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Unions back research plan for energy

(The following article by Steven Greenhouse was published by the New York Times on June 6.)

NEW YORK -- Ten labor unions, including the steelworkers and auto workers, urged presidential candidates yesterday to back a 10-year, $300 billion research plan that would promote energy efficiency, reduce dependence on foreign oil and preserve manufacturing jobs.

Labor leaders said the plan, called the Apollo Project, would foster energy independence by promoting hybrid and hydrogen cars and energy-efficient factories and appliances. Supporters said the project would help make the United States the leader in these areas and would help preserve factory jobs after the nation had lost more than two million manufacturing jobs in the past two years.

The plan's backers said they hoped it would improve ties between labor and the environmental movement, groups that have clashed in recent years on issues like emissions standards and energy exploration.

"We believe this plan can create good manufacturing jobs, good construction jobs, can improve the public infrastructure, can be good for the environment and can reduce our dependence on foreign energy," Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America, said at a news conference.

The plan is also backed by the United Mine Workers, the Service Employees International Union, the International Association of Machinists and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Several supporters said that labor leaders had planned to send a letter yesterday to Democratic presidential candidates and President Bush. But they said the union leaders decided to delay sending the letter because they were waiting for several of the nation's largest environmental groups to sign on.

"We are very, very excited," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, which is considering whether to support the plan. "It is not that any of these ideas are radically new. What is radically different is the commitment on the part of a huge segment of American organized labor to organize the rebuilding of blue-collar America around modern environmentalism and sound energy technology."

The plan calls for more financing for high-speed rail and fuel-cell technology, for building pipelines and storage facilities to support hydrogen-powered cars and for expanding the use of solar and wind power.

The steelworkers union and the Institute for America's Future, a new liberal research center, which helped develop the plan, distributed polling data showing that the plan had wide support in Pennsylvania and several Midwestern swing states that have lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs. Supporters said they hoped the poll numbers would persuade presidential candidates to embrace the plan, although privately some acknowledged that candidates might balk at its $300 billion price tag.

A poll commissioned by the steelworkers union found that in Pennsylvania 73 percent of respondents backed the plan, including more than 80 percent of Democratic men without college educations, an important group of swing voters. This group favors re-electing President Bush by 44 percent to 41 percent, the poll found. The survey of 400 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus five percentage points.

Friday, June 6, 2003

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