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A Just and Fair Transition: For Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities

By staff - Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, October 2018

The devastating impacts of climate change are becoming clearer each year. More frequent and intense floods, storms, fires, heat waves, and droughts are destroying communities and homes, and putting the lives and futures of Canadians at risk. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2018 report on global warming of 1.5°C shows that our window to prevent the worst-case scenario is quickly closing.

We do know what is causing climate change and we can do something about it. We need to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions released into our environment. There are several ways in which we can accomplish this, including wasting less energy and investing in cleaner energy sources. Businesses, scientists, governments, communities, and individuals in Canada and around the world are beginning to prove that you can reduce GHG emissions, invest in reliable and affordable clean energy, create decent jobs, and have stable economies.

Although coal-fired electricity has contributed significantly to Canada’s economic past and present—and provided Canadians with affordable and reliable electricity and heat for many generations—it produces significant amounts of air pollutants and GHG emissions. It has well documented costs to human health and is a major contributor to climate change: approximately 20% of all GHG emissions in the world came from coal-fired electricity in 2013.

Recognizing these facts, and supported by commitments in the 2015 Paris Agreement, Canada and other countries are intent on replacing coal-fired electricity with cleaner sources of fuel over the coming years and decades. In 2016, Canada committed to the phase-out of traditional coal-fired electricity across the country by 2030.

Phasing out coal-fired electricity, however, will have direct and indirect impacts on thousands of workers, dozens of communities, and four provinces, including:

  • Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia;
  • Nearly 50 communities with nearby coal mines or generating stations;
  • 3,000 to 3,900 workers at coal-fired generating stations and domestic thermal coal mines;
  • Over a dozen generating stations, owned by six employers;
  • Nine mines, owned by three employers.

In reality, the phase-out of coal fired electricity generation is already underway, especially in Alberta.

The extensive personal and societal impacts of the phase-out of coal-fired electricity are reasons why the labour movement has been advocating for a just transition alongside Canada’s efforts to reduce GHG emissions. We cannot leave affected workers and communities behind during the transition to a low-carbon economy. They too must have hope for the future.

Read the report (Link).

A Guide for Trade Unions: Involving Trade Unions in Climate Action to Build a Just Transition

By staff - European Trade Union Confederation, September 2018

A guide to a ‘just transition’ to a low carbon economy is published by the European Trade Union Confederation on May 15.

The 48 page document ‘Involving trade unions in climate action to build a just transition’ contains

  • Recommendations for economic diversification and industrial policy, skills, social protection and governance for a socially just transition
  • Information on how trade unions can and have been engaged in shaping national climate action
  • Examples of innovative projects that can inspire a more just transition

Key recommendations include

  • Promote economic diversification in regions and industries most affected by the transition
  • Negotiate agreements at sectoral and company level to map the future evolution of skills needs and the creation of sectoral skills councils
  • Establish dialogue with all relevant stakeholders and regional authorities to identify and manage the social impacts of climate policies
  • Promote the establishment of adequate social protection systems
  • Unions and workers should assess the risks linked to ‘stranded assets’

The guide shows that up to half of trade unions have NOT been consulted on sectoral decarbonisation strategies, but over 75% were consulted on long-term decarbonisation strategies for 2050.

Read the report (PDF).

Implementing coal transitions Insights from case studies of major coal-consuming economies

By Author: O. Sartor, - P2P Foundation, September 2018

This report brings together the main insights from the research consortium “Coal Transitions: Research and Dialogue on the Future of Coal”. The report summarises key findings from case studies in six countries (China, India, Poland, Germany, Australia and South Africa). These explore pathways to implement coal transitions . The study also draws from findings in earlier phases of the project, including global analysis of the impact of coal transitions on steam coal trade (cf. Coal Transitions, 2018a) and analysis of past coal and industrial transitions in over 10 countries (Coal Transitions, 2017), as well as political economy aspects of coal. The publications are available on www.coaltransitions.org.

Read More - download PDF.

Doing It Right: Colstrip's Bright Future With Cleanup

By staff - Northern Plains Research Council and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1638, July 2018

In 2018, Northern Plains Research Council partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local union 1638 to conduct a research study into the job creation potential of coal ash pond cleanup in Colstrip, Montana.

Because coal ash pond closure and associated groundwater remediation is only now becoming a priority for power plants, there are many unanswered questions about the size and nature of the workforce needed to do it right. This study aims to shed light on some of the cleanup work being done now around the country and what that might mean for the Colstrip workforce and community.

From the executive summary: Coal ash waste is polluting the groundwater in Colstrip, but cleaning it up could provide many jobs and other economic benefits while protecting community health.

This study was conducted to analyze the job-creation potential of cleaning up the groundwater in Colstrip, Montana, that has been severely contaminated from leaking impoundments meant to store the coal ash from the power plants (Colstrip Units 1, 2, 3 and 4). Unless remediated, this contamination poses a major threat to public health, livestock operations, and the environment for decades.

Communities benefit from coal ash pond cleanup but the positive impacts of cleanup can vary widely depending on the remediation approach followed. Certain strategies like excavating coal ash ponds and actively treating wastewater lead to more jobs, stabilized property values, and effective groundwater cleanup while others accomplish only the bare minimum for legal compliance.

This study demonstrates that, with the right cleanup strategies, job creation and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand, securing the future of the community as a whole.

Read the text (PDF).

Trump Is Handing Us the Weapon We Need to Avert Climate Catastrophe

By Johanna Bozuwa and Carla Skandier - Truthout, June 26, 2018

Recently, President Trump launched his latest scheme to keep imperiled coal and nuclear plants kicking. According to a memo obtained by Bloomberg News, the Department of Energy (DOE) plans to use Cold War-era authorization to require grid operators to buy energy generation from “at-risk” coal and nuclear facilities. News reports have breathtakingly referred to this plan as “nationalization.” In reality, it is just another bailout of a failing private industry.

Just a few months ago, energy regulators denied the Trump administration’s efforts to modify energy markets to benefit coal and nuclear power in the name of grid reliability. The administration is now seeking to use broad powers given to the president in the 68-year-old Defense Production Act to override those decisions. The Act allows the president to either nationalize vital companies or require purchasers to contract with them in order to avert a national security catastrophe.

Trump’s plan uses his authority under this Act to require grid operators to buy enough energy from the plants to stop any “further actions toward retirements, decommissioning, or deactivation” for two years while the DOE conducts additional grid resilience studies.

The circulated DOE memo argues that coal and nuclear power plants secure grid resilience because they store fuel on site, unlike renewables or gas (a claim disputed by grid regulators), and “too many of these fuel-secure plants have retired prematurely and many more have recently announced retirement.” Therefore, the administration insists, the federal government must manage the decommissioning and “stop the further premature retirements of fuel-secure generation capacity.”

This is crony capitalism at its worst. The proposal was actually put forth by FirstEnergy, a for-profit electric utility in Ohio, in a thinly veiled attempt to get the government to subsidize its failing business model. Unable to compete with increasingly cheaper, cleaner sources of energy such as renewables, energy corporations like FirstEnergy are using their political power to extract a public bailout.

As was the case with the big Wall Street banks 10 years ago, this plan once again exposes the dangerous myth of the supposed superiority of free markets and for-profit, corporate forms of ownership. In reality, corporations have long known that in US capitalism, they can extract as much profit as possible when times are good and rely on the government to protect them against losses when the going gets rough.

Coal Exports Increase While Coalfield Communities Still Face Crisis

Trump's Policies Won't Bring Back Coal Jobs -- They Will Kill More Miners

By Michael Arria - Truthout, February 4, 2018

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump consistently claimed that he would revive the coal industry, and since becoming president, he has consistently declared victory. "Since the fourth quarter of last year until most recently, we've added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector," Donald Trump announced last June. "In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs."

Trump was presumably repeating a number he had heard mentioned by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who proudly touted the 50,000 figure in various media appearances last year. Pruitt's numbers are, in fact, way off. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, from the beginning of 2017 through that May, about 33,000 "mining and coal" jobs were created. That's obviously much lower than 50,000. Plus, most of those 33,000 jobs actually came from a subcategory called "support activities for mining." When Trump made that statement, the actual number of new coal jobs was about 1,000. Now it's about 1,200. Preliminary government data recently obtained by Reuters shows that Trump's efforts to increase mining jobs have failed in most coal-producing states.

In addition to coal production dropping off, solar and wind power are now a cheaper option, and more Americans are becoming aware of coal's devastating environmental impact. Even early Trump supporter Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, the country's biggest privately held coal company, admitted that the president "can't bring mining jobs back."

Coal Country Knows Trump Can’t Save It

By Jeremy Deaton - Nexus Media, January 18, 2018

Since taking office, President Trump has been checking items off of a coal-industry wish list—ditching the Paris Agreement, stripping environmental safeguards, undermining workplace protections for miners. While the president’s rhetoric has raised hopes for renaissance of American coal, Trump’s policies have done little to revive the ailing industry.

Experts warn that the administration’s repeated promises to resurrect mining jobs distract from the hard work of rebuilding coal country. Appalachians understand that industry isn’t coming back, but Trump is making it hard for them to move on.

“Promising to bring coal jobs back and repealing environmental regulations at the national level is only harmful to these communities, because it gives them a sense of false hope and it would set them back,” said Sanya Carley, a professor of energy policy at Indiana University and lead author of a new study that examines how Appalachians are coping with coal’s decline.

Over the last three decades, the coal miners have suffered a series of blows, losing more than 100,000 jobs. The biggest hit came during the Reagan years when coal companies started replacing men with machines, allowing them to mine more with fewer workers. Then, hydraulic fracturing drove down the price of natural gas, making it cheaper than coal. More recently, the price of wind and solar power has plummeted, dealing another blow to the industry. Today, coal-fired power plants are shutting down right and left, and there is virtually nowhere in America where it makes sense to build a new coal generator.

Trump can nix every environmental protection on the books. It would do almost nothing to revive jobs. Miners’ biggest foe is, and has always been, the steady march of technological progress. There is perhaps no better symbol of the industry’s decline than the Kentucky Coal Museum, powered, as it is, by a set of rooftop solar panels.

The death of coal, inevitable though it may be, is a tough pill to swallow in parts of Appalachia, where coal permeates every facet of local life. “The coal industry sponsors local elementary schools. There are signs all over the place about different coal companies. They pay for sports, and the students wear their logos on their t-shirts,” said Carley. “We’re told the coal industry goes to high schools and essentially recruits people out of high school and sometimes encourages them to get their GEDs, but other times doesn’t. So, these students leave high school making $60,000 to $80,000 to $120,000 dollars a year immediately without even needing a college degree.” Today, those jobs are increasingly hard to come by.

Civil disobedience is the only way left to fight climate change

By Kara Moses - Red Pepper, January 10, 2018

Right now, thousands of people are taking direct action as part of a global wave of protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world. We kicked off earlier this month by shutting down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales.

Last Sunday, around 1,000 people closed the world’s largest coal-exporting port in Newcastle, Australia and other bold actions are happening at power stations, oil refineries, pipelines and mines everywhere from the Philippines, Brazil and the US, to Nigeria, Germany and India.

This is just the start of the promised escalation after the Paris agreement, and the largest ever act of civil disobedience in the history of the environmental movement. World governments may have agreed to keep warming to 1.5C, but it’s up to us to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

With so many governments still dependent on a fossil fuel economy, they can’t be relied upon to make the radical change required in the time we need to make it. In the 21 years it took them to agree a (non-binding, inadequate) climate agreement, emissions soared. It’s now up to us to now hold them to account, turn words into action and challenge the power and legitimacy of the fossil fuel industry with mass disobedience.

A just transition from coal demands a cross-regional sharing of benefits and costs

By Natalie Bennett - The Ecologist, January 4, 2018

The world has to stop burning coal to produce electricity. We cannot afford the dirtiest fuel, killing with its air pollution, heating the planet with its carbon. That’s a reality that’s dawned in increasing numbers of countries, with the UK among them, who have signed up to the Powering Past Coal alliance, launched at the Bonn climate talks.

In Britain, the reality is this signature is more symbolic than practical. The government had already promised a phase out by 2025 (which could be a lot earlier). In August only 2 percent of electricity was produced through coal and its financial cost is increasingly ruling it out.

But the politics of coal are very different in Poland, where 80 percent of electricity is still produced with highly-polluting fuel, and the government is one of the last in the developed world still building new coal-fired stations.

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