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Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

Alberta is Losing Out on Millions in Natural Gas Revenue. Here's Why

By James Wilt - DeSmog Canada, January 25, 2018

Alberta oil and gas companies are wasting so much natural gas each year that Albertans are losing out on up to $21 million a year in provincial natural gas royalties.

Oil and gas companies let an estimated $253 million worth of natural gas escape through undetected leaks and the practice of venting annually.

According to Progress Alberta, a progressive advocacy group, the lost royalties could pay for five new schools, 84 new playgrounds or 36 new nurses.

This is a valuable resource that Albertans own and it’s money that should be going to things Albertans want and need that’s just being lost to the atmosphere forever,” said Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

In addition to the lost royalties, the potent greenhouse house is leaked into the atmosphere without paying the province’s $30/tonne carbon levy, which results in a further loss of up to $1.4 billion in revenue, according to a new analysis by the Pembina Institute. When that carbon price increases to $50/tonne, as Premier Rachel Notley has indicated it will, those lost revenues rocket to $2.25 billion.

So why is this valuable resource disappearing into thin air?

Alberta underestimating methane leakage by 25 to 50 per cent

Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is considered to be one of the easiest ways to quickly reduce emissions. Methane has 34 times the “global warming potential” as carbon dioxide over a century.

And Alberta’s oil and sector emits a lot of it, with 31.4 megatonnes of methane entering the atmosphere in 2014 — although a recent study by Carleton University suggestedthe province is underestimating pollution by between 25 and 50 per cent, meaning annual emissions are more likely around the 45 megatonnes per year mark (which is about how much we thought all of Canada was emitting in 2016).

Fouty-five megatonnes a year is the greenhouse gas equivalent to 240,899 vehicles on the road.

Oil and gas companies have resisted changes that would require them to limit the leaking and venting of natural gas, arguing that it would result in job losses.

However, the federal government has committed to reducing methane emissions by 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025. Those reductions can be achieved through things like limiting the intentional “venting” of methane, using optical gas imaging cameras to detect unintentional leaks and installing flares to combust methane into carbon dioxide.

Federal draft regulations were released in May 2017, and proposed delaying full implementation of new rules by three years to 2023, instead of 2020. It was expected that Alberta would release its own version of regulations in November.

Industry  won a major concession from government in not having to pay any carbon tax on fuel used in the production of conventional oil and gas until 2023, including vented and flared gas.

The delay of action on reducing methane emissions ultimately impacts the entire country.

What Alberta does will really make or break the ability to meet that [methane] target at the end of the day,” said Andrew Read, senior analyst with the Pembina Institute and report author.

Just Transition for the coal industry is expensive – but cheaper than failure to address the needs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 5, 2017

July 2017 saw the release of  Lessons from Previous Coal Transitions:  High-level Summary for Decision-makers , a synthesis report of case studies of past coal mining transitions in Spain, U.K., the Netherlands, Poland, U.S., and the Czech Republic – some as far back as the 1970’s.  Some key take-aways from the report:  “Because of the large scale and complexity of the challenges to be addressed, the earlier that actors (i.e. workers, companies and regions) anticipated, accepted and began to implement steps to prepare and cushion the shock of the transition, the better the results”; “the aggregate social costs to the state of a failure to invest in the transition of workers and regions are often much higher that the costs of not investing from an overall societal perspective.” While the level of cost details varies in the case studies, it is clear that costs are significant.  For example, the case study of Limburg, Netherlands states that the national government spent approximately 11.6 billion Euros (in today’s prices) on national subsidies to support coal prices and regional reconversion, in addition to  several 100 million per year in EU funds. “One estimate also suggested that in the Dutch case, all told, regional reinvestment in new economic activities also cost about 300 to 400 000€/per long-term job created.”  Limburg is also cited as “remarkable for the relatively consensual nature of the transition between unions, company and government.”  (see page 10).

The Synthesis report and individual case study reports of the six countries are available here . These are the work of the Research and Dialogue on Coal Transitions project, a large-scale research project led by Climate Strategies and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) , which also sponsors the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project.  Future reports scheduled for 2018: a Global report, and a Round Table on the Future of Coal.

The Search for Trans Mountain’s 15,000 Construction Jobs

By Robyn Allan - DeSmog Canada, August 28, 2017

When Prime Minister Trudeau announced approval of the Trans Mountain project he said the expansion “will create 15,000 new, middle class jobs — the majority of them in the trades.” 

Natural Resources Minister, Jim Carr, repeatedly points to this figure to justify Ottawa’s approval. He says, “the project is expected to create 15,000 new jobs during construction.”

Alberta Premier Notley relies on it too. “Initially we’re looking at about 15,000 jobs…” Former Premier Christy Clark said, “And then there’s Kinder Morgan, 15,000 new jobs…”

When the figure of “15,000” for new construction jobs emerged, I was confused. Kinder Morgan told the National Energy Board (NEB) that construction employment for the project was an average of 2,500 workers a year, for two years. It was laid out in detail in Volume 5B of the proponent’s application. 

Why would elected officials promote a construction jobs figure six times Kinder Morgan’s actual number?

I contacted the Prime Minister’s office. I asked his staff to explain how the figure their boss relies on was developed. They did not do so. I even wrote the Prime Minister directly. I received no reply. Natural Resources Canada said, “The numbers are from the proponent” and “believed” they were based on Conference Board of Canada estimates, while Premier Notley’s office said it came from the industry and directed me to Trans Mountain’s website.

There it was. “During construction, the anticipated workforce will reach the equivalent of 15,000 jobs per year…” Kinder Morgan provided no insight as to how that figure was derived.

I inquired directly and was told, “the figures come from two Conference Board of Canada reports.” Links to those reports were provided. 

I read both reports. Neither included reference to 15,000 construction jobs as Kinder Morgan said they would. What they did provide was a figure of 58,037 person years of project development employment—over seven years beginning in 2012.

I knew the 58,037 figure to be the same as that provided in a Conference Board of Canada report authored in 2013 and filed by Kinder Morgan as part of the discredited NEB hearing. The Conference Board based its estimate on an Input Output model which — because of its many design flaws — delivers highly exaggerated results.

Methane regulations: a path to lower emissions and more jobs for Alberta

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, August 23, 2017

A July 2017  report by Blue Green Canada,   argues that the Alberta government should implement methane regulations immediately, rather than wait for the proposed federal regulations to take effect in 2023.    Speeding up regulations “could reduce air pollution, achieve our climate targets more cost-effectively, and create thousands of high-paying jobs in a single step”, according to Don’t Delay: Methane Emission Restrictions mean Immediate jobs in Alberta .  Blue Green estimates that Alberta’s oil and gas operations release $67.6 million worth of methane annually, and recovering it for energy use could create more than 1,500 new jobs in the province – well paid jobs,  including work in engineering, manufacturing, surveying, and administration.

The findings of the BlueGreen report are in line with a broader report released by  Environmental Defence in April, which demonstrated that methane emissions are higher than reported by industry: 60% higher in Alberta.  See  Canada’s Methane Gas Problem: Why strong regulations can reduce pollution, protect health and save money   at the Environmental Defence website. Research funded by the David Suzuki Foundation, and released in April,  found that methane emissions in B.C. are 250% higher than reported.   The Cost of Managing Methane Emissions,  a June blog from the Pembina Institute, also sheds light on the GHG savings to be had by instituting regulations. The political slant is covered in “ Trudeau must hold the line on Canada’s new methane rules”   by Ed Whittingham and   Diane Regas, in the Globe and Mail (June 11) .   A July article in Energy Mix summarizes the battle in the U.S., as the courts push back on the  Trump administration efforts to weaken the Obama-era methane regulations.

Rising from the ashes, a Buffalo suburb ends its dependence on coal

By Elizabeth McGowan - Grist, July 11, 2017

Sixteen months ago, the coal-fired Huntley Generating Station, which sits on the banks of the Niagara River, stopped producing power for first time since World War I.

Erie County lost its largest air and water polluter. But the town of Tonawanda, a working class Buffalo suburb 13 miles downstream of America’s most storied waterfalls, also lost its biggest taxpayer.

The impact of Huntley’s decade-long slowdown — and finally shutdown — hit this upstate New York community like a punch to the gut.

In just five years, between 2008 and 2012, Huntley’s pre-tax earnings tumbled by $113 million as it operated far below capacity, translating into a combined revenue hit of at least $6.2 million to the town, county, and local school district. That precipitous decline came when state education funds were also shrinking. Belt-tightening wasn’t enough; 140 teachers lost their jobs. Three elementary schools and one middle school closed their doors.

Rebecca Newberry, a 35-year-old former bartender and LGBT-rights activist, saw her home town facing the same fate that has befallen so many other Rust Belt communities that fell on hard times following an industrial exodus. She was determined not to let it happen to the place where she grew up. And she was fortunate enough to find a diverse group of allies who were willing to fight for their survival.

By combining the resources of her nonprofit, the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, with area labor unions and other community groups, Newberry helped to hatch a plan for Tonawanda’s next chapter — and provide an inclusive, equitable template for other blue-collar towns facing the loss of dirty energy jobs and other polluting industries. (The jargony term for this in advocacy circles is “just transitions.”)

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The Fortress World of Capitalism vs. the Beautiful Possibilities of Cooperation

By Cynthia Kaufman - Common Dreams, July 7, 2017

Our beloved world is entering an increasingly unstable period, full of dangers and also full of possibilities. In many countries, old political parties are crumbling faster and anyone thought imaginable. Old geopolitical alliances have come unglued as the US comes to exercise its role as world hegemon in new and unpredictable ways. The development of the internet, of mobile phones and of apps has led to incredible disruption of many aspects of many societies: from how we pay for and listen to music, to how we consume and propagate information and news, to how we shop for almost anything. All that is solid is melting into air.

At this crossroads it is possible that the global community will move in the direction that the dominant social forces seem to be pushing us towards. That possibility has been called “fortress world.” It is a world where we continue to burn fossil fuels and destroy the atmosphere; where climate refugees desperate to leave Africa are forced by military means to stay in a continent with a decreasing ability to produce food; where finance capital fashions a “market” that continue to squeeze working class people to into extreme poverty; where xenophobia rises in the wealthier countries and keeps masses of people voting for politicians who serve the masters of an extractive and unequal economy. That fortress world is a real possibility and the election of Donald Trump is certainly a sign that this worse future may be on the way.

But it is also possible to build a future where fossil fuels are phased out very quickly, where the political forces that oppose the domination of finance capital come to win elections, and where we work hard to create an economy where no one needs to work very hard.

The technical solutions to the climate crisis are already well at hand. Renewable energy is now economically competitive with fossil fuels, and alternatives to dirty technologies have emerged in virtually every sector of production. The problem of poverty and wealth is also an easy one to solve on a technical level. The world produces enough food to feed everyone, and our technology has developed to the point where we can meet our needs with very little work.

To give one simple illustration of how within reach a better life for all is: take the total personal income in the United States. Divide it by the number of people, and multiply by four. It turns out that the average family of four could have $220,000 per year to live on if we had income equality.  Imagine raising minimum wages, taxing the wealthy, and providing a guaranteed minimum income as ways of distributing that income. Imagine reducing work hours so that, as productivity when up, work time could go down, and work could be shared among those who needed an income. One of the main arguments against this approach is that without the profit incentive our technology would not develop. Imagine worker owner cooperatives developing better ways of doing things and sharing the wealth that comes from those developments with the people who work on them.

A new wave of automation is about to hit the world’s economies so hard that millions of service jobs will be lost in the coming period. People are starting to talk about the need for a guaranteed minimum income to deal with that displacement. If that wave hits the US with the current political consensus in place, it will mean another giant step toward the fortress world, as some people profit enormously while others have no access of the means to survive.

Why Union Workers and Environmentalists Need to Work Together with Smart Protests

By Les Leopold - Alternet, June 21, 2017

As Trump slashes and burns his way through environmental regulations, including the Paris Accord, he continues to bet that political polarization will work in his favor. Not only are his anti-scientific, anti-environmentalist positions firing up some within his base, but those positions are driving a deep wedge within organized labor.  And unbeknownst to many environmental activists, they are being counted on to help drive that wedge even deeper.

Trump already has in his pocket most of the construction trades union leaders whose members are likely to benefit from infrastructure projects – whether fossil fuel pipelines or new airports or ...... paving over the Atlantic. His ballyhooed support of coal extraction  has considerable support from miners and many utility workers as well.

But the real coup will come if Trump can tear apart alliances between the more progressive unions and the environmental community. Trump hopes to neutralize the larger Democratic-leaning unions, including those representing oil refinery workers and other industrial workers.  That includes the United Steelworkers, a union that has supported environmental policies like the federal Clean Air Act and California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, and has a long history of fighting with the oil industry – not just over wages and benefits but also over health, safety and the environment.  

To get from here to there, Trump is hoping that environmental activists will play their part -- that they will become so frustrated by his Neanderthal policies, that activists will stage more and more protests at fossil fuel-related facilities, demanding that they be shut down in order to halt global climate crisis.  

Oil refineries present a target-rich arena for protest. On the West Coast they are near progressive enclaves and big media markets in California and Washington.  Yet many who live in fence line communities would like the refineries gone, fearing for their own health and safety. Most importantly, they are gigantic symbols of the oil plutocracy that has profiteered at the expense of people all over the world.

But from Trump's point of view, nothing could be finer than for thousands of environmentalists to clash at the plant gates with highly paid refinery workers. Such demonstrations, even if peaceful and respectful, set a dangerous trap for environmental progress. Here's why: 

Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs

By Jill Richardson - CounterPunch, March 30, 2017

When Barack Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, Scientific American used his own words to criticize it for not going far enough.

“There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change,” Obama said. “The science tells us we have to do more.”

Scientific American analyzed the Clean Power Plan and agreed, concluding that Obama’s plan didn’t go far enough, and would fail to prevent catastrophic climate change.

Now, Trump is dismantling even that. Obama’s insufficient effort to address climate change is gone with a stroke of Trump’s pen.

The plan was to go into effect in 2022, reducing pollution in three ways. First, by improving the efficiency of coal-fired power plants. Second, by swapping coal for cleaner natural gas. And third, by replacing fossil fuel energy with clean, renewable energy sources like solar and wind.

Trump claims the plan puts coal miners out of work. But it hadn’t even been implemented yet. In reality, cheap natural gas and the use of machines instead of people to mine coal are responsible for putting far more miners out of work.

In other words, Trump is using sympathetic out-of-work miners as a cover for what is really just a handout to dirty industry.

Meanwhile, Trump is cutting job training programs for coal country. Given that, it’s hard to believe he cares at all about jobs for coal miners.

And, with a surge in cases of fatal black lung disease among miners in Appalachia, anyone who truly cared about miners would preserve the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which helps coal miners get black lung benefits.

In short, Trump’s killing of the Clean Power Plan is a handout to dirty industry with no regard for the well-being of coal miners. And it’s putting us even further behind in our efforts to leave the next generation a habitable planet.

A better leader would find a way to promote clean forms of energy while simultaneously creating good jobs for Americans. Of course, that’s exactly what Obama’s one-time “green jobs” czar Van Jones called for, and the Republicans hated him.

But the fact of the matter is that climate-smart policies create jobs. They create jobs retrofitting buildings, manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines, innovating to create more efficient batteries, and discovering the best way to upgrade our power grid.

It seems that, if we installed a wind turbine near the White House, Trump could single handedly provide the nation with clean energy from all of the bluster coming out of his mouth.

In the meantime, catastrophic climate change is as much of a crisis as ever, and the clock is ticking.

The Wrong Way to Debunk Trump’s Pipeline Jobs Claims

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, March 29, 2017

There’s a right and a wrong way to debunk the right-wing myth about jobs and the environment. As a refresher, here are the basics of that myth: Jobs in the extractive industry are an invaluable engine of job creation and a key driver of economic growth. People concerned about the environment want to kill projects, like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, that would provide jobs and help stimulate the economy.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that argument is wrong. Jobs in the U.S. clean energy industry—itself a very small sector—outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel industry 5 to 1, according to a recent report from the Department of Energy. What’s more, renewable energy has the potential to create millions of jobs in the future, which would make that type of employment dwarf even the bloated jobs figures the White House cites in defense of fossil fuels.

But here’s how not to dispel fossil fuel industry talking points: noting the disparity between part-time and full-time construction jobs. Since the Keystone XL’s permit was approved by the State Department last Friday, a number of outlets—including those with a specifically environmentalist bent—re-upped a statistic that made the rounds before the project was squashed back in 2015, stating that the project will create just 35 permanent jobs. The State Department estimates that the Keystone XL pipeline will create some 42,000 direct and indirect jobs, 50 of which will be permanent. Fifteen of the 50 jobs are temporary contracts, leaving just 35 people with ongoing jobs maintaining the pipeline. This line of argument contends the fact that so few of these positions are permanent means that Trump’s jobs argument is an elaborate rouse.

Here’s the problem: All construction jobs are temporary. When you construct something, it is eventually built. Workers in the building trades might work on several projects in a given year, and part of what building trades unions do is set up the people they represent with projects.

Talking points about permanent versus temporary jobs aren’t just bad because they stand to make the people spouting them sound grossly out of touch with working people. Jobs building wind turbines and sea walls and installing solar panels are also often temporary jobs. And that’s okay!

Making sure they’re good ones is another matter. Because of long-standing and union-negotiated norms in the building trades, the unionized workers who build pipelines tend to bring home good money and benefits, sometimes making as much as six figures in a year. Building trades and their workers, then, aren’t being somehow duped by Trump about these figures. The pipeline will create new jobs for their members, who, by and large, will be happy to work them.

But as Bryce Covert points out in The Nation, mining, manufacturing and construction jobs together account for less than 13 percent of jobs in the United States. More than 80 percent of workers are housed in the service sector. The clean energy sector is creating jobs at a remarkable rate, and there’s plenty of other work that is just as low carbon—and happens to be in some of the fastest growing parts of the economy. Teachers and nurses don’t emit massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. Their professions are (relatively) heavily unionized, but wages in other, non-unionized parts of the service sector remain pitifully low—an industry standard being fought tooth and nail by the Fight for $15 campaign.

So don’t fact-check the Keystone jobs line on the basis that the jobs aren’t permanent. Ask why Trump isn’t fueling high-paying, union job growth in the sectors where most Americans work and that are already creating jobs.

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