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Employment Impacts of New U.S. Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Laws

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Gregor Semieniuk, and Chirag Lala - Political Economic Research Institute, September 18, 2023

The report Employment Impacts of New U.S. Clean Energy, Manufacturing, and Infrastructure Laws by PERI researchers Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Gregor Semieniuk and Chirag Lala estimates job creation, job quality, and demographic distribution measures for the three major domestic policy initiatives enacted under the Biden Administion—the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation (BIL), and the CHIPS Act. Pollin et al. find that, in combination, total spending for these measures will amount to about $300 billion per year. This will generate an average of 2.9 million new jobs within the U.S. economy as long as spending for these programs continues at this level. The newly created jobs will be spread across all sectors of the U.S. economy, with 45% in a range of services, 16% in construction, and 12% in manufacturing. Critically, the study finds that roughly 70% of the jobs created will be for workers without four-year college degrees, a significantly higher share than for the overall U.S. labor market. As such, these measures expand job opportunities especially for working class people who have been hard hit for decades under the long-dominant neoliberal economic policy framework.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

The Green New Deal from Below and the Future of Work

Ten-Week Strike Wins “Substantial Improvements” for Locals 506 and 618

By staff - United Electrical Workers, September 2, 2023

On June 22, after nearly two months of negotiations, the 1,400 members of UE Locals 506 and 618 voted down Wabtec’s last, best and final offer. Following the vote, second-shift workers marched out of the plant and UE members set up picket lines around the massive facility.

It was the second strike since Wabtec took over the facility from General Electric in 2019. Following a nine-day strike in 2019, the UE locals negotiated a first contract with the new company which preserved most of the conditions they had won over nearly eight decades of bargaining with GE. However, they reluctantly agreed to modifications in the grievance procedure and to lower wage rates for new hires, who would progress to the full “legacy” wage rates over ten years.

In their second contract, members sought to address both the inequities of the “progression” for new hires and the lack of accountability caused by Wabtec’s abuse of the grievance process over the past four years. The company simply refused to address issues in the plant, pushing everything to arbitration — a study by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that grievances per worker had almost doubled since Wabtec took over, and the company was less likely to settle disputes than GE. Members were also keen to make up for their loss of purchasing power as inflation soared in the past two years.

As soon as the UE members walked out, support poured in from the community and around the country. Major unions and labor leaders, including the UAW, Teamsters, and Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson, who spoke to UE’s 2021 convention, tweeted support for the strike. Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, sent a solidarity photo, and UE locals around the country sent letters of support. Both of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators, Bob Casey and John Fetterman, issued statements backing the UE members. Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis visited the picket line in the first week of the strike and sent a letter to Wabtec CEO Rafael Santana, indicating that both he and Governor Josh Shapiro supported the workers’ demands for a fair contract.

The Green New Deal from Below Means Jobs

Appalachian Economy Sees Few Gains From Natural Gas Development, Report Says

By Jon Hurdle - Inside Climate News, August 23, 2023

Natural gas production in the Appalachian region of the United States has failed to produce promised increases in jobs and income since the fracking boom began there in the late 2000s, with economic stagnation likely to persist now that output of the fuel has passed its peak, according to a report issued on Tuesday.

The study from the Ohio River Valley Institute, a nonprofit research group, found that gas-producing areas of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia lost more than 10,000 jobs from 2008 to 2021 and that their personal income growth trailed that of the three states and the U.S. as a whole. Their population dropped by more than 46,000 during the period.

Even though gross domestic product of the 22-county region surged at four times the rate of the states overall from 2008 to 2019, little of that new wealth helped local economies because natural gas investment is mostly made in capital, not labor, and because many of the industry’s workers came from distant areas like Texas or Oklahoma where oil and gas skills were more readily available, the report said.

“GDP, which is often cited as a principal barometer of economic health, failed to produce commensurate gains in local measures of prosperity and well-being, including job, income and population growth,” it said.

Frackalachia Update: Peak Natural Gas and the Economic Implications for Appalachia

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, August 22, 2023

By the first quarter of 2020, EQT Corporation, the nation’s largest domestic producer of natural gas, was supplying more than 4 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. Just a decade earlier, EQT’s output wasn’t even one-tenth as much and the company ranked an undistinguished 25th for output among US producers. But EQT had the good fortune and foresight to base all of its operations in Appalachia, which made it the greatest beneficiary of what turned out to be the world’s richest natural gas field. 

In those early days of 2010, when EQT was the scuffling little guy trying to find a place among giants, such as ExxonMobil, the company employed just 1,815 people. But, by 2020, when EQT’s production had surpassed that of ExxonMobil and all others, its employee count mushroomed to . . . 624.

Yes, EQT’s head count actually declined by nearly two-thirds between 2010 and 2020. In fairness, some of EQT’s job reduction was attributable to its spin-off of Equitrans Midstream (EQM) in 2018. But, even if you add EQM’s 2020 head count to EQT’s, combined employment at the two companies was only 1,395 in 2020, still a quarter smaller than EQT’s workforce in 2010.

EQT’s tale of skyrocketing output accompanied by a shrinking workforce helps us understand important things about the shale gas industry. It helps explain why, as the Ohio River Valley Institute documented in 2021, the Appalachian natural gas boom failed to deliver what had been expected to be hundreds of thousands of new jobs for the region. And it demonstrates that as the natural gas industry matures, it becomes less jobs-intensive and its already meager contributions to economic development and prosperity become even fewer. The dynamic is simple. As a larger share of output comes from existing wells and fewer new ones are dug and work is completed on the construction of processing plants and pipelines, fewer workers are needed. 

Consequently, if production stagnates and the only need for new wells is to replace those that retire, the economic value of the gas industry to Appalachia may diminish even further. And if the Energy Information Administration is correct in its most recent forecast for domestic natural gas production between now and 2050, that is exactly the scenario Appalachia and its natural gas industry are facing.

According to the EIA’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2023”, Appalachian natural gas production likely peaked in 2022. Although this year’s events may prove that forecast to be incorrect in the short term, the long-term trend is clear. Production is leveling off. Indeed, data show that Appalachian production began to plateau as early as 2019. And, as this report will show, economic outcomes in the 22 counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia that are responsible for 90% of Appalachian gas production deteriorated even further since 2019, which was the last year examined in ORVI’s original study of the Appalachian natural gas boom’s economic impacts in the counties where it is concentrated – an area christened “Frackalachia.”

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

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.

Port of Entry: Harbor District begins environmental review for project to turn Humboldt Bay into a wind farm manufacturing hub

By Elaine Weinreb - North Coast Journal, July 27, 2023

This graphic shows various types of offshore wind farms. The deep-water variety on the left will be what's used off Humboldt County's shoreline, where the waters reach approximately 2,500 feet deep. Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Big changes are afoot on the Samoa Peninsula. The Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District is planning to construct a large manufacturing center to craft and assemble giant wind turbines suitable for the deep offshore waters of the Pacific Coast.

Officially known as the Humboldt Bay Offshore Wind Heavy Lift Multipurpose Marine Terminal Project, the port development is a crucial step to bring plans to build a first-of-its kind wind farm off the Pacific Coast to fruition. It would also position Humboldt's as the only port on the West Coast built to manufacture and repair the turbines — a potential economic boon for the area as the industry enters a period of unprecedented growth.

In an effort to address the climate crisis, the Biden administration issued an executive order about a year ago requiring 30 gigawatts of energy to be produced by offshore winds by 2030. That's enough to power approximately 15 million homes, or just about all the housing units in California.

"The government has said, 'Within the next seven years, we're going to deploy 60 coal-fired power plants' worth of wind,'" Harbor District Development Director Rob Holmlund said at a recent public meeting initiating the environmental review process for the port project. "That is a really ambitious goal ... it's nearly double what the world currently has."

To achieve this, the federal government has leased out numerous areas on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts in locations where the wind is the strongest.

While wind turbines are already common off the Atlantic Coast, where the ocean water is relatively shallow, the Pacific Coast poses unique challenges. Because the continental shelf drops steeply off only a few miles from the shoreline, wind farms off the Pacific Coast require a different design. While the East Coast's shallow waters allow for turbines to be built directly up from the sea floor, wind farms on the Pacific Ocean must float atop the water on barges tethered to the ocean's floor. It's a relatively new technology only being used at a handful of wind farms in the world on a small scale, and even those are different from what's being proposed off Humboldt's shore. (For example, the world's deepest offshore wind farm is currently in Norway at a depth of 721 feet, according to CalMatters, while Humboldt's farm would be located in waters approximately 2,500 feet deep.)

Pacific Coast wind turbines must be incredibly large. The platforms that will support the turbines alone are each the size of the Arcata Plaza, comprised of three separate pontoons. Atop each platform will stand a 500-foot tower, the top of which will be attached to three 500-foot rotating blades. The entire length of the completed turbine extends about 1,100 feet straight up from the surface of the water. (For reference, the smokestack at the old pulp mill on the Samoa Peninsula stands about 300 feet tall.)

Targeted Employment: Reconnecting Appalachia’s Disconnected Workforce

By Claire Kovach, Stephen Herzenberg, Amanda Woodrum, and Ted Boettner - ReImagine Institute, Keystone Research Center, Ohio River Valley Institute, July 25, 2023

The Appalachian region has long suffered from not having enough good paying jobs. Even when the unemployment rate is low, too many Appalachians are disconnected from the workforce entirely due to a myriad of factors. The result has been a long-term structural unemployment problem that has persisted for decades, with too many Appalachian adults out of the workforce entirely and unable to secure a decent paying job where they live.

A federal job subsidy program that is targeted at breaking down barriers to employment – such as improving the skills and experience of potential workers to meet current employer demands in their local labor market – and connecting them with a job could not only boost incomes and improve the livelihood of thousands of Appalachians but also give people self-esteem, a source of identity, and feel more connected to their community.

This report examines the economic conditions of Appalachia with a particular focus on the Appalachian counties of four states—Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia—that comprise the footprint of ReImagine Appalachia and the Ohio River Valley Institute. This includes describing how Appalachia has been a “region apart” from the rest of America, including its history of resource extraction and exploitation, the collapse of the steel industry, and now coal, that has led to large employment losses in the area, and how the region’s uneven development has led to chronically low rates of employment, disenfranchisement from the labor market and even loss of hope underpinning the opioid epidemic from which the Appalachian region was particularly hard hit.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Green Jobs or Dangerous Greenwash?

By Tahir Latif, Claire James, Ellen Robottom, Don Naylor, and Katy Brown - Working People, July 7, 2023

Greenwash is not always easy to challenge: the claims to offer climate solutions; the PR offensive in local communities; and promises of 'green jobs' that in reality are neither as numerous or as environmentally friendly as promised.

But whether it’s a ‘zero carbon’ coal mine, heating homes with hydrogen, importing wood to burn in power stations, ‘sustainable aviation growth’ or offsetting, there are common themes that can give a reality check on greenwash claims and misleading jobs promises.

Speakers:

  • Claire James, Campaign against Climate Change
  • Ellen Robottom, Campaign against Climate Change trade union group
  • Don Naylor, HyNot (campaigning against HyNet greenwash and the Whitby hydrogen village)
  • Katy Brown, Biofuelwatch (using slides from Stuart Boothman, Stop Burning Trees Coalition who was unable to make it).

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