White House Asks Unions to Meet on Energy Policy

Stuart Lawrence stuartwl at walrus.com
Thu May 10 19:53:18 MDT 2001

NY Times 9 MAY 2001

White House Asks Unions to Meet on Energy Policy


WASHINGTON, May 9 — In an effort to generate support from organized
labor for its new energy policy, the Bush administration, has
invited officers of about a dozen unions to the White House next
Monday for a confidential preview of the policy.

 The administration had made few successful overtures to labor, but
it is seeking — and expects to win — union support for its energy
plans, which will call for extensive new oil and gas drilling, the
laying of pipelines and the construction of power plants. All of
that could translate into thousands of union jobs.

 "They're going to look for support for their energy policy
wherever they can," said a Republican strategist familiar with the
administration's carefully orchestrated efforts to sell the policy.
"And they're finding an unlikely bedfellow in labor, which would be
a huge beneficiary from drilling and from building plants."

 The administration's courtship of organized labor could drive a
wedge between unions and environmental advocacy groups, which
complain that the administration has made little effort to work
with them. Andrew D. Lundquist, who directed Vice President Dick
Cheney's energy task force, invited environmental organizations to
a meeting, but the groups said he did not solicit substantive

 The Teamsters and Laborers International unions — which will be
represented at Monday's meeting with Mr. Cheney and Labor Secretary
Elaine L. Chao — have already come out in favor of drilling in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

 "We view this as a jobs opportunity," said Mike Mathis, the
government affairs director for the Teamsters International, who
will accompany the union's president, James P. Hoffa, to the

 Union workers and environmentalists have been allied on trade
issues and overwhelmingly supported Vice President Al Gore's
presidential candidacy last year. None of the unions invited to the
White House on Monday endorsed President Bush.

 The courtship of labor also comes as President Bush prepares to
press his bid to win authority from Congress to negotiate new trade
deals with Latin America and countries around the globe. The
intensity of organized labor's efforts to oppose that bid — as it
did when President Bill Clinton unsuccessfully sought such
authority — could prove decisive.

 Environmental groups are already criticizing the energy plan as
increasing pollution and giving to the energy interests that
contributed to Mr. Bush's presidential campaign.

 The environmental groups will coordinate an assault on the plan
next week when it is released, with local demonstrations and
lobbying efforts to steer Congress toward a strategy based on
efficiency, conservation and renewable resources, leaders of
several organizations said today.

 The groups are also considering a television advertising campaign,
based in part on polling by Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster who
has advised the organizations on how to pitch their argument.

 Mr. Mellman said his research shows that people overwhelmingly
believe that energy problems in California and nationwide are not
the result of underlying shortages but of corporate profiteering.

 "There is a very strong belief that George Bush and this
administration represent the interests of big business, including
the oil companies and utilities, exactly the people who seem to be
manufacturing this crisis for their own benefit," Mr. Mellman said.

 At a news conference today, representatives of several
environmental groups questioned virtually every assumption of the
Bush energy plan. For example, they challenged the idea that the
nation was in an energy crisis, saying that was an argument
intended to spur Congress to roll back environmental laws and
increase the profits of oil, gas, coal and nuclear power companies.

 Dave Hawkins of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, "The
reason that this Bush energy plan emphasizes production is not
because the private sector needs help in increasing production,
it's that they need the Bush government's help in overturning
environmental, health and safety laws."

 A memorandum Mr. Mellman prepared for the Sierra Club says that
voters oppose all of the energy proposals offered by the
administration. His polling shows, for example, that 69 percent of
voters oppose relaxing clean air standards and 68 percent oppose
drilling for oil in national monuments. The proposal with the least
opposition, 48 percent, was building more nuclear power plants.

 Monday's meeting is part of a larger campaign by the White House
to lay the groundwork for its energy initiatives, a campaign that
has included months of research into how best to frame and talk
about the plan to make Americans comfortable. The energy-related
polling and focus groups conducted by the Republican National
Committee have been more extensive than on any issue other than the
economy, party officials said.

 Administration officials confirmed Monday's meeting with union
officials but would not provide details.

 But union and political officials familiar with the discussions
about the meeting said representatives from about a dozen unions,
chosen because they would likely benefit from drilling and
construction projects, had been invited and more than half would
probably attend. In addition to the Teamsters and Laborers, the
unions invited include the Carpenters, Iron Workers and Operating

 Representatives from several of those unions said they did not see
this as the beginning of a newly cozy relationship between the
administration and organized labor but as a finite area of shared

 Zack Matus, a spokesman for the laborers union, said that despite
the potential benefits to organized labor from the energy policy,
the Bush administration's attitude toward unions had been "neglect,
and it's nowhere close to benign neglect."

 Mr. Matus was referring to executive orders and rules issued by
the administration that overturned worker protections put in place
by Mr. Clinton or that made it easier for federal jobs to go to
nonunion crews.

 The White House has had at least two other sessions to build
support for the energy plan. Administration officials recently met
with representatives of the nuclear power industry, and at a
meeting about 10 days ago, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham met
with representatives from the coal mining industry and politicians
from regions that depend economically on coal production.


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