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Fossil Fuel Phaseout–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2022

Protecting the climate requires rapidly reducing the extraction of fossil fuels. That’s a crucial part of the Green New Deal. While the federal government has done little so far to reduce fossil fuel production, people and governments all over the country are taking steps on their own to cut down the extraction of coal, oil, and gas.

Introduction

The U.S. needs to cut around 60% of its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030 to reach zero net emissions by 2050.[1] The world will need to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6% per year between 2022 and 2030 to reach the Paris goal of 1.5°C. Countries are instead planning and projecting an average annual increase of 2%, which by 2030 will result in more than double the production consistent with the 1.5°C limit.[2]

In the previous two commentaries in this series we have shown how initiatives from cities, states, and civil society organizations are expanding climate-safe energy production and reducing energy use through energy efficiency and conservation. These are essential aspects of reducing climate-destroying greenhouse gas emissions, but in themselves they will not halt the burning of fossil fuels. That requires action on the “supply side” – freezing new fossil fuel infrastructure and accelerating the closing of existing production facilities. That is often referred to as a “phaseout” or “managed decline” of fossil fuels.

Such a phaseout of fossil fuel production is necessary to meet the goals of the Green New Deal and President Joe Biden’s climate proposals. The original 2018 Green New Deal resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a national 10-year mobilization to achieve 100% of national power generation from renewable sources. Biden’s Build Back Better plan sought 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035 and net zero GHG emissions by 2050. These goals cannot be met without reducing the amount of fossil fuel that is actually extracted from the earth.[3]

While the US government and corporations are failing to effectively reduce the mining and drilling of fossil fuels, hundreds of efforts at a sub-national level are already cutting their extraction. 50 US cities are already powered entirely by clean and renewable sources of energy. 180 US cities are committed to 100% clean energy.[4] According to a report by the Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International, Indigenous resistance has stopped or delayed greenhouse gas pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual U.S. and Canadian emissions.[5] Such reductions are an essential part of a widespread but little-recognized movement we have dubbed the “Green New Deal from Below.”[6]

Coal Miners Weren’t Happy When Joe Manchin Derailed Build Back Better

By Austyn Gaffney - Sierra, January 19, 2022

The United Mine Workers of America issued a statement criticizing the senator for withdrawing his support from the legislation:

When West Virginia senator Joe Manchin III, a well-known coal baron, withdrew support from the Build Back Better agenda, the Biden administration’s landmark climate and social safety net bill, an influential coal-mining union was quick to respond.

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), a labor union formed in 1890 to organize coal miners seeking safe working conditions and fair pay, released a statement by international president Cecil E. Roberts on December 20 characterizing the union’s relationship with Manchin as “long and friendly” but expressing disappointment that the bill didn’t pass. (On the same day, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of American labor unions, released a similar statement.)

“We urge Senator Manchin to revisit his opposition to the legislation and work with his colleagues to pass something that will help keep coal miners working,” Roberts wrote, “and have a meaningful impact on our members, their families, and their communities.”

Given the UMWA’s history with Manchin—he has been an honorary member since 2020—it was a notable reminder of just how much is at stake for miners and their communities as the president’s signature measure hangs in the balance. The Build Back Better legislation includes important items for the UMWA, like incentives to build manufacturing facilities in post-coal communities, financial penalties for employers who deny workers their rights to unionize, and an extension of the black lung trust fund, a levy paid by coal companies that provides a small monthly payment to miners with pneumoconiosis, a disease caused by coal dust and silica inhalation. 

The Challenge of Building a High-road Electric Vehicle Industry with Anti-union Employers

Inside Clean Energy: Who’s Ahead in the Race for Offshore Wind Jobs in the US?

By Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, October 28, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

States and metropolitan areas are competing to become hubs of land-based jobs for offshore wind.

Illinois Now Boasts the ‘Most Equitable’ Climate Law in America. So What Will That Mean?

By Brett Chase and Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, September 17, 2021

Illinois is now the first Midwestern state to set climate-fighting targets for phasing out coal and natural gas in favor of cleaner energy sources like wind and solar power.

The bill that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law on Wednesday sets a goal for Illinois to move to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

The new law promises thousands of new jobs in clean energy, with an emphasis on hiring people of color. It sets priorities for closing sources of pollution in so-called environmental justice communities. And it gives almost $700 million over five years to subsidize three Northern Illinois nuclear power plants owned by Exelon. 

The law was pushed through by a coalition of environmental, community and religious activists who held more than 100 community meetings over the last three years with thousands of people around the state. That process was in sharp contrast to what happened five years ago, when utility companies dominated the writing of the state’s last major energy law. 

After Years of Grassroots Efforts, Illinois Passes Nation-Leading Climate and Equity Bill

By Renner Barsella and Hannah Lee Flath - Sierra Club, September 15, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL -- Today, Governor Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (SB2408) into law, marking one of the nation’s most groundbreaking advancements in climate justice and workforce transition. 

“This landmark legislation is a historic step forward for climate justice in Illinois, the Midwest, and the nation. As the largest polluter in the Midwest, and historically a major coal-producing state, Illinois is now on course to show what a just transition to a clean energy future can look like, lifting up workers and communities while achieving our climate goals,” said Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “We have shown not only that jobs, justice, and climate are inextricably linked, but also that there are tangible policy solutions here that could be a useful model for lawmakers in DC and across the country. Sierra Club unequivocally opposes nuclear energy, and though this bill includes difficult compromises, it overwhelmingly supports true clean energy resources like wind, solar, and energy efficiency, putting Illinois on track to replace all retiring dirty energy, including Exelon’s nuclear fleet, with 100% clean energy ”

Sierra Club joined other environmental advocates with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition in support of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which sets bold targets to: 

  • Put Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050 by increasing Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40% by 2030, 50% by 2040, and setting an ultimate goal of 100% clean energy by 2050, generating approximately $10 billion for Illinois renewables. 

  • Prioritize clean energy investments, job training, hiring, ownership, and new business creation in BIPOC, low-income, and environmental justice communities through some of the most progressive programs in the nation, including: 

    • a $50 million/year expansion to the Illinois Solar for All Program launched under the Future Energy Jobs Act, 

    • over $80 million/year to build a network of workforce hubs and contractor development programs, 

    • over $35 million/year for business development grants and low-cost inclusive capital access, 

    • minimum diversity and equity requirements for all renewable energy projects and support for BIPOC contractors. 

  • Completely decarbonize Illinois’ energy sector by 2045 with retirement tiers for coal and gas plants based in part on plants’ proximity to environmental justice communities and local pollution impacts. This approach marks an important shift in climate policy that prioritizes emissions reductions first from plants with the worst environmental justice impacts rather than a singular focus on greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Create just transition programs for communities and workers impacted by power plant and mine closures, including a Displaced Energy Worker Bill of Rights to support job training and placement needs, scholarship funds, and health care support. 

  • Tackle Illinois’ heavily polluting transportation sector by committing millions over the next decade to expanding access to and adoption of electric vehicles, public transit, and medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles with the objective of 40% of the benefits going to environmental justice and economically disadvantaged communities. 

  • Install rigorous new ethics standards with restrictions and transparency into utility finances and lobbying activities. 

LA County Board of Supervisors Passes Historic Measure to Begin Phase-Out of Oil Drilling

By Gabby Brown - Sierra Club, September 15, 2021

Los Angeles, CA -- Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in support of a measure to begin the process of phasing out oil drilling on unincorporated Los Angeles County land. There are more than 1,600 wells in unincorporated LA County, with the majority located in the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the country.

Today’s vote puts LA County on the path to being the first in the country to ban and phase out existing drilling. The Board also voted to create a program to ensure that wells are properly closed and cleaned up, and to expand the county's task force focused on a just transition for fossil fuel workers and communities. 

Culver City voted in June to phase out oil production and require the cleanup of well sites in the city’s portion of the Inglewood Oil Field within five years. The City of Los Angeles is also working on developing its own policy to phase out oil drilling.

Environmental justice, climate, faith, labor, and public health groups have long called for an end to neighborhood oil drilling in Los Angeles, citing serious health risks for nearby communities and the need to stop fossil fuel extraction to avert the worst of the climate crisis. Ahead of the vote, groups submitted letters signed by 150 organizations and more than 4,000 petitions and comments to the Board urging them to protect Los Angeles communities by supporting the phase-out of dangerous oil drilling. 

“We have an opportunity and responsibility as the home of the largest urban oil field in the nation to lead by example in creating an equitable path for phasing out oil drilling. Collectively, the motions that passed today center the needs of the communities and workers most impacted by oil drilling and build on Los Angeles County’s momentum in fighting climate change and sunsetting oil and gas operations,” said Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell. “I applaud the Board for continuing to move LA County forward on this critical issue and the countless advocates that have helped get us to this point. Our work is far from done but this is a promising step for environmental justice.”

"Responsibly phasing out oil drilling and cleaning up old wells is critical to ensuring we protect public health as part of a just transition in LA County," said April Verrett, President of SEIU 2015. "We applaud the Board of Supervisors for taking this historic vote, and hope that it can represent a model for the rest of the state to protect both workers and public health."

Please provide EV Charging Access for All in the 2022 CALGreen Code

Open Letter - various organizations, September 2021

We are a broad statewide coalition of 90 organizations, companies, and individuals, advocating for better and more equitable access to Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in California. Recognizing that over half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, the state has set a clear path to electrify California’s light duty vehicle fleet. California’s built environment, however, fails to provide sufficient or equitable access to the EV charging infrastructure required to make this necessary transition. Since November of 2020, we have been involved in the CALGreen stakeholder engagement process, and from the beginning our mandate has been to ensure that every new multi-family housing unit with parking has access to some level of residential EV-ready charging. 

Read the text (PDF).

Sierra Club and Sunrise Movement react to criticism for toxic workplace cultures

By Adam Mahoney - Grist, August 24, 2021

In a summer dictated by converging climate disasters, two of the nation’s largest progressive climate organizations have been preoccupied with their own crises.

Both the Sierra Club and the Sunrise Movement face criticism for workplace cultures that attempted to cover up episodes of racism and abuse, while the Sierra Club is also facing allegations of repressing acts of misogyny and sexual misconduct. The Sierra Club is facing internal upheaval after a former staff member came forward with allegations of being raped by a “celebrated” Sierra Club employee in the summer of 2020. Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement, known for its diversity and pivot away from the historically majority-white climate movement, is facing allegations of “tokenizing” its members of color for political advantage. 

The fallout comes at a critical time in their fight against climate-induced disasters and the fossil fuel industry. As leaders in the struggle for environmental justice — which inherently involves defending women and communities of color — their efforts may be thwarted by not supporting these vulnerable groups within their respective organizations. Both groups, aware of the bad optics, are trying to react swiftly.

Earlier this month, Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, which is the largest environmental organization in the U.S., announced his resignation. Sierra Club President Ramon Cruz says the organizational shake-up is part of a years-long process to re-examine how the organization affects its community. “We recognize the impacts of our organization’s history and harm, and we are deeply dedicated to fundamental transformation,” Cruz told Grist. “We are making substantial changes to our policies and committing substantial resources to much needed capacity, and we know that the trajectory for transformation will be a long one.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Resigns Amid Upheaval Around Race, Gender, and Abuses

By Alleen Brown - The Intercept, August 19, 2021

During a summer of extreme heat, wildfires, and floods, the largest environmental organization in the U.S. announced last Friday that its executive director will step down, effective at the end of the year. The resignation of Michael Brune, the head of the Sierra Club, comes amid the fallout of an internal report, the executive summary recommendations of which were obtained by The Intercept, that describes an organizational crisis likely to upend the Club’s volunteer-led structure.

The internal reckoning around race, gender, and sexual as well as other abuse allegations coincided with a more public confrontation with the legacy of the Sierra Club’s once-revered founder John Muir, who expressed racist sentiments and traveled in circles that included eugenicists. Following the racial justice uprisings during the summer of 2020, the Sierra Club disavowed Muir. At the same time, discontent was brewing inside the organization over less symbolic issues, leading to the internal report.

The report, prepared for the Sierra Club by the consulting firm Ramona Strategies, describes a series of recommendations developed as part of a “restorative accountability process,” based on dozens of interviews and hundreds of pages of documentation. The sharply worded executive summary describes how the organization of nearly 900 staff members fostered a culture lacking accountability for abuse and misconduct, especially when it came from the Club’s 4,000 volunteers, some of whom act as managers for the organization’s employees. The report, which was commissioned after a volunteer leader was publicly accused of rape, underlined that employees and volunteers from historically marginalized groups were most vulnerable to abusive behavior.

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