Radical greens threaten Virginia jobs

January 03, 2012

By: AUDREY BERKSHIRE JACKSON | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Published: January 01, 2012

When the Virginia legislature returns this month, it will have its hands full helping generate jobs in the Old Dominion. It can start by defending Virginia employers in the crosshairs of an extremist anti-jobs campaign.

Radical environmental activists have targeted Strasburg-based Mercury Paper Co. for shutdown. A campaign by Greenpeace is pressuring local businesses to boycott Mercury. If successful, the boycott would cripple the company and eliminate hundreds of jobs.

It’s a textbook example of how to make a bad economic situation worse. Worst of all, even if successful, the campaign would do nothing to help the environment.

Mercury took a gamble on Virginia when it committed $21 million to construction of the plant in Strasburg in 2010. The investment in the Shenandoah Valley town bucked the national trend of declining manufacturing in the U.S. as many companies closed shop and relocated overseas to take advantage of low-wage labor.

The Mercury facility has created more than 150 new high-paying jobs in the state. The company’s plans to strengthen its presence in Virginia would add many more.

In addition to the jobs created by Mercury, a profitable manufacturing plant in Virginia serves as evidence that Virginia is a good, safe place to set up shop. This can attract other manufacturers.

Indeed, this is the kind of beneficial economic growth and dynamism that has been lacking across the country since 2008. It is for these reasons that Gov. Bob McDonnell supported Mercury’s opening in the state and contributed economic development assistance for making Virginia a home to Mercury.

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A failure of the plant, for whatever reason, would justify the fears of many companies that relocated outside the country.

This is what makes the green campaign so destructive and the stakes so high.

Greenpeace is pressuring the plant’s main purchasers — Costco, Food Lion, Kmart, Kroger Co., Sam’s Club, Safeway, Target and Walmart — to stop all business with the company.

Greenpeace cites concerns about the sources for the raw-material providers that the company relies on to produce the paper. But a number of Virginia lawmakers have questioned the extremist claims being made by Greenpeace and have stood firmly behind the company.

U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-6th, has joined Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, Del. Todd Gilbert and Strasburg Mayor Timothy Taylor in lending support to the local company against what is being called a smear campaign.

“It is my understanding that Greenpeace spreads questionable information about a company’s business products in a way that attracts media attention,” Goodlatte recently wrote to CEOs of several major retailers. He continued by explaining that Greenpeace hopes its effort “scares other companies and the public from doing business with these companies.”

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Even more deplorable is that the fact that the Greenpeace attacks are misleading.

Mercury Paper Co. received an A-plus rating in a Global Reporting Initiative Co. environmental sustainability report from 2011, one of the highest ratings in the industry. Furthermore, all of the land where Mercury sources its material includes already degraded or barren land. These sourcing practices, therefore, do not threaten the rainforest, contrary to Greenpeace’s claims.

As the country looks to escape the grips of recession and the state takes difficult measures to help its more than 200,000 unemployed residents, the job-killing campaign from Greenpeace is deplorable. If successful, the effort to close the Mercury Paper Co. could have long-term repercussions that would have a lasting impact on Virginia, while the activists simply move to the next fight.

States attract business with a reasonable regulatory structure, low taxes and a ready supply of qualified laborers. But if outside influencers such as Greenpeace and other environmental extremists are allowed to destroy a welcoming business environment by scaring off purchasers and eliminating demand, it sets a poor precedent.

Virginia is home to a diverse and breathtaking landscape, including the Blue Ridge Mountains, picturesque rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. To the millions of state residents who enjoy being outdoors and experiencing the beauty of this vast geography, an organization such as Greenpeace, which purports to preserve nature, would seem like a natural ally. It is therefore even more surprising that such an organization would use such hostile tactics in targeting hard-working men and women for the elimination of their livelihoods.

Audrey Berkshire Jackson of Richmond is the state director of Americans for Prosperity Virginia and a member of the Coalition to Protect Virginia Jobs. To learn more, go to www.americansforprosperity.org/virginia.

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