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Donald Trump

Protecting Workers Engaged In Protecting The Environment

Get Fossil Fuels Out of Our Pension, Say Environmental Protection Workers

By Saurav Sarkar - Labor Notes, June 3, 2021

Not long ago, workers at the Environmental Protection Agency were battling the Trump Administration’s many attempts to interfere with both their agency’s mission and their rights on the job.

Under Trump, the EPA reduced union officials’ official time, restricted the ability to bring grievances, and took away office, meeting, and storage space. Now, with most of those changes undone and the Trump era behind them, EPA workers have begun to work towards a different goal: divesting their federal retirement investment program—the world’s largest defined-contribution plan—from fossil fuel stocks.

“For EPA employees, this is something that is near and dear to our hearts,” said Nicole Cantello, an EPA lawyer and president of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 704.

EPA workers issue and enforce regulations, make grants, conduct research and education, and provide technical assistance for environmental cleanup. They’re probably more aware than most workers of the urgency of the climate crisis, given that they collect greenhouse gas data, regulate vehicle emissions, and educate the public about the issue.

Even limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—the goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement—will result, according to a landmark 2018 U.N. report, in heat waves, more droughts, more intense hurricanes and flooding, a rise in sea levels, harm to ecosystems, lower food crop yields, deforestation, and other damaging consequences.

An increase of 2 degrees or more will have far more devastating effects.

So it’s no wonder EPA workers aren’t happy, about, as Cantello put it, “being forced to invest in instruments that have fossil fuels and [greenhouse gas] emissions that are attached them.”

Fighting for Coal Country

By Staff - United Mine Workers of America, June 1, 2021

Clearly, the UMWA's positions on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and so-called "clean coal" stand in contrast (and, for the most part, opposition) with the entirety of the climate justice movement, ecosocialists, green syndicalists, and a good deal of rank-and-file union members not involved in resource extraction (including the more than 60-70% who support something like the Green New Deal). That said, at least the UMWA finally accepts that coal is a dying industry and a just transition is needed. Therefore, this is presented to show where the UMWA stands, not as an endorsement of their positions.

At the end of 2011, there were nearly 92,000 people working in the American coal industry, the most since 1997. Coal production in the United State topped a billion tons for the 21st consecutive year. Both thermal and metallurgical coal were selling at premium prices and companies were making large profits.

Then the bottom fell out. Over the next 4 years, coal prices cratered, especially in metallurgical coal but also in thermal coal. The global economy slowed, putting pressure on steelmaking and metallurgical coal production. Foreign competition from China, Australia, India and elsewhere cut into met coal production.

Domestically, hydraulic fracturing (fracking) of shale formations opened up previously untapped natural gas fields, caused the price of gas to drop below that of coal for the first time in years. Utilities began switching the fuel they used to generate electricity from coal to gas. Environmental regulations coming from the Obama administration also impacted coal employment. By 2016, just 51,800 people were working in the coal industry. 41,000 jobs had been lost.

Companies went bankrupt. Retirees’ hard-won retiree health care and pensions were threatened. Active miners saw their contracts, including provisions that had been negotiated over decades, thrown out by federal bankruptcy courts. From 2012 to today, more than 60 coal companies have filed for either Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy or Chapter 7 liquidation. Almost no company has been immune.

“Just since 2015 we have had companies like Peabody, Arch, Alpha Natural Resources, Walter Energy, Westmoreland and Murray Energy all go bankrupt,” President Roberts said. “Patriot Coal went bankrupt twice. Retirees’ health care was on the brink, but we were successful in preserving that in 2017. The 1974 Pension Fund was on the path to insolvency, but we were able to save that in 2019.

“Even though our contracts were thrown out by bankruptcy judges at company after company, we were successful in preserving union recognition, our members’ jobs and reasonable levels of pay and benefits at every company as they emerged from bankruptcy,” Roberts said. “But in no case has the contract that came out of bankruptcy been the same as the one our members enjoyed when a company went into bankruptcy. This has been extremely painful all the way around.”

Conservative Talking Heads Love Coal Miners—Until They Go on Strike

By Jacob Morrison - Jacobin and Labor Notes[1], May 17, 2021

A supposed defense of coal miners, their families, their way of life, and their culture has been front and center of the Republican agenda ever since the push for decarbonization began. It was a key part of the Right’s pushback against Obama and his “war on coal.” Hillary Clinton faced tremendous pushback for her awful statement on the 2016 campaign trail that she was going to “put a lot of coal miners out of business.”[1] In contrast, Trump said, “we’re going to put these coal miners back to work,” even bizarrely donning a hard hat in coal country at one point.

Many leftists have long argued that this faux-populist rhetoric was empty. Of course this advocacy ostensibly on behalf of coal miners was really only ever meant to help coal bosses.

Miners Walk Out

The last seven weeks confirms it: Republicans’ rhetoric is all a ruse. Why? Because since April 1, eleven hundred coal miners at Warrior Met coal mine have been on strike — first over unfair labor practices, then for a fair contract.

These miners have sacrificed for the company to bring it into solvency following a bankruptcy in 2015, when they accepted a contract with major concessions including a $6/hour pay cut, frequent seven-day workweeks, a loss of their guaranteed paid lunch break, and overtime compensation. They did their part, and now the company is solvent. In fact, two of the last five years saw record-breaking coal production, and the company’s CEO now has a record-breaking annual compensation of $4 million. But Warrior Met Coal did not hold up their end of the bargain.

First, they negotiated in such bad faith without any concrete proposals that workers were forced to go on an unfair labor practices strike. This forced the company to the table, but with an offer that workers found insulting, including up to $1.50/hour raise over five years.

The workers rejected this offer overwhelmingly, with an overwhelming majority of the miners voting against its ratification and opting to continue the strike.

To add insult to injury, while they were on strike, the company filed a complaint against the workers in an attempt to suppress their speech by limiting their ability to picket. The courts, as they have so often throughout American labor history, gladly cooperated, first limiting picket lines to six people per entrance, and then allowing the union a whole ten people per entrance. All the while, the miners have faced intimidation from the cops, who falsely tell them they are not allowed to walk on their picket lines. Meanwhile, the company buses in scabs to undercut them.

Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin: Green New Deal Is Essential for Human Survival

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, April 22, 2021

Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970, an era which marks the beginning of the modern environmental movement, with concerns built primarily around air and water pollution. Of course, the state of the environment has shifted dramatically since then, and while environmental policy has changed a lot in the United States over the past 50 years, biodiversity is in great danger and the climate crisis threatens to make the planet uninhabitable.

On the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, world-renowned scholar and public intellectual Noam Chomsky, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, laureate professor of linguistics and also the Agnese Nelms Haury chair in the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona; and leading progressive economist Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, share their thoughts on the state of planet Earth in this exclusive interview for Truthout.

C.J. Polychroniou: The theme of Earth Day 2021, which first took place in 1970 with the emergence of environmental consciousness in the U.S. during the late 1960s, is “Restore Our Earth.” Noam, how would you assess the rate of progress to save the environment since the first Earth Day?

Noam Chomsky: There is some progress, but by no means enough, almost anywhere. Evidence unfortunately abounds. The drift toward disaster proceeds on its inexorable course, more rapidly than rise in general awareness of the severity of the crisis.

To pick an example of the drift toward disaster almost at random from the scientific literature, a study that appeared a few days ago reports that, “Marine life is fleeing the equator to cooler waters — this could trigger a mass extinction event,” an eventuality with potentially horrendous consequences.

It’s all too easy to document the lack of awareness. One striking illustration, too little noticed, is the dog that didn’t bark. There is no end to the denunciations of Trump’s misdeeds, but virtual silence about the worst crime in human history: his dedicated race to the abyss of environmental catastrophe, with his party in tow.

They couldn’t refrain from administering a last blow just before being driven from office (barely, and perhaps not for long). The final act in August 2020 was to roll back the last of the far-too-limited Obama-era regulations to have escaped the wrecking ball, “effectively freeing oil and gas companies from the need to detect and repair methane leaks — even as new research shows that far more of the potent greenhouse gas is seeping into the atmosphere than previously known … a gift to many beleaguered oil and gas companies.” It is imperative to serve the prime constituency, great wealth and corporate power, damn the consequences.

Indications are that with the rise of oil prices, fracking is reviving, adhering to Trump’s deregulation so as to improve profit margins, while again placing a foot on the accelerator to drive humanity over the cliff. An instructive contribution to impending crisis, minor in context.

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.”

Oil Trains: Are Profits Worth Our Risk?

The Decade of the Green New Deal

By Nikayla Jefferson - The Forge, March 4, 2021

“Are you one of those flat-Earthers?” The young man looked at the flaming Earth at my feet. 

“No,” I laughed. “I’m in the Sunrise Movement, a grassroots youth movement to stop the climate crisis. Can I tell you about our upcoming climate strike?”

It was September 2019. I had just joined Sunrise and was working to grow the San Diego hub through canvassing the local farmers market. The issue: I had no experience and no supplies. I struggled to articulate the what, where, and why as I tried to pin down strangers for their phone number and email. I think it had something to do with the tagline on the back of my shirt: Good Jobs and a Livable Future.

We were approaching the end of the hottest decade in recorded history. I had just graduated college, an experience scarred by the biggest wildfire in state history. I was stricken with climate anxiety and grief, and determined to do something about it. A friend told me about the Green New Deal, a national solution to avert the approaching apocalypse, and I decided to join the Sunrise movement to fight for my generation’s future. 

But when I talked to the man at the farmers market, I found myself explaining CO2 parts per million. I should have pitched my story instead because he said: “No, thanks.”

Eventually, I learned better recruitment tactics — both through trainings with the national organization and my own trial and error — and “No, thanks” began to turn into “Yes, tell me more.” I also expanded my reach beyond the local farmers market. I learned how to recruit online, table events, and give presentations to local schools and organizations. Our hub grew. Soon, we began planning actions, hosting our own trainings and events, and campaigning for local candidates. We became known as the new climate kids. 

My story is the story of so many organizers who have joined the Sunrise Movement over the past four years: young and inexperienced but driven to be the generation to solve the climate crisis. That shared story is why so many of us stay. In Sunrise, we have found a deep sense of understanding and community. 

As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind

By Emily Pontecorvo - Grist, March 3, 2021

Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.

In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.

Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions.

Overwhelming odds, unexpected alliances and tough losses: how defeating Keystone XL built a bolder, savvier climate movement

By Nick Engelfried - Waging Nonviolence, January 29, 2021

When President Biden rescinded a crucial permit for the Keystone XL pipeline last week, it marked the culmination of one of the longest, highest-profile campaigns in the North American climate movement. The opposition to Keystone XL included large environmental organizations, grassroots climate activist networks, Nebraska farmers, Texas landowners, Indigenous rights groups and tribal governments. Few environmental campaigns have touched so many people over such large swaths of the continent.

The Keystone XL resistance was part of the ongoing opposition to the Canadian tar sands, one of the most carbon-intensive industrial projects on the planet. Yet, it came to symbolize something even bigger. Many activists saw stopping Keystone XL as a measure of success for the climate movement itself.

“Keystone XL isn’t just any project,” said longtime activist Matt Leonard, who coordinated several major protests against the pipeline. “Its defeat is a testament to what movement building and direct action can accomplish.”

A stroke of President Biden’s pen finally killed Keystone XL. But paving the way for this victory were countless battles at the grassroots level, where activists tested new tactics and organizing strategies that built a bolder, savvier climate movement. Some of the groups involved took radically different approaches to politics, leading to unexpected alliances and occasional bitter feuds. And there were losses — other major oil pipelines, including the southern leg of Keystone XL itself, were completed even as the fight over the more famous northern half dragged on.

Yet, resistance to the Keystone XL’s northern leg succeeded against overwhelming odds. While there is always a possibility it could be resurrected someday, chances of that happening anytime soon seem slim. Understanding how this victory happened — and what it means for the climate movement — requires examining how 10-plus years of tar sands resistance played out in far-flung parts of North America.

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