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After Years of Grassroots Efforts, Illinois Passes Nation-Leading Climate and Equity Bill

By Renner Barsella and Hannah Lee Flath - Sierra Club, September 15, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL -- Today, Governor Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (SB2408) into law, marking one of the nation’s most groundbreaking advancements in climate justice and workforce transition. 

“This landmark legislation is a historic step forward for climate justice in Illinois, the Midwest, and the nation. As the largest polluter in the Midwest, and historically a major coal-producing state, Illinois is now on course to show what a just transition to a clean energy future can look like, lifting up workers and communities while achieving our climate goals,” said Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “We have shown not only that jobs, justice, and climate are inextricably linked, but also that there are tangible policy solutions here that could be a useful model for lawmakers in DC and across the country. Sierra Club unequivocally opposes nuclear energy, and though this bill includes difficult compromises, it overwhelmingly supports true clean energy resources like wind, solar, and energy efficiency, putting Illinois on track to replace all retiring dirty energy, including Exelon’s nuclear fleet, with 100% clean energy ”

Sierra Club joined other environmental advocates with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition in support of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which sets bold targets to: 

  • Put Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050 by increasing Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40% by 2030, 50% by 2040, and setting an ultimate goal of 100% clean energy by 2050, generating approximately $10 billion for Illinois renewables. 

  • Prioritize clean energy investments, job training, hiring, ownership, and new business creation in BIPOC, low-income, and environmental justice communities through some of the most progressive programs in the nation, including: 

    • a $50 million/year expansion to the Illinois Solar for All Program launched under the Future Energy Jobs Act, 

    • over $80 million/year to build a network of workforce hubs and contractor development programs, 

    • over $35 million/year for business development grants and low-cost inclusive capital access, 

    • minimum diversity and equity requirements for all renewable energy projects and support for BIPOC contractors. 

  • Completely decarbonize Illinois’ energy sector by 2045 with retirement tiers for coal and gas plants based in part on plants’ proximity to environmental justice communities and local pollution impacts. This approach marks an important shift in climate policy that prioritizes emissions reductions first from plants with the worst environmental justice impacts rather than a singular focus on greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Create just transition programs for communities and workers impacted by power plant and mine closures, including a Displaced Energy Worker Bill of Rights to support job training and placement needs, scholarship funds, and health care support. 

  • Tackle Illinois’ heavily polluting transportation sector by committing millions over the next decade to expanding access to and adoption of electric vehicles, public transit, and medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles with the objective of 40% of the benefits going to environmental justice and economically disadvantaged communities. 

  • Install rigorous new ethics standards with restrictions and transparency into utility finances and lobbying activities. 

Electrification of vehicles in Canadian mines

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

Trade magazine Electric Autonomy has published a series titled BEV’s in Mining, and while clearly from an industry point of view, the articles provide a useful overview of the transformation being wrought by electrification of the mining industry in Canada. “Deep secrets: How Canada’s mining sector grabbed the global lead in mining electrification “ (Nov. 2020) introduces the topic of Battery Electric Vehicles and highlights the specific activities of mining majors GlencoreVale and Newmont, as well as Maclean Engineering, a Collingwood, Ontario-based equipment manufacturer. A related, brief article highlighted the use of Rokion-manufactured trucks at Vale Canada mining sites in Manitoba and Ontario. “Human capital: How BEVs in underground mining change the working environment for the better” was published in February 2021 – discussing the benefits for operators from less noise and vibration, cleaner air, and less fire risk underground. This healthier environment is linked to greater worker satisfaction and a competitive edge for employers to attract scarce talent. The article also states that “the ventilation system for an all-electric mine will operate at roughly 50 per cent of the cost of a diesel mine and cut greenhouse emissions per mine by 70 per cent, according to government data. The Canadian government estimates transitioning to electric could save 500 tonnes of CO2 emissions per vehicle, every year.”

Most recently, “There’s a skills shortage maintaining electric mining vehicles. One training program is trying to fix that” ( Aug. 25), which describes the new “ Industrial Battery Electric Vehicle Maintenance Course”, associated with Cambrian College’s research-oriented Centre for Smart Mining in Sudbury, and with Maclean Engineering. What the series does not discuss are the other labour market implications – including layoffs – from the automation of vehicles and other operations.

U.S. Labour unions divided on carbon capture

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

A new Labor Network for Sustainability background paper asks Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate – and Our Jobs?. Author Jeremy Brecher treads carefully around this issue, acknowledging that it has been a divisive one within the labour movement for years. The report presents the history of carbon capture efforts; their objectives; their current effectiveness; and alternatives to CCS. It states: “LNS believe that the use of carbon capture should be determined by scientific evaluation of its effectiveness in meeting the targets and timetables necessary to protect the climate and of its full costs and benefits for workers and society. Those include health, safety, environmental, employment, waste disposal, and other social costs and benefits.”

Applying those principles to carbon capture, the paper takes a position:

“Priority for investment should go to methods of GHG reduction that can be implemented rapidly over the next decade” – for example, renewables and energy efficiency. … “Carbon capture technologies have little chance of making major reductions in GHG emissions over the next decade and the market cost and social cost of carbon capture is likely to be far higher. Therefore, the priority for climate protection investment should be for conversion to fossil-free renewable energy and energy efficiency, not for carbon capture.”

“Priority for research and development should go to those technological pathways that offer the best chance of reducing GHGs with the most social benefit and the least social cost. Based on the current low GHG-reduction effectiveness and high market cost of carbon capture, its high health, safety, environmental, waste disposal, and other social costs, and the uncertainty of future improvements, carbon capture is unlikely to receive high evaluation relative to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Research on carbon capture should only be funded if scientific evaluation shows that it provides a better pathway to climate safety than renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

“…..People threatened with job loss as a result of reduction in fossil fuel burning should not expect carbon capture to help protect their jobs any time in the next 10-20 years. There are strong reasons to doubt that it will be either effective or cost competitive in the short run. Those adversely affected by reduction in fossil fuel burning can best protect themselves through managed rather than unmanaged decline in fossil fuel burning combined with vigorous just transition policies.”

This evaluation by LNS stands in contrast to the Carbon Capture Coalition, a coalition of U.S. businesses, environmental groups and labour unions. In August, the Coalition sent an Open Letter to Congressional Leaders, proposing a suite of supports for “carbon management technologies” – including tax incentives and “Robust funding for commercial scale demonstration of carbon capture, direct air capture and carbon utilization technologies.” Signatories to the Open Letter include the AFL-CIO, Boilermakers Local 11, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Laborers International Union, United Mine Workers of America, United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers Union of America. Although the BlueGreen Alliance was not one of the signatories, it did issue a September 2 press release which “applauds” the appointment of the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management within the U.S. Department of Energy. The new appointee currently serves as the Vice President, Carbon Management for the Great Plains Institute – and The Great Plains Institute is the convenor of the Carbon Capture Coalition.

Iron and Earth releases its Prosperous Transition Plan for Canada’s fossil fuel workers

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 8, 2021

In its recently released Prosperous Transition Plan, Iron and Earth calls for a $61-billion federal investment in Canada’s just transition process, including $10 billion over 10 years to upskill over one million workers, at $10,000 per worker on average. New I&E Director Luisa Da Silva and Board Director Bruce Wilson wrote “Most oil patch workers believe Canada needs to pivot to a net-zero economy” (Corporate Knights, Aug. 31), summarizing the plan. In addition to the retraining programs, the Prosperous Transition strategy calls for: 1. rapid refocusing and repositioning of 10,000 Canadian enterprises to meet the emerging demand in net-zero industries. (costed at $20 billion over 10 years); 2. retrofitting and repurposing initiatives for long-term infrastructure, including abandoned oil wells and remediation of well sites. This is costed at the equivalent of $10-billion, “in the form of incentives and tax offsets, with green strings to carbon-intensive industries investing in net-zero technologies.” And finally, 3. use of nature-based solutions to prioritize green infrastructure development, expand carbon sinks and revitalize ecosystems and biodiversity (costed at $22 billion over 10 years).

Iron & Earth describes itself as “a worker-led not-for-profit with a mission to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions.” Since she replaced the founding Executive Director, Liam Hildebrand, in the summer of 2021, Luisa da Silva has taken a higher-profile, and was recently quoted in “Liberals pledge $2 Billion to aid just transition” (National Observer, Aug. 31), in which she called the Liberal Just Transition election proposals “a good start”. In the same article, she revealed that Iron and Earth, as part of the Just Transition consultation stakeholders, had received an email on Aug. 16 saying that, due to the election call, “consultation sessions on proposed just transition legislation are postponed until further notice, and any invitations sent for upcoming sessions are cancelled.”

Defend and Transform: Mobilizing Workers for Climate Justice

By Jeremy Anderson - Global Labour Column, September 8, 2021

Mobilizing the global labour movement for climate justice and just transition is one of the defining challenges of our times. However, for workers in many sectors, it is unclear how climate issues will affect them specifically, and how they should respond. To date, much of the debate around just transition has focused on workers in industries that are facing job losses. These struggles are important. But in order to build a transformational vision that can mobilize workers in all sectors from the ground up, we need to understand a wider array of industry perspectives.

In this essay, I will discuss three issues. First, I will make the case for why climate justice and just transition are fundamental issues for the labour movement. Second, I will review debates around just transition, and particularly the contrast between worker focused and structural transformation approaches. I will argue that we need to build a bridge between the two perspectives, particularly in scenarios where it is important to engage workers about the future of their specific industries. Third, I will analyse three different scenarios from the transport sector that illustrate the various challenges that workers face: public transport as an example of industry expansion, aviation as an example of industry contraction, and shipping as an example of industry adaption.

Fossil fuel unions in Texas sign on to a climate jobs plan

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 7, 2021

A July report from the Workers’ Institute at Cornell University Industrial Relations School examines the state of play in Texas and makes a series of recommendations “that can help Texas simultaneously combat climate change, create high-quality jobs, and build more equitable and resilient communities.” Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas identifies the current challenges : a COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which has brought weather disasters to the state.

Texas is an interesting case study: it is the state with the most greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in the U.S., with 42.4% of emissions from its well-established oil and gas industry. Oil and gas (including extraction, refining, petrochemical production) employs over 450,000 Texans, with a state-wide unionization rate of 4.8%. But Texas also leads the states in wind power installations and has wind power manufacturing facilities. Into this mix, the researchers crafted a series of concrete recommendations for jobs-driven strategies to achieve a low-carbon, more equitable economy. These include targets for the installation of wind, solar and geothermal energy, along with an upgraded electricity grid to handle renewables; a target of 2040 to electrify school buses and State and Local government vehicle fleets ; construction of a High-Speed Rail Network between the five largest cities in Texas; a target to reduce energy use in existing buildings by 30% by 2035, and a mandate for Net-Zero Emissions for new construction by 2050; and the creation of a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission. The report also applies many of these recommendations for the cities of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.

Each of these state-wide recommendations is described in detail, with costing, GHG emissions reductions estimates, and job creation estimates by sector. Total direct jobs created over a range from 10 to 25 years is estimated at 1,140,186, with another 1,125,434 indirect and 913,981 induced jobs.

The report was written by Professors Lara Skinner and J. Mijin Cha, with research assistance from Hunter Moskowitz and Matt Phillips, in consultation with 27 Texas labour unions. It accompanies the launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project , an offshoot of the Texas AFL-CIO. Lara Skinner describes the report and the Climate Jobs Project in “Why Texas Fossil Fuel unions signed onto a climate plan” (Grist, July 30). A press release from Texas AFL-CIO includes a summary of recommendations and endorsements from various unions.

Their Just Transition and our Just Transition

By Dave Moxham - Scottish Left Review , September 2021

Up until relatively recently ‘Just Transition’ (JT) was a term used by a relatively narrow group of people in policy circles, unions and environmental campaigners. Over the past few years, the term has become more commonly used, if not always fully understood or understood in the same way. For example, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (ECBD) described it as: ‘seek[ing] to ensure that the substantial benefits of a green economy transition are shared widely, while also supporting those who stand to lose economically – be they countries, regions, industries, communities, workers or consumers’. Meantime, the Climate Justice Alliance said it: ‘… is a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy … The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future’.

Both understand the impact will have winners and losers, and negative impacts should be mitigated. But they then diverge. The first imagines JT as being delivered by policies through existent and, presumably, unchanged institutions. The second sees JT as a more transformative process requiring a shift in the balance of economic and political power.

The Scottish Just Transition Commission, on which I sat, was conceived by the Just Transition Partnership comprising unions and environmental campaigners and adopted by the Scottish Government. The Commission’s remit, set by the Scottish Government, unsurprisingly was aligned more clearly with the ECBD. In other words, the Commission was essentially asked to consider policy recommendations based on the presumption that pre-existing institutions and political and economic relations would continue largely unchanged. This is not to say that the Commission did not consider the socio-economic elements of the issues like energy, transport, industry and housing. It also made the welcome call for empowering workers and communities in delivering JT and for Fair Work to underpin this. Crucially, it called for sector-wide Just Transition Plans, an important step towards the creation of a Scottish industrial strategy. It also called for action to create jobs in the Scottish renewables supply chain and green manufacturing; for two free bus pilots to be run in Scotland; and for as skills guarantee for workers with direct public funding provided so that retraining costs do not fall solely on those whose livelihoods will be negatively affected by the shift to net zero.

However, what the Commission did not address – and was realistically never going to – was the wider political and economic transformation required. In two of Scotland’s highest emission sectors, transport and heat, we have barely scratched the surface of the greenhouse gas reductions required. Meanwhile, in energy, where progress towards emissions reductions has been more substantial, jobs have not been created to mitigate the loss of employment in extraction and generation. The current approach, combining incentives and grants for the private sector with ‘last resort’ state interventions (as at BiFab and Ferguson Marine) lacks ambition.

Therefore, as we approach COP26, and as the SNP Scottish Government signals its intent to economically transform Scotland, the STUC will be campaigning for an approach to JT that achieves both the policy recommendations of the Just Transition Commission and the wider transformation we need.

‘Our Climate, Our Buses’, ‘Our Climate, Our Homes’, and ‘Our Climate, Our Jobs’ campaigns call for radical intervention by government both fiscally but also democratically. Central to this campaign is the need for public ownership and for re-empowering local authorities and communities to deliver change. Privatisation of our bus services has manifestly failed, in terms of fares and services for less well-connected areas. The pandemic threatens a contraction in public transport use when we need expanded public transport to reduce car use. The SNP and Scottish Greens pact creates a public transport fund that could be used by local authorities to take bus transport back under direct control but we have yet to see the how ambitious that fund will be.

Facing Fossil Fuels’ Future: Challenges and Opportunities for Workers in Canada’s Energy and Labour Transitions

By Teika Newton and Jamie Kirkpatrick - Climate Action Network and BlueGreen Canada, September 2021

Canada has a climate plan but it does not lay out a plan for the future of oil and gas extraction that aligns with the goal to limit global warming to 1.5°C, leaving workers and communities with an uncertain future. The Canada Energy Regulator warns that the future of oil sands extraction, which makes up 62 percent of Canada’s oil output, is uncertain due to the projected drop in the future oil demand as the global pace of decarbonization increases.

Meanwhile, a study backed by the UN Environment Programme further states that global oil and gas output would have to decline by over one third by 2030 and over one half by 2040 to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 1.5°C. In early 2021, the International Energy Agency, one of the world’s foremost authorities on global energy forecasting, published a landmark report, Net Zero by 2050, in which the agency declared that oil and gas output should be constrained to existing operations in order to meet the 1.5°C temperature goals articulated in the Paris Agreement. Constraining Canadian oil and gas output to existing fields approximates a similar rate of phaseout to that proposed by the UNEP-backed report.

he Canadian oil and gas industry, including upstream activities, pipelines, and services, provides approximately 405,000 jobs - 167,000 direct jobs and 238,000 jobs across supply chains. In response to oil price crises, industry’s solution to protect profits has historically been to slash jobs while maintaining output. As a result the number of jobs per barrel of output has already fallen by 20% since 2000.

While oil and gas jobs have significantly better compensation and training provisions than most sectors in the economy, these jobs are also somewhat more precarious and have higher health and safety risks. Union density is higher but is also falling at a more rapid rate than in oth-er industries.8 Finally, automation is projected to threaten between 33%-53% of Canadian oil and gas jobs by 2040.

Read the text (PDF).

Just Transition Partnership 2021 Manifesto: Action to Turn Just Transition Rhetoric into Reality

By Matthew Crighton - Just Transition Partnership, September 2021

The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Trade Union Congress in 2016. Membership includes Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland, and WWF Scotland. We advocate for action to protect workers’ livelihoods, create new jobs, and deliver a fairer Scotland as part of the move to a low-carbon economy.

Ahead of the Holyrood 2021 elections, and in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are calling for all parties to commit to policies which move beyond warm words and can deliver decent green jobs now while laying foundations for a sustainable, inclusive economy in the future.

Please provide EV Charging Access for All in the 2022 CALGreen Code

Open Letter - various organizations, September 2021

We are a broad statewide coalition of 90 organizations, companies, and individuals, advocating for better and more equitable access to Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in California. Recognizing that over half of California’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, the state has set a clear path to electrify California’s light duty vehicle fleet. California’s built environment, however, fails to provide sufficient or equitable access to the EV charging infrastructure required to make this necessary transition. Since November of 2020, we have been involved in the CALGreen stakeholder engagement process, and from the beginning our mandate has been to ensure that every new multi-family housing unit with parking has access to some level of residential EV-ready charging. 

Read the text (PDF).

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