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Making "Build Back Better" Better: Aligning Climate, Jobs, and Justice

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, June 1, 2021

At the end of March 2021, President Joe Biden laid out his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan–part of his "Build Back Better" infrastructure program–to "reimagine and rebuild a new economy." Congress is expected to spend months debating and revising the plan. The public and many special interests will play a significant role in that process. President Biden has promised to follow up with additional proposals to further address climate policy and social needs.

Many particular interests will seek to benefit from the overall Build Back Better program–and that's good. But as Congress and the public work to shape the ultimate form of that program, we also need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize: combining climate, jobs, and justice. What policies can integrate the needs of working people, the most oppressed, and our threatened climate and environment?

The Green New Deal reconfigured American politics with its core proposition: fix joblessness and inequality by putting people to work at good jobs fixing the climate. The Biden administration's Build Back Better (BBB) plan has put that idea front and center in American politics. Now we need to specify strategies that will actually achieve all three objectives at once.

There are many valuable plans that have been proposed in addition to Biden's Build Back Better plan. They include the original Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda; the Evergreen Action Plan; the Sierra Club's "How to Build Back Better" economic renewal plan; the AFL-CIO's "Energy Transitions" proposals; the BlueGreen Alliance's "Solidarity for Climate Action," and a variety of others. All offer contributions for overall vision and for policy details.

There are six essential elements that must be integrated in order to realize the Build Back Better we need for climate, jobs, and justice:

  • Managed decline of fossil fuel burning
  • Full-spectrum job creation
  • Fair access to good jobs
  • Labor rights and standards
  • Urgent and effective climate protection
  • No worker or community left behind

These strategies can serve as criteria for developing, evaluating, and selecting policies to make Build Back Better all that it could be.

You can’t fix what’s meant to be broken

By D'Arcy Briggs - Spring, April 22, 2021

Regarding the battle against climate change, there is a common liberal argument that says we simply need an improvement in technology, or to push market investments to companies already producing this kind of tech. We’re seeing a boom in renewable energy investment, with many groups clamoring to add these companies to their portfolios. But this push towards new technologies doesn’t exist in an economic vacuum. They are directly informed by the labour processes which create them. No matter how many wind farms or electric cars we create, capitalism will necessarily find a way to destroy us.

Because capitalism is in a constant state of over-production, there is a drive to replace old goods with new ones. If we were happy with the amount and quality of products we fill our lives with, and if we could replace them among our own means, consumer capitalism wouldn’t be able to exist. I think this is pretty self evident and we can easily relate. We are constantly bombarded with ads for new products: phones with better cameras, computers with faster processors, cars with stronger engines, etc. Capitalism can’t function in a world with clean, ‘green,’ energy. It can’t function in a world where the working class are given the tools to function and thrive. Simply put, you can’t fix what’s meant to be broken.

Fossil Fuel Companies Took Billions in U.S. Coronavirus Relief Funds but Still Cut Nearly 60,000 Jobs

By Nicholas Kusnetz - Inside Climate News, April 2, 2021

When Congress looked to prop up a tanking economy and stanch its hemorrhaging of employment as the pandemic spread last year, the oil industry was among those that sought relief. Now, a new analysis shows that dozens of fossil fuel companies received billions of dollars in tax benefits in the coronavirus relief package, but slashed tens of thousands of jobs anyway.

While Congress ended up sending billions in direct loans to small and large businesses, a significant portion of CARES Act benefits came in the form of changes to the tax code. At least 77 fossil fuel companies took advantage of those to claim a total of $8.2 billion in benefits last year, even as they cut nearly 60,000 jobs, according to an analysis published Friday by BailoutWatch, a nonprofit supported by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

Chris Kuveke, a BailoutWatch analyst, said the data shows that the aid to the industry failed to deliver the benefits that Congress had intended.

“These companies did not use that money they received through the CARES Act to maintain payroll,” he said.

As oil prices collapsed last year, some energy companies began lobbying Congress and the federal government for various forms of relief. Occidental Petroleum, for example, enlisted its employees to send letters to members of Congress to ask that they “provide liquidity” to the energy industry, according to Bloomberg News.

Among the various forms of stimulus included in the final relief package were changes to the tax code that proved beneficial to the oil industry.

For example, companies for years were allowed to “carry back” their losses in one year to offset profits from previous years to get a retroactive tax refund. That allowance helped companies with volatile earnings, but it was eliminated by the 2017 tax cuts signed into law by President Donald Trump. The change was one of the few provisions of the tax overhaul that modestly increased the tax burden for corporations, even as the bill overall drastically reduced corporate taxes, said Thornton Matheson, a senior fellow at Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center.

The CARES Act eliminated that change, and even expanded on the original provision, allowing companies to carry any losses incurred from 2018-2020 back five years, instead of the two years allowed before the 2017 tax bill. Matheson said the oil and gas industry was among a few likely to benefit most from that part of the CARES Act, because its earnings can swing wildly with commodity prices.

Thus the change allowed companies to stretch losses from 2018 back to 2013, when oil prices were above $100 a barrel and profits for some of them were sky high (prices fell sharply in late 2014, and have not fully recovered).

Marathon Petroleum, a major refiner, benefited the most, the analysis found, claiming $2.1 billion in tax benefits, according to the BailoutWatch analysis. The company cut nearly 2,000 jobs last year, not counting those in its retail business.

Marathon disputed the figure, saying that less than 30 percent of its $2.1 billion tax benefit was due to the CARES Act provisions. However, its annual securities filing said that based on the carryback “as provided by the CARES Act, we recorded an income tax receivable of $2.1 billion” to reflect the company’s estimate of the refund it expected to receive in its 2020 tax return.

Marathon spokesman Jamal T. Kheiry said some of the layoffs were associated with the idling of refineries, and added that the company was generous with employees who lost their jobs. “To help affected employees transition, we provided severance, bonus payments, extended healthcare benefits at employee rates, job placement assistance, counseling and other provisions,” he said.

NOV, a drilling company, cut nearly 8,000 workers, more than 20 percent of its employees, despite receiving a $591 million tax benefit. The company did not respond to a request for comment.

Occidental collected $195 million and cut 2,600 jobs.

Eric P. Moses, a spokesman for Occidental, said the job cuts were associated with its 2019 acquisition of Anadarko Petroleum “and completed prior to the COVID pandemic and Congress’ passage of the CARES Act.”

Only 18% of global Recovery spending in 2020 was green

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 10, 2021

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released Are We Building Back Better? Evidence from 2020 and Pathways for Inclusive Green Recovery Spending, on March 10. It estimates that in 2020, the world’s fifty largest economies announced USD14.6tn in fiscal measures to address the pandemic economic crisis, and states: …. “Excluding currently uncertain packages from the European Commission, 18.0% of recovery spending, and only 2.5% of total spending, is expected to enhance sustainability. The vast majority of green spending has come from a small set of high-income nations” with France, Germany and South Korea highlighted for their relatively high percentage of green recovery spending. Canada’s spending is small, with only brief references which state that we have focused on “cleaning dirty energy assets”, and have made fossil fuel investment. (no details or examples given). It is notable that the report covers 2020, so that U.S. spending is also low, though hope is expressed for the Biden/Harris administration. Notably, the report looks to the future: “….. the largest window for green spending is only now opening, as nations shift attention from short-term rescue measures to recovery. Using examples from 2020 spending, we highlight five major green investment opportunities to be prioritised in 2021: green energy, green transport, green building upgrades & energy efficiency, natural capital, and green research and development.”

Each of those topics is analyzed, with some exemplary policies highlighted. Some overarching issues: “Of particular note, despite continuing high global unemployment and widespread damage to human capital, spending on worker retraining in 2020 was small and almost exclusively non-green. Nations transitioning to a low-carbon economy must invest in human capital to enable and match future growth priorities. Structural changes in major sectors, including energy, agriculture, transport, and construction, require shifts in the structure and capabilities of the domestic labour force.”

Also, regarding “green strings”: “Although some dirty rescue-type expenditure may have been necessary to ensure that lives and livelihoods were saved, many of the largest of these policies could have included positive green attributes. For instance, airline bailouts in nations all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States could have included green conditions. Green conditions tied to liquidity support, like requirements to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or mandates to increase sustainable fuel use, can ensure short term relief while also promoting investment in long-term technological development and acting as a strong guide in national efforts to meet climate targets.”

The report is supported by the United Nations UNEP, the International Monetary Fund and GIZ through the Green Fiscal Policy Network (GFPN). The data was collected by the Oxford University Economic Recovery Project and is now available through the Global Recovery Observatory, a new database which will be updated regularly (most recently at the end of February).

The report cites many other studies and reports, notably: “Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?” by Cameron Hepburn, Brian O’Callaghan, Nicholas Stern, Joseph Stiglitz, and Dimitri Zenghelis, which appeared in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy in May 2020.

French Energy Union FNME-CGT Endorses TUED Call for Public Energy in Texas

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, March 8, 2021

In a March 8 Press Release, FNME-CGT — the energy and mining division of French trade union confederation CGT — has republished a TUED briefing paper on the recent power sector crisis in Texas. TUED’s briefing paper argued that the recent catastrophic power sector failures in Texas “serve as a stark warning that unregulated, privatized and marketized electricity systems pose a serious threat to human life.”

As we have previously reported in TUED Bulletins 104 and 105, FNME is currently involved in a major struggle by striking French electricity and gas workers in defense of the country’s publicly owned energy company, EDF. The target of the strikes is a set of proposals being advanced by the French government, at the heart of which is a plan to “restructure” the country’s major national power utility, EDF. According to the unions, the proposed changes would undermine EDF’s ability to continue to operate as an integrated public utility, would jeopardize energy security and jobs, and would be against the general public interest.

Over the recent December holiday period, 33 union bodies from 20 countries and regions signed a statement of solidarity with the striking unions and workers.

In support of the striking workers’ defense of EDF, FNME-CGT republished the TUED briefing document with the following additional remarks:

Texas, an extreme example demonstrating that we must say “STOP” to market logics in dealing with the vital common good that energy represents. These same logics, combined with a desire for regional autonomy, have created an anti-citizen cocktail that is becoming a deadly poison!

Confronted with extreme temperatures, many Texas residents have received bills for staggering amounts, up to $17,000. A peak at $9,000 per MWh was reached when the usual seasonal average is $50: capitalists rub their hands… Texans “put on their sweaters” and rub them too, but to keep warm.

The conclusion is therefore clear and indisputable: energy is a vital asset that can no longer be indexed to the financial markets, to the detriment of both commercial and domestic users.

However, while this example rages on, in France, discussions are well underway (for example, EDF’s Hercule project, which only reaffirms the notion of a market) and we are even seeing a new “miracle” tariff offer with a new operator that would index the bill to the price on wholesale energy markets!

Moreover, it is highly likely that generators incompatible with the energy transition will have a bright future ahead of them … a question of survival!

The FNME-CGT condemns this new tariff system where only consumers will sooner or later lose out and where change will mean an increase in fuel poverty.

With support from global union federation Public Services International (PSI), FNME-CGT and TUED are currently working to convene a Trade Union Task Force on Decarbonisation. The Task Force will produce an interim analytical report to guide the development of a “Trade Union Charter for Public Energy in Europe,” which will be debated at a June meeting being convened by the French trade union confederation, CGT.

The June meeting will also bring together social forces from across and beyond Europe to explore and debate a broad range of issues related to the socio-ecological transformation. Unions interested in participating should email Irene Shen at ireneTUED@gmail.com.

Texas: grids, blackouts, and green new deals

By Jonathan Neale - The Ecologist, February 17, 2021

The failure of the electricity grid in Texas, USA, and the rolling blackouts in the Midwest, are one more consequence of climate breakdown.

The root problem is that the Arctic is growing warmer. As it does so, paradoxically, there is less of a barrier preventing very cold weather in the far north from moving south. This extremely cold weather then blankets cities and downs where people live. 

Download Fight the Fire for free now.

The electricity grid in Texas simply cannot supply enough power for all the extra demands on heating. This is a problem what will grow much worse, and not just in Texas.

Complexity

But Fox News and the Governor of Texas are blaming the failure of the grid on the Green New Deal and renewable energy. That’s silly.

There is no Green New Deal in Texas. There are some wind turbines, that have apparently frozen. But the wind turbines in Canada and Antarctica have not frozen.

This is a problem caused by fossil fuels and privatized energy, not wind trubines.

But environmentalists have to be careful here, and we have to be up to speed on the full complexity of what a Green New Deal will mean for electricity grids.

That’s why The Ecologist is posting here the chapter on supergrids from my new book, Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs.

Power

In what follows, I explain the difficulties in integrating 100 percent renewable energy into the grid, and how it can be done. I also show why that will be impossible if renewable energy and electricity supply are owned by private corporations.

The chapter is about supergrids around the world, but many of the examples come from the United States.

A rewired world does not mean that all energy will come from renewables. But it does mean that most energy will come from electricity, and all that electricity will come from renewables.

That will not be an easy thing to construct. We will need new national and international supergrids to integrate all these new kinds of power into new electrical supply systems. These will be qualitatively new undertakings.

The challenge of mixing together power from renewable energy is different in kind from mixing together energy from fossil fuels – and far more complex.

Pandemic Capitalism and Resistance

By Susan King - Green Left (Australia), February 7, 2021

Last year began with huge climate action rallies around Australia in response to the Black Summer bushfires — a climate-change-fuelled catastrophe that made international headlines.

However, by March, Australians, along with the rest of the world, were facing a new global threat — also connected to the climate crisis, agribusiness and habitat loss — COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing global inequality, and exposed the results of four decades of neoliberalism, including the privatisation of healthcare, and the undermining of the welfare state in the advanced capitalist countries.

The pandemic death toll is still rising, countries have experienced second and third waves of infection, as governments sacrifice lives to reopen their economies. The media reports on health systems overwhelmed in Italy, Britain and the United States, but less about the crisis in the Global South, where people are literally dying in the streets, and where health systems are collapsing under the weight of the pandemic.

Over 400,000 Clean Energy jobs lost in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 18, 2021

U.S. government employment figures for December 2020 show that the U.S. clean energy sector added 16,900 jobs in December. However, analysis released on January 13 reveals that the recovery is slow, and the industry now has its lowest number of workers since 2015, having suffered a loss of over 400,000 jobs (12%) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clean Energy Employment Initial Impacts from the COVID-19 Economic Crisis, December 2020 was prepared by BW Research Partnership, commissioned by industry groups E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4TheFuture, and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) . The 17-page report provides data by state and by technology, with energy efficiency leading the losses with 302,164 total jobs lost nationally between February and December 2020. California was the hardest hit state. 

This is the latest in a monthly series of reports tracking the impact of Covid-19 on clean energy jobs – the series is available at the E2 website here. These reports document the dramatic shift in clean energy employment in the U.S; the E2 Clean Jobs America 2020 annual report outlines the industry’s policy recommendations for recovery as of April 2020.

Does working from home weaken the working class?

By Blue Bird Beta - New Syndicalist, September 16, 2020

This piece came about from conversations within IWW Cymru, and we hope that it kicks off discussion in the wider labour movement. A quick note, while many forms of labour take place at home, such as unemployed and unpaid caring, in this piece “work from home” is used to refer to employed and “self-employed” workers who carry out computer-based work, or former office work.

For many years, workers have been told that flexible hours and working from home are impossible demands. But as companies have been forced to adapt to lock-down this perceived common sense has been shattered. This presents a range of possibilities and opportunities for workers who seek more autonomy in how and where they work.

However, trade unions have yet to examine the enormous challenges that arise when people work from home. Despite surface appearances, it is not quite as liberating as we might think. If not organised by and for the workers, working from home could actually make our conditions worse. This mode of work challenges our typical methods of workplace organising, and it could weaken the working class in some fundamental ways.

The End of Oil? Pandemic Adds to Fossil Fuel Glut, But COVID-19 Relief Money Flows to Oil Industry

Antonia Juhasz interviewed by Amy Goodman- Democracy Now, September 2, 2020

AMY GOODMAN: Longtime Massachusetts senator and Green New Deal champion Ed Markey won his primary against challenger Congressmember Joe Kennedy III Tuesday, marking a victory for progressives and the first time a Kennedy has lost an election in the state of Massachusetts. Senator Markey secured 54% of the vote in a primary race seen by many as a showdown between the Democratic establishment and its new and growing progressive wing. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Kennedy, while Markey had the support of New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the youth-led Sunrise Movement. The Sunrise Movement tweeted in response to the victory, quote, “After winning elections across the country, you think we’re gonna stop now? They wish. We will protest outside the halls of Congress while our allies on the inside negotiate the Green New Deal,” they said.

This comes as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he would not ban fracking during a speech in Pittsburgh. A group of 145 organizations, including Sunrise Movement and Greenpeace, have released a letter calling on Biden to ban fossil fuel interests from his campaign and administration, if he wins. The letter reads, quote, “To advance environmental justice, you must stand up to fossil fuel CEOs, stop the expansion of oil, gas and coal production, and rapidly transition us away from fossil fuels,” unquote.

This comes as the global oil industry is in crisis with falling demand and crashing prices exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Despite this, fossil fuel companies continue to pump out an excess of oil, much of it stored on tankers in the ocean. In May, as 390 million barrels of oil and gas sat in storage on the world’s oceans, Greenpeace activists sailed out along the San Francisco Bay, unfurling a banner saying “Oil Is Over! The Future Is Up to You.”

GREENPEACE ACTIVIST: I’m here in San Francisco Bay, where floating oil storage tankers are now idling, storing oil that no one wants and where we have nowhere to put.

AMY GOODMAN: Despite this, Congress has poured billions of dollars of COVID relief funds into bailing out the fossil fuel industry.

We go now to Boulder, Colorado, where we’re joined by Antonia Juhasz, an oil and energy reporter, a Bertha fellow in investigative journalism. And her recent cover story for Sierra magazine is “The End of Oil Is Near,” along with another report, “Bailout: Billions of Dollars of Federal COVID-19 Relief Money Flow to the Oil Industry.” She’s the author of several books, most recently, Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill.

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