published Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Pam's Points: UAW's high road, Earth Day suggestions and Erlanger questions

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    Everett Allen with the Orange Grove Center carries a computer monitor that was recycled during a 2013 Earth Day event in downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Today's Earth Day

Plant a tree if you like, but if you really want to make a difference on Earth Day (and since climate change is a real, urgent and global challenge, you should), then make some power changes in your life.

The average American household uses 11,319 kilowatt hours of electricity a year. That costs each homeowner about $2,060 and dumps about 22,273 pounds of carbon dioxide into the air, according to energystar.gov. Since 29 percent of that energy is for heating and 13 percent is for cooling, make sure that your next heating and cooling unit is an efficient, Energy Star-rated system. That one change can cut your annual energy bill by more than $115, but it makes a much bigger impact on the planet.

If just one household in 10 bought a heating and cooling system that has earned the Energy Star insignia, 12 billion pounds in annual greenhouse gas emissions would be prevented. That's the equivalent of the emissions from 1.1 million cars!

Another 12 percent of your power is eaten up by lighting, and this is an easy fix: buy LED replacement bulbs. Water heating is 13 percent of residential power use, so think about a solar panel for that. Your washer and dryer consume 5 percent of your power use. When it's time to buy new machines, make them the new, more efficient kind.

UAW takes the high road

The United Auto Workers withdrawal Monday of its appeal of the Volkswagen union vote in February is a sign that adults have entered the room.

Those adults clearly were not U.S. Sen. Bob Corker or Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, whose interference in the union vote was childish and shameful. The union, which had been invited by VW to help the automaker have a U.S.-legal "works council," lost the election by a 712 to 626 vote after the anti-union Tennessee politicians threatened to withdraw VW expansion incentives. The loss of those incentives likely would mean VW's new SUV would be built in Mexico rather than Chattanooga.

UAW President Bob King said the decision to withdraw the appeal was made in the best interests of Volkswagen employees, the automaker and economic development in Chattanooga because the appeal could drag on for months or even years -- especially with Haslam and Corker's refusal to participate in the appeal's legal discovery process.

"The unprecedented political interference by Gov. Haslam, Sen. Corker and others was a distraction for Volkswagen employees and a detour from achieving Tennessee's economic priorities," King said. "The UAW is ready to put February's tainted election in the rear-view mirror and instead focus on advocating for new jobs and economic investment in Chattanooga."

VW officials called the move "an important gesture for a constructive dialogue in Chattanooga."

What now remains to be seen is whether VW can find another way to have a works council here, whether Tennessee officials will reinstate incentives, whether the SUV will be awarded to Chattanooga, and whether a congressional inquiry into the state's incentives threats will shed light on lawmakers' actions and result in changes to the law governing the National Labor Relations Board.

For his part, Corker said Monday: "It's a shame the UAW slowed the momentum on our expansion conversations with Volkswagen ..."

The "shame" is that Corker has the gall to say that, since he was the one who first threw a tantrum and then threw a wrench into the machinery.

Lawmakers and Erlanger trustees

One has to wonder whether the Hamilton County legislative delegation wants Erlanger to go out of the public hospital business. The delegation last week successfully pushed legislation overhauling how trustees are appointed, taking away appointment authority from the city and increasing authority to the county commission and to Hamilton's seven-member legislative delegation.

This comes at a time when Erlanger is in serious financial need and is asking both the city and the county to pitch in $5 million a year to help pay for $92 million in annual charity care costs. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke had invited the hospital to make a budget request, but now says approving that would be harder since the city was stripped of two voices on the hospital board. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger, already has said it's unlikely the county will give more than the $1.5 million it has been providing. And the commission chairman, Fred Skillern, four months ago personally made a $3 million donation to the private and rival Memorial Health Care System in the name of his late son. So this group gets more voice on the Erlanger board?

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