Photo: AP

State-level Green New Deal legislation continues to break new ground. Last week, it was the teens getting involved. This week, it’s workers’ unions.

Maine’s AFL-CIO, which represents more than 40,000 members, just threw its weight behind a version of the Green New Deal introduced to the state’s legislature last month. That makes Maine’s bill the first piece of Green New Deal legislation anywhere in the U.S. to get AFL-CIO backing, something the national version pointedly has not received. But what happened in Maine could be a template for success elsewhere.

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Maine’s version of the Green New Deal is a more targeted piece of legislation compared to the national resolution. It calls on the state’s utilities to get 80 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2040. It also creates two advisory groups that would help the state get on a path to meeting that goal while doing so in a way that is equitable to to all residents, including people caught up in the transition away from dirty energy. And it calls for a job creation strategy that includes “[e]nsuring workers have a voice in these jobs through collective bargaining rights.”

“Obviously our Green New Deal is very different from the national Green New Deal,” State Representative Chloe Maxmin, the Democrat who introduced the legislation, told Earther. “Although the same themes of economic justice for example are echoed, this is by and for rural Maine.”

Oil is the most common source of energy in Maine, responsible for roughly half of all energy consumed. Two-thirds of Maine homes are also heated by oil in winter, underscoring the unique changes that will have to take place to decarbonize the state.

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It’s the composition of those advisory groups (officially a task force and commission in the legislative text) that are particularly eye-catching. The groups must include a wide variety of stakeholders, from low-income individuals to transportation experts. But they also include strong trade representation, including those working in fields that could be impacted by an energy transition, like oil delivery truck drivers or power plant workers.

Maxmin said that those groups and the legislation as a whole was written with “deep involvement from the labor community and with AFL-CIO.” That involvement was key to getting the endorsement.

“Representative Maxmin reached out very early in the process of seeking input and feedback on the concept, on the language of the bill, on the actual policy components, everything about it,” Matt Schlobohm, the executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, told Earther. He added that the organization “had to be thoughtful and deliberate” in development of a policy that tackles the “ twin crises of economic inequality and the climate crisis.”

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The national Green New Deal—despite specifically calling for “high-quality union jobs” and recognizing the right of workers to organize—has not received an AFL-CIO endorsement (Disclosure: Earther is part of the Writers Guild of America East, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.) In fact, the national organization’s Energy Committee sent a letter to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey ripping the resolution, a move that became cannon fodder for conservatives in Congress. The letter was signed by members of the mineworkers, electrical, and other trade unions that stand to be hit the hardest by the transition to a decarbonized economy.

But if the pushback is understandable, it’s also myopic. The science around climate change has made it clear that the shift away from dirty fossil fuels will have to occur rapidly to avert the worst impacts of climate change. And that energy shift is already well underway thanks not just to science, but to market forces and the falling cost of renewables.

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“This transition is happening and it either happens to us or with us,” Schlobohm said, explaining why the Maine AFL-CIO endorsed the state legislation.

Among the biggest takeaways of the Maine effort is that climate groups need to take labor into account early and often, and show their support for workers as much as possible.

“Workers are striking all over this country whether it’s teachers or grocery workers,” Schloboh said. “You don’t typically see environmentalists on picket lines and it is a very low hanging fruit on a basic relationship building level for folks to show up for each other.”

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Indeed, if there’s one thing we need in the face of climate change, it’s solidarity.

This post has been updated to clarify that the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee sent a letter about the Green New Deal.