Op-Ed: Climate justice organization and union partner to host community meetings in western TN

By Marquita Bradshaw and Vonda McDaniel

All eyes are on Tennessee as issues of climate, racial justice and economic opportunity intersect in our state.

Our communities have long suffered attacks on our well-being that hamper our ability to thrive – dangerous jobs that do not offer living wages, the toxic and lasting health effects of fossil fuel pollution and a government a state hostile to unionization, as are most states in the South.

Now Tennessee has the opportunity to get it right — or risk repeating past mistakes. The electric vehicle industry is taking off nationwide, and Tennessee is gearing up to become a manufacturing hub for these vehicles. Ford announced that Tritium, an Australian manufacturer of electric vehicle chargers, will open its first US plant in Lebanon. Mason, a majority black town, will be on the edge of Ford’s Blue Oval City 4,100-acre mega-site, an electric truck and battery plant where construction is expected to begin at the end of the year and manufacturing will begin from by 2025 These investments mark Tennessee’s growth toward becoming a manufacturing hub for electric vehicles, helping to reduce pollution and improve public health in communities across the state and nation.

Electric vehicles produce no exhaust pollution. In fact, they have no tailpipes at all! These vehicles are essential to make our transport systems less polluting. Combined with reliable public transport and safe streets for walking and cycling, expanding their access will help us fight the climate crisis and improve air quality.

As our state makes this late and important transition, we cannot repeat the mistakes of the fossil fuel industry that has long prioritized profits over people at the expense of our health and our planet. The communities most affected must be at the forefront of change, a principle that those of us in the environmental and labor movements call a “just transition”. As we move from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy, there is a need to ensure that we create a circular economy centered on public health and sustainable communities that thrive economically with well-paying unionized jobs where occupational health and the ecology of our planet prevail for future generations.

The influx of electric vehicle manufacturing has the potential to secure high-quality family jobs in the automotive industry. It is critical that we do this in a way that dismantles the barriers to economic prosperity and social justice experienced by so many underserved populations and communities of color in our region.

Our collective liberation lies in a livable planet and strong workers’ rights. We must put people first as we move forward with climate solutions. This relationship building is already underway. Local environmentalists, labor leaders and members of the Mason community are holding town halls this summer to discuss the issues and what we stand to gain from this community-led transition. Organizers need a vision that matches today’s opportunities. That’s what these community meetings are designed to do. Be on the lookout for the next meeting scheduled near you.

Marquita Bradshaw, Environmental Justice Chair, Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club

Vonda McDaniel, President, Nashville/Middle TN Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO

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