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August 2023

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IBEW Policy Agenda
Resonates Across Political Lines

End permitting and siting delays to get big projects built. Expand apprenticeship programs. Keep fossil fuel workers in the energy industry and in their hometowns.

These three reforms are the core of the IBEW's U.S. policy agenda as the union engages with Congress, the White House and federal agencies, and each idea is an opportunity for common-sense bipartisan solutions.

"The political party you belong to doesn't really matter to us in the IBEW," said International President Kenneth W. Cooper. "As far as I'm concerned, the only thing we care about as far as politics goes — and that goes both for members of this union and for leaders in Washington — is whether you support our members and families."

Permitting Reform

A recent example of an IBEW priority cutting across party lines was the inclusion in the recent bipartisan debt ceiling agreement of language to improve the federal energy permitting process. Approving permits for major building projects, such as construction of transmission lines or manufacturing facilities, can create thousands of jobs for IBEW members.

Historically, however, court reviews that make up part of the process can delay a project's approval for years or even decades. This has resulted in the loss of countless jobs for IBEW members on major infrastructure and clean energy projects.

In May, the Republican-controlled House, led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, demanded language that would put deadlines on permit reviews of some major energy projects as part of the debt ceiling talks.

Cooper applauded both parties for working together to approve the overall agreement but noted that more work remains on permitting reform.

"Making the permitting process straightforward and reliable, especially to help speed up construction of transmission lines, will be crucial if we're going to meet the nation's infrastructure and clean energy goals quickly and efficiently," Cooper said. "The reforms in the debt deal are a good start, but we hope Congress will continue working."

Fossil Fuel Worker Retention

Preserving and creating energy industry jobs for workers in the fossil fuel sector is another of the IBEW's nonpartisan priorities. As the U.S. moves toward more emission-free and renewable power sources and away from carbon-intense energy generation, the jobs of nearly 85,000 IBEW members in the U.S. whose work relies on coal and natural gas are threatened.

President Joe Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act contain provisions to help communities where coal plants and mines are closing. It's as devastating to a small town when a coal powerhouse is shuttered as it is when a factory closes. Often, the shuttered plants sit on dozens of acres of brownfield that will be perfect for emerging energy technologies like small modular nuclear reactors, hydrogen turbines, massive battery storage or hydrolyzers.

There is a blueprint to sustain these workers and their towns, a bridge to the clean energy technologies of the future in the pandemic-era CARES Act signed by President Donald Trump. That law's Employee Retention Tax Credit was available for employers that kept workers on their payroll during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These clean energy technologies will come online. The only question is how much pain can be avoided in the meantime by helping companies keep workers working.


Reauthorizing the National Apprenticeship Act is yet another example of legislation where the political parties find common ground on an IBEW policy priority. The 1937 act established the registered apprenticeship program and empowered the Department of Labor to create safeguards like those that protect apprentices' health and safety.

A bill before Congress — introduced in April and already supported by 18 Democrats and 16 Republicans as of press time — not only seeks to reauthorize the act for the first time, but also aims to extend registered apprenticeships for jobs created by Biden's CHIPS and Science Act as well as his bipartisan infrastructure and inflation-reducing laws.

"These are just some examples of how the IBEW is finding common ground today with many of our leaders on Capitol Hill," Cooper said. "We've always known that people from all over the political spectrum support our priorities, like good jobs with fair wages and benefits for our members or the right to bargain collectively. So it just makes sense for our members to keep an open mind when we go to engage with our elected representatives, rather than deciding not to talk to them based only on the party they associate with."