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Center for Biological Diversity

Green Groups Stand With UAW in Fight to Protect Autoworkers During EV Transition

By Julia Conley - Common Dreams, September 13, 2023

On the eve of the expiration of the United Auto Workers union's contract and a potential strike Wednesday, climate action groups were among more than 100 civil society organizations on Wednesday calling on the "Big Three" automakers to ensure that a new contract protects workers as the U.S. transitions toward making electric vehicles.

Groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Earthjustice were among those expressing solidarity with nearly 150,000 union autoworkers who are demanding that employees of electric vehicle battery plants being developed by Stellantis, Ford, and General Motors are paid fairly—reflecting the record profits the automakers have reported in recent years.

"Within the next few years—the span of this next contract—lies humanity's last chance to navigate a transition away from fossil fuels, including away from combustion engines," wrote the groups in an open letter. "With that shift comes an opportunity for workers in the United States to benefit from a revival of new manufacturing, including electric vehicles (EVs) and collective transportation like buses and trains, as a part of the renewable energy revolution."

"This transition must center workers and communities, especially those who have powered our economy through the fossil fuel era, and be a vehicle for economic and racial justice," they added. "We are putting you on notice: Corporate greed and shareholder profits must never again be put before safe, good-paying union jobs, clean air and water, and a livable future."

To The CEOs of General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis:

By various - Labor Network for Sustainability, et. al., August 16, 2023

(Mary Barra, Jim Farley, and Carlos Tavares)

We, the undersigned climate, environmental, racial, and social justice organizations, stand in solidarity with auto workers and their union the United Auto Workers (UAW) in their upcoming contract negotiations with the “Big 3” automakers: General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. We firmly support the UAW members’ demands and believe that the success of these negotiations is of critical importance for the rights and well-being of workers and to safeguard people and the environment. Only through meeting these demands will the United States ensure a just transition to a renewable energy future.

Lack of fair wages, job security, and dignified working conditions have left workers and our communities reeling. Worse, in recent months, workers and their communities have experienced unprecedented extreme heat, smoke pollution, flooding, and other disasters. The leaders of your companies have historically made decisions that exacerbated both of these crises over the past few decades — driving further inequality and increasing pollution. That is why we are standing in solidarity with the UAW and all workers and communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis and the necessary transition.

Within the next few years — the span of this next contract — lies humanity’s last chance to navigate a transition away from fossil fuels, including away from combustion engines. With that shift comes an opportunity for workers in the United States to benefit from a revival of new manufacturing, including electric vehicles (EVs) and collective transportation like buses and trains, as a part of the renewable energy revolution. This transition must center workers and communities, especially those who have powered our economy through the fossil fuel era, and be a vehicle for economic and racial justice. We are putting you on notice: Corporate greed and shareholder profits must never again be put before safe, good-paying union jobs, clean air and water, and a liveable future.

Nevada shows states how to build workforce for solar energy boom

By Kaleb Roedel, KUNR & Elizabeth Miller, Climate Central - Grist, August 6, 2023

In northern Nevada, east of Reno, a mountainous desert unfolds like a pop-up book. Wild horses on hillsides stand still as toys. Green-grey sagebrush paints the sandy land, which is baking under the summer sun.

On a 10-acre slice of this desert, people are working to turn this sunshine into paychecks. As society phases out fossil fuels and builds huge new solar energy plants, this region is grabbing a share of that green gold rush by retraining workers for work that is spreading across the West.

At this training center for the Reno branch of the Laborers’ International Union of North America, Francisco Valenzuela uses a wrench to secure brackets to a long steel tube on posts about four feet off the ground. What looks like the start of a giant erector set is the support structure common on large-scale solar farms.

“The brackets, they hold the panels and we set it up,” said Valenzuela.

A few years ago, Valenzuela did electrical work for a solar project not far from here – the 60-megawatt Turquoise Solar Farm. Now, he’s gaining more skills so he can land more jobs. The 43-year-old is originally from Sonora, Mexico, but lives in Reno for trade jobs in northern Nevada. He has two kids in Las Vegas and visits when work is slow.

“You stay busy the whole year working,” he said.

It’s good pay, too, he added, with some companies paying $20 to $30 an hour, or more.

Join the March to End Fossil Fuels

Pursuing a Just and Renewable Energy System: A Positive and Progressive Permitting Vision to Unlock Resilient Renewable Energy and Empower Impacted Communities

By staff - The Climate and Community Project, et. al., May 2023

It is indisputable that the climate emergency requires the United States to rapidly transform its majority fossil energy system to 100% clean and renewable energy.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent sixth synthesis report makes absolutely clear that an unprecedented bold transition to renewable energy with an equally aggressive effort to halt new fossil fuel development and phase out existing fossil fuel usage is absolutely vital to avoiding the most catastrophic consequences of climate change.

This necessary transformation presents a tremendous opportunity to pursue a far more just path forward—one that ends the status quo entrenchment of the fossil fuel industry; empowers federal agencies to use their authorities to accelerate the transitions to a justly sourced, justly implemented, resilient, and equitable power system; actualizes the principles of environmental justice; and preserves our core environmental laws.

This system is composed of our most commonsense and affordable solutions that can be deployed in an efficient and just manner: energy conservation, distributed and resilient renewable energy and storage, and responsibly-sited utility-scale renewables, all paired with robust community engagement and opportunities for real energy democracy.

However, both Congress and the Biden administration are failing to exercise their imaginations to embed justice in a renewable energy future.

After the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, both Democratic and Republican Congress members have proposed numerous “permitting reform” proposals, but the majority continue to argue that achieving a fast transition to renewable energy necessarily means undermining bedrock environmental laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

This false logic must be interrogated. While these proposals might marginally improve the deployment of utility-scale renewable energy particularly on pristine lands, our energy needs can and must also be met with renewable energy on built surfaces that is more resilient, affordable, and respectful toward communities and wildlands.

Furthermore, any such purported gains of “permitting reform” proposals would be massively dwarfed by the emissions of fossil fuel projects that would also be expedited and result in deepening substantial environmental injustices for countless communities around the nation.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

A Public, Renewable Power Future: Moving Beyond Monopoly, Fossil-Fueled Utilities

Rooftop Solar Justice

By Howard Crystal, Roger Lin, and Jean Su - Center for Biolgical Diversity, March 2023

A war over the nation’s energy future is raging across the United States. On one side are everyday people who can benefit from clean, renewable energy through distributed-solar projects like rooftop and community solar. On the other side are for-profit electric utilities threatened by distributed solar’s impact on their lucrative, guaranteed profits. These companies are using their influence with regulators and legislators in a coordinated effort to undermine the expansion of distributed solar. They recently succeeded in California. This report addresses the environmental and economic justice of net energy metering, or NEM, and the utility industry’s false and self-serving claims against distributed-solar growth.

To combat the climate emergency and pervasive energy inequity, we need to maximize distributed solar development. NEM already exists in many states and is a key policy driver to expand distributed solar. Customers pay only for the net electricity they use each month, considering both the power going to the grid when rooftop-solar systems generate excess electricity and the power coming in from the grid (particularly at night). Net metering substantially reduces electricity bills, allowing people to recoup their distributed-solar investments.

For-profit utilities are fighting NEM on multiple fronts and in many states. In California, for example, they recently convinced regulators to gut net metering for new customers. In Florida a utility-backed bill to gut net metering passed the legislature. Utility companies fight NEM because it undermines their business model, which assumes that centralized utilities are the only legitimate makers and sellers of electricity.

As this report shows, anti-net-metering talking points are based on an outdated version of the grid, where for-profit utilities control everything. Utilities want to gut net metering to maintain control and use the proceeds to pay for rising utility costs, including the growing costs of addressing climate-fueled catastrophes and stranded assets in fossil fuel infrastructure.

Read the entire statement (PDF).

Fighting California’s fires requires carceral reform and a Just Transition

By Ray Levy Uyeda - Prism, September 28, 2022

Fires fueled by climate crisis expose the intersecting injustices incarcerated people face and the comprehensive reforms needed for a Just Transition:

Fall is a tough season for Da’Ton Harris, a wildland firefighter who spends multiple weeks at a time attempting to tamp down fires without hoses. Harris and his crew of 20 other firefighters with the Urban Association of Forestry and Fire Professionals, where he’s a superintendent, are responsible for cutting down a forest to its soil so that, theoretically, there’s less fuel to burn. It’s a critical job, especially as climate change continues to dry up California’s forests and prolong the summer heat, which now overlaps with increased winds during typical fall months—creating a ripe environment for wildfire. 

Many firefighters have been at the front lines of these dangerous jobs while being incarcerated, but policies block them from being hired by municipal fire stations after their release because they have conviction and felony records, despite the growing need for more firefighters to combat intensifying wildfires.

California legislators are starting to acknowledge this reality. In 2021, a state law went into effect that may make it easier for firefighters who were trained while they were incarcerated to expunge a felony conviction from their record, which is needed to gain the required licensing to become a municipal firefighter. Harris, a staff member at Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP), which helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs, went through the expungement process this year.

“With me being able to get this off my record, I can try to head back to school to work for a paramedic license, so I can work closer to home,” Harris said. He lives in Victorville, California, with his wife and five children, and he said that he’ll be able to go to his son’s baseball games and maybe even help coach the team. The expungement, he said, will change everything.

Advocates say the change in the law is a prime example of the progress that needs to happen around felony records and removing employment restrictions for those who’ve been arrested or incarcerated. However, others warn that reforms to a system that is restrictive by design won’t bring about the justice needed to address climate change-induced wildfires or change the way a conviction record can shadow someone long after they’ve served their sentence. 

While incarcerated wildland firefighters are tasked with combating the consequences of climate change, justice-involved community leaders and grassroots activists say that the intertwined issues of climate change and retributive policies of incarceration deserve a deeper look that questions the efficacy of piecemeal solutions to systemic issues. They also echo a call for a Just Transition, a union term for shifting the workforce away from harmful industries to those that don’t risk climate and ecological balance.

What It Will Take to Build a Broad-Based Movement for a Just Transition: Environmental and labor organizers reflect on hard-won lessons

Images and words by David Bacon - Sierra, August 31, 2022

In 2020, Washington State passed the Climate Commitment Act, and when it went into effect on January 1, 2022, Rosalinda Guillen was appointed to its Environmental Justice Council. The appointment recognized her role as one of Washington's leading advocates for farmworkers and rural communities.

Guillen directs Community2Community Development, a women-led group encouraging farmworker cooperatives and defending labor rights. She has a long history as a farm labor organizer and in 2013 helped form a new independent union for farmworkers, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Guillen agreed to serve on the council but with reservations. She feared that the law's implementation would be dominated by some of the state's most powerful industries: fossil fuels and agriculture. 

"Its market-based approach focuses too much on offsets,” she says. “Allowing polluting corporations to pay to continue to pollute is a backward step in achieving equity for rural people living in poverty for generations." Just as important to her, however, is that while the law provides funding for projects in pollution-impacted communities, it doesn't look at the needs of workers displaced by the changes that will occur as the production and use of fossil fuels is reduced.

The impact of that reduction won't affect just workers in oil refineries but farmworkers as well. "The ag industry is part of the problem, not just the fossil fuel industry," Guillen says. "They're tied together. Ag's monocrop system impacts the ecological balance through the use of pesticides, the pollution of rivers and clearing forests. As farmworkers, this law has everything to do with our miserable wages, our insecure jobs, and even how long we'll live. The average farmworker only lives to 49 years old, and displacement will make peoples' lives even shorter." 

The key to building working-class support for reducing carbon emissions, she believes, is a commitment from political leaders and the environmental and labor movements that working-class communities will not be made to pay for the transition to a carbon-free economy with job losses and increased poverty. But the difficulties in building that alliance and gaining such a commitment were evident in the defeat of an earlier Washington State initiative, and the fact that the Climate Commitment Act lacked the protections that initiative sought to put in place. 

In Washington State fields, at California oil refineries, and amid local campaigns around the country, this is the big strategic question in coalition building between the labor and environmental movements: Who will pay the cost of transitioning to a green economy? 

Some workers and unions see the danger of climate change as a remote problem, compared with the immediate loss of jobs and wages. Others believe that climate change is an urgent crisis and that government policy should protect jobs and wages as a transition to a fossil-fuel-free economy takes place. Many environmental justice groups also believe that working-class communities, especially communities of color, should not have to shoulder the cost of a crisis they did not create. And in the background, always, are efforts by industry to minimize the danger of climate change and avoid paying the cost of stopping it. 

Workers, Look Out: Here Comes California’s Phony Green New Deal

By Ted Franklin - Let's Own Chevron, July 14, 2022

California politicians never tire of touting the state’s leadership on climate issues. But how much of it is bullshit, to borrow the Anglo-Saxon technical term recently popularized by former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr?

Some East Bay and SF DSAers got very interested when we learned that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) was holding a one-day hearing on a 228-page draft plan for California’s transition to a green future. The 2022 Scoping Plan Update, to be adopted later this year, aims to be the state’s key reference document to guide legislators and administrations in remaking the California economy over the next two decades. We turned on our bullshit detectors and prepared for the worst. CARB did not disappoint.

The state is currently committed to two major climate goals: (1) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and (2) to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2045. These are hardly adequate goals in the eyes of science-based climate activists, but California officialdom is taking them seriously, at least seriously enough to commission a state agency to map out a master plan to reach them.

And there’s the rub. Charged with the outsized responsibility of devising a roadmap to a Green California, CARB’s staff came up with a technocratic vision that caters to the powerful, seems designed to fail, and pays virtually no attention to workers whose world will be turned upside down by “rapid, far- reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” required to limit global overheating to 1.5ºC. Despite copious lip service to environmental justice, CARB’s draft also ignores the critiques and questions put forward by CARB’s own Environmental Justice Advisory Committee (EJAC), assembled to give CARB input and feedback as the state’s master plan takes shape.

“The state’s 20-year climate policy blueprint is a huge step backward for California,” commented Martha Dina Arguello, EJAC’s co-chair and executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles. “The plan on the table is grossly out of touch with the lived reality of communities that experience suffocating pollution and doubles down on fossil fuels at a time when California needs real climate solutions.” 

The idea that an air quality regulatory agency like CARB could come up with a viable plan for a societal transformation on the scale of the Industrial Revolution is absurd on its face. To do this without extensive involvement of labor would seem to doom the project entirely. Yet CARB plowed ahead without any significant input from labor. Result: the only union mentioned in CARB’s draft plan is the European Union.

We searched the draft plan in vain to see if it addressed any of the key questions from labor’s point of view:

What is the green future for California’s workers? How shall we provide for workers and communities that depend on the fossil fuel economy as major industries are phased out? What would a green economy look like, what are green jobs, how can we create enough good green jobs to meet demand, and what public investments will be required?

Instead of answering questions like these, CARB’s draft plan promotes a bevy of false solutions to reach California’s already inadequate targets. CARB’s depends on the state’s problematic cap-and-trade carbon trading scheme as well as carbon capture and storage (the favored scam of the oil industry) and hydrogen (the favored scam of the gas industry). The draft gives the nod to 33 new large or 100 new peaker gas-fired power plants. Missing: cutting petroleum refining, oil extraction, and fracking; banning new fossil fuel infrastructure; degrowing military and police budgets; and committing more resources to education, mass transit, healthcare, and housing. Instead of proposing an economy of care and repair to replace the old fossil fuel economy, CARB offers electric cars and more pipelines.

Far from providing a roadmap to a green future, CARB has come up with California capitalism’s most ambitious response yet to the radical ecosocialist Green New Deal that the world needs and we are fighting for.

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