the country, including Maine, Ohio, Wisconsin, Arizona.



 

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