Since the start of the Biden-Harris Administration, the Department of Labor has been taking steps to transform the way we confront climate change as we empower and protect workers, morning, noon and night. We are focused on making sure workers and young people in this country have the skills they need to take advantage of the growth of good, green jobs, especially as a result of the president’s historic infrastructure investments, protecting workers from extreme heat in the workplace, and safeguarding the life savings of America’s workers and retirees against climate-related financial risks.
On Nov. 1, 2021, President Biden made a bold announcement at COP26: “We’re planning for both a short-term sprint to 2030 that will keep 1.5 degrees Celsius in reach and for a marathon that will take us to the finish line and transform the largest economy in the world into a thriving, innovative, equitable, and just clean-energy engine of net-zero — for a net-zero world.” As the Secretary of Labor, I have committed the Department of Labor to this sprint and the marathon that lies ahead.
In 2021, our Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities grant program awarded over $29 million in grants to communities in Appalachia and the Mississippi Delta and more investment in this important program is on its way in the coming weeks. These grants are being used to provide green technology job training to students and workers seeking new skills. For example, River Parishes Community College in Gonzalez, Louisiana is using its WORC grant to develop and launch solar, hydrogen and wind energy programs to provide training to new and dislocated workers across six parishes. The goal is to train workers who are affected by our changing energy production sector and keep them engaged in our economy, and to give young workers the job training they need to achieve in a transforming economy.
Our programs have a profound impact on the communities they serve. On an individual level we’re providing job training that changes lives through programs like YouthBuild. YouthBuild is a community-based pre-apprenticeship program that provides job training and educational opportunities for youth ages 16-24 who have dropped out of high school. I charged my team with incorporating a focus on climate and green construction skills into the YouthBuild grant, and the program now includes a preference for organizations that provide training on green construction, like weatherization or solar installation. Project Rebuild Inc. is a YouthBuild grantee in Canton, Ohio and represents the best of what YouthBuild has to offer. It offers two different high school diploma options while providing construction training in green building techniques. This year Project Rebuild enrollees will be renovating a single-family home and working to achieve a LEED Platinum certification for the home. Grantees like Project Rebuild are providing job training to a new generation of workers through more than 170 programs in 41 states.
Providing job training is only one part of addressing climate change. We are also responding to climate change by protecting workers on the job who are exposed to extreme heat. The three-year average of workplace deaths caused by heat has doubled since the early 1990s. On April 12, alongside Vice President Kamala Harris, I announced that OSHA is working to reverse this through its first-ever National Emphasis Program on heat. OSHA will be proactively initiating inspections in over 70 high-risk industries when the National Weather Service has issued a heat warning or advisory for a local area and will look out for heat hazards during the course of all inspections when the heat index passes 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Our consultation program will also offer employers training and compliance assistance to keep their workers safe from heat exposure. This enforcement program, coupled with a proposal to consider issuing a federal heat standard, will help us protect workers from heat illness, injury and death.
We are also focused on protecting the workplace retirement benefits of America’s workers, retirees and their families from climate-related financial risks. The Employee Benefits Security Administration has proposed a rule that makes clear that fiduciaries can consider climate change and other environmental, social and governance factors when they make investment decisions or exercise shareholder rights, including voting on shareholder resolutions and board nominations. The proposed rule better recognizes the material impact that climate change and other ESG factors can have on sound investment for our nation’s workers. If finalized, the proposed rule would help safeguard the more than half of America’s workers who participate in a retirement plan through their job, representing over 140 million Americans and more than $12 trillion in retirement savings and pensions.
These programs and actions represent only some of the work we are doing to address climate change and empower workers in a changing world.
We’re committed to creating a stronger economy, a healthier planet and a brighter future. I’m proud of the progress we’ve made so far, and I look forward to watching America’s workforce continue to grow and thrive.
Marty Walsh is the U.S. Secretary of Labor. Follow him on Twitter: @SecMartyWalsh.