Is Greenmailing the New Blackmailing?

Clean energy products are facing challenges from unions and the environment. (Photo: afloresm [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

Earlier this month, a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts showed that employment in the clean energy sector grew by 9.1 percent between 1998 and 2007. This is a dramatic increase over the 3.7 percent seen in traditional industries during the same time period. The report shows that according to the 2007 data, California had the most green businesses and employed the most people in a green job.

There were 10,209 green businesses in the state and 125,390 green jobs in 2007. The state is undoubtedly a hot bed for the new clean energy economy. However, there may be trouble on the horizon for companies seeking to build new clean energy projects. The trouble comes in the form of labor unions.

According to an article which appeared on the New York Times website, the California Unions for Reliable Energy may be putting a wrench in some company’s plans. One company that is dealing with resistance by the labor union is Ausra. Ausra wants to build a solar plant but the union claims it may negatively affect several species of native wildlife.

"By contrast, when a competitor, BrightSource Energy, filed plans for an even bigger solar plant that would affect the imperiled desert tortoise, the same union group, California Unions for Reliable Energy, raised no complaint. Instead, it urged regulators to approve the project as quickly as possible.” Source: New York Times

The article goes on to explain the major difference between the two projects: Ausra doesn’t plan to use union labor for its project while BrightSource Energy does. Kevin Dayton of Associated Builders and Contractors of California calls it greenmailing.

Clean energy projects are only going to increase in numbers and so it is likely that disagreements like these are only going to become more frequent. There are environmental advocates on both sides of the issue -- those that support the move by the unions and those that fear it will hinder a more rapid expansion of clean energy. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the months and years to come.