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Climate-Safe Energy Production–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2022

Climate-safe energy is being produced locally all over the country in ways that also produce jobs and increase racial, social, and economic justice – fulfilling the basic principles of the Green New Deal.

Protecting the climate requires meeting the original Green New Deal proposal’s goal of 100% of national power generation from renewable sources within ten years.[1] That requires greatly expanding climate-safe sources of energy. It involves an unprecedented transformation of the energy system, and that requires national investment and planning. But much of the transformation will actually be composed of local building blocks – and those can begin right now. Indeed, hundreds of local initiatives around the country, ranging from community solar to municipal ownership to local microgrids, are already expanding renewable energy production.

Sunlight, Jobs, and Justice

Solar gardens are sprouting up all over Denver.

On November 3, 2020, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved Ballot Measure 2A, the Climate Protection Fund, to raise approximately $40 million per year dedicated to climate action. As stated in the ballot measure, the intent of this fund is to “fund programs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and adapt to climate change. Funding should maximize investments in communities of color, under-resourced communities and communities most vulnerable to climate change.”[2]

Community solar gardens use photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce electricity from sunlight for an entire neighborhood. Now such solar gardens are dotting sites owned and financed by the City of Denver, including rooftops, parking lots, and vacant lands. The power generated from the solar gardens will be shared between city facilities, income-qualified residents, and publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations.

In accord with the principles of the Green New Deal, Denver’s solar garden program has a strong justice dimension. Since Denver owns the project, it can set its own standards. Ten percent of the energy generated by the solar gardens is allocated to low-income housing through the Denver Housing Authority. An additional 10 percent will be allocated to low-income households through Energy Outreach Colorado, and will be exempt from subscription fees. A paid workforce training program available to Denver residents will provide 10 percent of the city and county’s solar workforce.

The solar gardens are designed to contribute to the goal of Denver’s “80 x 50 Climate Action Plan” to transition Denver to 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal buildings by 2025; achieve 100 percent community-wide renewable electricity by 2030; and reduce Denver’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent, as compared to a 2005 baseline, by 2050.[3]

Inside Clean Energy: Who’s Ahead in the Race for Offshore Wind Jobs in the US?

By Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, October 28, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

States and metropolitan areas are competing to become hubs of land-based jobs for offshore wind.

Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

By Liz Shuler - AFL-CIO, September 17, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

Volvo truck workers on strike

By Lee Wengraf - Tempest, June 29, 2021

At Volvo Trucks North America in Dublin, Virginia, picket lines stretch along Cougar Trail Road at the entrances to the 300-acre New River Valley assembly plant. Around 2,900 members of United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2069 have been on strike since June 7 in this small town in the southwestern corner of the state near the West Virginia border. It’s their second strike this year. Just two months ago in April, workers walked out for two weeks after voting down a tentative agreement by a whopping 91 percent. The union went back to the table and again the membership turned down the deal, this time by a 90 percent margin, a resounding rejection.

At stake in the agreement are critical issues around the two-tier wage structure, work schedule and overtime, health and safety, and employee and retiree healthcare benefits, among others. The company claims they’ve offered “significant economic improvements for all UAW-represented workers,” but in reality the proposed 12 percent raise over six years falls well below the current rate of inflation. The latest agreement also calls for higher copays and out-of-pocket expenses from employees, including a doubling of the out-of-pocket maximum over the life of the contract. The last contract amounted to hundreds of dollars of added costs for retirees per month, according to a striker family member. The company hasn’t tried to sugarcoat these givebacks, stating bluntly on their website, “The hard truth is that there’s likely not a company left in the United States that can guarantee its people – hourly or salaried – that they won’t have to worry about retiree health care costs, even after 30 or more years of work.”

The union is fighting to abolish a two-tier wage system introduced in previous contracts. Although Volvo claims it will get rid of the tiers “over a reasonable time frame,” members 
with two years or fewer seniority still wouldn’t reach top pay over the life of the contract. The company is also pushing to change the work schedule to four 10-hour shifts, a move that would cut into overtime pay. Finally, the rejected agreement removed the union’s right to strike at the end of the proposed six-year deal in 2027.

As the US Pursues Clean Energy and the Climate Goals of the Paris Agreement, Communities Dependent on the Fossil Fuel Economy Look for a Just Transition

By Judy Fahys - Inside Climate News, June 28, 2021

Perhaps the proudest achievement of Michael Kourianos’ first term as mayor of Price, Utah was helping to make the local university hub the state’s first to run entirely on clean energy. It’s a curious position for the son, brother and grandchild of coal miners who’s worked in local coal-fired power plants for 42 years.

Kourianos sees big changes on the horizon brought by shifts in world energy markets and customer demands, as well as in politics. The mines and plants that powered a bustling economy here in Carbon County and neighboring Emery County for generations are gone or winding down, and Kourianos is hoping to win reelection so he can keep stoking the entrepreneurial energy and partnerships that are moving his community forward.

“That freight train is coming at us,” he said. “You look at all the other communities that were around during the early times of coal, they’re not around.

“That’s my fear,” he said. “That’s my driving force.”

New research from Resources for the Future points out that hundreds of areas like central Utah are facing painful hardships because of the clean-energy transformation that will be necessary if the United States hopes to reach the Paris agreement’s goals to slow climate change. Lost jobs and wages, a shrinking population and an erosion of the tax base that supports roads, schools and community services—they’re all costs of the economic shift that will be paid by those whose hard work fueled American prosperity for so long. 

“If we can address those challenges by helping communities diversify, helping people find new economic growth drivers and new economic opportunities, that might lessen some of the opposition to moving forward with the ambitious climate policy that we need,” said the report’s author, Daniel Raimi, who is also a lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Meeting the Paris agreement’s target of keeping global temperature rise “well below 2 degrees C” by the end of the century means Americans must burn 90 percent less coal over the next two decades and half as much oil and natural gas, Raimi said.

And less fossil fuel use will also affect employment, public finances and economic development region-by-region, according to Raimi. In 50 of the nation’s 3,006 counties, 25 percent or more of all wages are tied to fossil fuel energy, he notes. In 16 counties, 25 percent or more of their total jobs are related to fossil energy.

A New Horizon: Innovative Reclamation for a Just Transition

By various - Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition, 2019

The certainty of an Appalachian transition has become self-evident. The questions that remain are “What shape will that transition take?” and “Will our region seize the opportunity to establish just and sustainable economic models that invest in our strengths and set the region up for meaningful and healthy participation in the new economy?” Foundational to our coalition’s work is the understanding that specific, targeted intervention is necessary to ensure that an equitable vision becomes reality.

Appalachia is at the threshold of a paradigm shift into the new economy, ushered in by communities that are taking their futures into their own hands like never before and implementing innovative ways to address long-standing economic issues with degraded lands. The table on page 6 shows funded projects illustrating this shift that have been supported by our coalition, ranging from ecotourism, renewable energy, arts and culture, and creative waste recycling.

This report highlights the successes achieved in 2019 from previously submitted projects and showcases a brand new round of innovative projects. We’re very excited about both the successes that have already been funded and implemented, as well as the new opportunities that are currently being considered for Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Pilot funding.

Read the report (Link).

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).

Richmond IWW Stands in Solidarity with Virginia Pipeline Resisters

By Joe Sabo - Richmond IWW, March 12, 2018

The Richmond General Membership Branch (GMB) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) Stands in Solidarity with Resistance to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline and the Movement for Environmental Justice.

Whereas: Dominion Energy, EQT Midstream Partners, and their corporate and banking partners are guilty of and complicit in surveying without consent, property rights loss, decline in property values, construction of over-sized extreme-pressure pipelines on unstable terrain, water contamination, forest fragmentation, endangerment of at-risk species, harm to the natural resources relied upon by the working class, insufficient emergency preparedness, and the jeopardization of the cultural and natural history of the Commonwealth of Virginia in their efforts to construct the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP); and

Whereas: The coal, oil, and gas industry, and many other unsustainable industries, sacrifice the health and safety of the working class and poor communities, especially many indigenous communities and communities of color. These communities are subject to environmental racism and classism and are often ignored and violated during the permitting process of such projects; and

Whereas: These communities often are forced to defend themselves with direct action which puts them at greater risk of violence and incarceration from the state and private security; and

Whereas: Contrary to the woefully inadequate assessments of greenhouse gases emitted by the ACP and MVP made by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the construction of these pipelines will contribute to the acceleration of already dangerous levels of currently existing greenhouse gas emissions which are contributing to the already dangerous effects of climate change, which could lead to a dead planet with no jobs; and

Whereas: Water protectors have supported regulatory and judicial efforts to halt the ACP and MVP but acknowledge that direct action in the form of resistance camps and other tactics will also be needed to shut down construction of the pipelines to protect the water and natural resources such as the rivers, mountain passes, and agricultural areas that the working class in the area depend upon; and

Whereas: Neither the ACP nor the MVP will provide anywhere near the number of permanent union jobs the promoters of these projects promise they will; and

Whereas: More permanent union jobs can be created at union wages by decommissioning oil pipelines and upgrading water pipeline infrastructure, such as in Flint, Michigan. LiUNA and many labor unions currently have jobs working in the renewable energy sector such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric and could organize for a rapid transition of energy production and manufacturing to be safe for the workers, the surrounding communities and the environment. Though these renewable energy jobs are currently, typically non-union, trade unions, if so determined, could easily develop a successful green energy organizing program, using solidarity unionism, which would revitalize the currently struggling labor movement. Far more jobs currently exist in the growing renewable energy sector than in the declining fossil fuel sector. Also, these pipeline projects will not deliver the promised “energy security” or “energy independence” promised by their promoters, including the Building Trades officials among them, and;

Whereas: Many unions, including the IWW, ILWU, ATU, APWU, LiUNA-City Employees Local 236, CWA, UE, SEIU, NNU, Pride at Work, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Labor for Standing Rock, and many members of other Labor organizations have already publicly stated opposition to pipelines; and

Whereas: President Donald Trump’s executive orders that dismantle environmental regulation and ostensibly “clear a path” for the completion of the aforementioned pipelines are contradictory in nature and are designed primarily to divide workers and environmentalists over the false dichotomy of “jobs versus the environment”; and

Whereas: Virginia’s elite leadership, notably former Governor Terry McAuliffe and current Governor Ralph Northam, as well as a large majority of Dominion-funded legislators in Richmond, many of whom are so-called “environmentally friendly” Democrats, have repeatedly ignored the wishes of the People of the Commonwealth of Virginia to enact and enforce legislation that curbs the destructive actions of Dominion Energy; now, therefore be it

Resolved, that the Richmond GMB of the IWW:

1. reaffirms the IWW’s opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL Pipeline as well as officially declares its opposition to the construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline; and

2. donates $100 to the ACP/MVP resistance camp supply fund and urges our Union’s members, the Labor Movement, and the working class to make Dominion Energy and EQT Midstream Partners struggle for every mile of pipeline, and to pass resolutions like this one, and donate, join, and organize in solidarity with the resistance to ACP and MVP and the movement for environmental justice, locally and abroad; and

3. calls on rank and file members of the Building Trades, Teamsters, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, and other unions who have declared support for these pipelines and other unsustainable projects to implement Green Bans and take direct action by striking and/or slowing down in solidarity with the communities resisting the MVP and ACP and other projects that are exploitive of the working class and the planet we inhabit; and

4. calls on the working class, unions, and the unsustainable companies that employ them, including Dominion Energy and EQT Midstream Partners, as well as their financial supporters, such as Virginia-based Union Bank & Trust, to develop and rapidly implement a “Just Transition” plan for workers in unsustainable industries, such as pipeline and oil industry workers, to be trained and given union jobs in the green energy sector; and

5. reaffirms our belief and commitment to revolutionary industrial unionism, environmental justice, and community self-defense with our goal to “organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.”

Would the Atlantic Coast Pipeline be the job creator its TV ads claim?

By Sue Sturgis - Facing South, December 15, 2017

Dominion and Duke Energy got more bad news about their controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline project this month, with North Carolina regulators announcing they would not issue the necessary air quality permit for a planned compressor station in Northampton County by Dec. 15, as the utilities had hoped. The proposed 600-mile pipeline would carry fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina, with most of it used to generate electricity at gas-fired power plants.

On Dec. 4, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) — headed by the Environmental Defense Fund's former Southeastern regional director Michael Regan — asked for additional information about air pollution impacts, indefinitely extending the deadline for a response. This marks the fifth time that Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's administration has asked the ACP developers for more information about the project, which has the necessary approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but still needs air, water and erosion permits in North Carolina. Last month the state requested additional details about economic benefits to communities along the pipeline's route.

Amid ongoing questions from state regulators about the ACP's impacts, its developers are running TV ads in North Carolina touting the project's job-creation potential. They're doing so through a group called the EnergySure Coalition, an alliance of pro-pipeline businesses and associations that's funded by Dominion and Duke as well as the other two minor ACP investors, Piedmont Natural Gas and Southern Company Gas.

One of the recent ads features Durwood Stephenson, a commercial and industrial construction contractor based in Johnston County, which lies along the ACP's route. He's also the executive director of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission, a regional economic development group.

"We need the pipeline if we're going to bring in industries and jobs," Stephenson says.

But are those job claims accurate? Will the $5.5 billion pipeline that would be financed primarily by Dominion and Duke Energy ratepayers be an economic boon for Eastern North Carolina, a region that faces higher-than-average unemployment?

An analysis released last week concluded that the developers' jobs claims are overly optimistic. It was commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council and carried out by the Applied Economics Clinic (AEC), a nonprofit consulting group housed at Tufts University in Massachusetts that focuses on energy, environment and equity. The researchers looked at the overall economics of the ACP as well as specific claims about manufacturing jobs and found the developers' promises to be unsubstantiated.

"Recent data on states with new natural gas pipeline capacity does not support the claim that the addition of a new natural gas pipeline in a state is correlated with lower industrial electricity prices or an increase in the number of manufacturing jobs in that state," the report said.

Prison Drinking Water and Wastewater Pollution Threaten Environmental Safety Nationwide

By John E. Dannenberg - Prison Legal News, November 15, 2017

Aging infrastructure concerns are not limited to America's highways, bridges and dams. Today, crumbling, overcrowded prisons and jails nationwide are bursting at the seams -- literally -- leaking environmentally dangerous effluents not just inside prisons, but also into local rivers, water tables and community water supplies. Because prisons are inherently detested and ignored institutions, the hidden menace of pollution from them has stayed below the radar. In this report, PLN exposes the magnitude and extent of the problem from data collected over the past several years from seventeen states.

Alabama

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been ignoring complaints of wastewater pollution from its prisons since 1991. Back then, the problem was limited to leaking sewage from the St. Clair prison. Although the Alabama Legislature promised to provide the $2.3 million needed to build a new wastewater treatment plant that would match St. Clair's vastly expanded population, no money has been appropriated.

Today, the problem has grown statewide and includes pollution from ADOC's Draper, Elmore, Fountain/Holman, Limestone prisons and the Farcquhar Cattle Ranch and Red Eagle Honor Farm. The problem has drawn the ire of the private watchdog group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) and of the state Attorney General (AG), both of whom have filed lawsuits against ADOC. The AG's office claims ADOC is violating the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act (Act) by dumping raw sewage into Little Canoe Creek, from which it flows into the Coosa River. The AG has demanded that ADOC fix the problems and pay fines for the damage they have caused. All parties acknowledge that the problems stem from ADOC's doubling of its population to 28,000, while the wastewater treatment facilities were designed for less than half that number.

The environmental damage is huge. ADOC is pumping extremely high levels of toxic ammonia, fecal coliform, viruses, and parasites into local streams and rivers. When raw sewage hits clean water, it sucks up the available dissolved oxygen to aid decomposition. But in so doing, it asphyxiates aquatic plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.
Telltale disaster signs include rising water temperatures and the appearance of algae blooms. The pollution renders public waterways unfit for human recreation as well.

BWR notes in its suit that Donaldson State Prison has committed 1,060 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1999, dumping raw sewage into Big Branch and Valley creeks, and thence into the Black Warrior River. BWR seeks fines for the violations, which could range from $100 to $25,000 each. Peak overflows were documented at 808,000 gallons in just one day, which isn't surprising for a wastewater treatment plant designed to handle a maximum of 270,000 gallons per day. Donaldson, designed to hold only 990 prisoners, has 1,500 today.

One path to reformation was found in turning over wastewater treatment to privately-run local community water treatment districts. Donaldson came into compliance with its wastewater permit after contracting with Alabama Utility Services in 2005. Limestone and other ADOC prisons are now seeking privatization solutions.

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