Stop Importing Pollution and Start Manufacturing Solutions

American manufacturing faces numerous threats –—Chinese overcapacity, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, relentless offshoring. But what’s not a threat is the effort to stem climate change.

In fact, manufacturing and sustainability through renewable energy can act as great wingmen for each other.

A perfect example is a bill authored by California Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown.  It would create a program to “encourage state agencies, departments and public universities to procure locally sourced building materials as a means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions” as well as support the local economy. That means locally manufactured materials.

The bill, which would create the California Green Infrastructure Program, advanced out of committee three weeks ago and now moves on to its next hearing.

Another California example is a campaign spearheaded by the BlueGreen Alliance to enact standards mandating that any raw materials purchased for large infrastructure projects meet a certain greenhouse gas standard.

This would essentially be a “Buy Clean” standard that attaches a product’s carbon footprint to its eligibility to be used to build things like bridges and transit systems. Domestic producers, which must meet high environmental standards, would then have an automatic advantage in governmental bidding.

Many in manufacturing have fallen victim to GOP naysayers who continue to deny climate change and believe government should have little to no role in helping curb environmental destruction. They try to make workers believe that words like “energy conservation” and “green procurement” are threats to their jobs and have no meaningful, or beneficial, connection to their livelihoods.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

Legislative actions like the ones proposed in California matter to all American workers for several vital reasons. Reconstruction of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, which was a disaster on so many levels, is a good example.

Two companies offered to provide the steel structure for the bridge; one domestic and one 10,000 miles away across the Pacific Ocean in China. Who did the state of California choose?


California actually sacrificed federal funds it could have received for the project because it chose Chinese steel instead of buying American-made.  California took the sleazy, environmentally-degrading route. Thinking they could save hundreds of millions of dollars in production costs, the planners went with a cheap, inexperienced foreign producer to provide the material essential to the structural integrity of a bridge that handles over 270,000 vehicles daily.

And what do you think happened?

From the start of production, problems plagued Shanghai Zhenhua Port Machinery Co. Ltd as it attempted to perform work that American steelworkers could have done with their eyes closed. Quality control lapses caused serious delays leading to major cost overruns. California also had to spend more money and resources sending American engineers to China to assist Shanghai Zhenhua with the work.

What a slap in the face to American workers who could have done the job, and done it right, in the first damn place.

Since the bridge’s final, tardy completion in 2013, the total costs ballooned to $6.4 billion. The bridge will likely require even more “extraordinary and costly maintenance” in the years to come because of the faulty Chinese manufacturing.

Astronomical expenses and shoddy work aside, the choice to import the project’s steel dealt a major environmental blow.

It is estimated that if the steel had been procured by the United States instead of China, the release of 150,000 tons of CO2 emissions would have been averted. And hundreds of American steelworkers would have been on payroll.

While China’s lack of regulations leads to dirty production and massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. steel industry has the lowest energy intensity and second-lowest CO2 emissions intensity of any major steel producing country. In addition, had the steel been produced domestically, shipping would have been avoided, and thus the pollution that it caused.

California imported pollution by using Chinese producers, and exported good-paying jobs.

So what do standards like the ones proposed in California do? You know, the ones Republican politicians and greedy CEOs like to say aren’t necessary and will just cost too much money?

They make it harder for train wrecks like the Bay Bridge to happen.

Not only do they level the playing field for American companies to compete with cheaters like China, but they also function almost as a backdoor solution to working around horrible trade deals like the proposed TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).

It has also been proven that free trade deals in the past, such as NAFTA, as well as allowing China into the World Trade Organization have resulted in higher greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because countries like Mexico and China, with low environmental standards, then begin to manufacture at an exponential rate and dump their products in the U.S. market that the deals open up to them.

Legislation like the kind put forward by Cheryl R. Brown and the BlueGreen Alliance could, and should, set a precedent for change for the better. Unfortunately, due to the current state of politics in Washington, the best, if only, bet for progress is to seek it at the state level. That’s why it’s so imperative that workers and activists across the nation step up and do everything in their power to get similar standards enacted in their home states.

If a “Buy Clean” benchmark had existed at the time of the Bay Bridge reconstruction, things would look a lot different right now. Not only would California have saved tens of millions of dollars by using domestic steel, but they would have also helped save the environment as well as American jobs.

Hindsight really is 20/20. Or, sometimes, a billion or two.


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