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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.

A Green New Deal for Washington State: Climate Stabilization, Good Jobs, and Just Transition

By Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim - Political Economy Research Institute, December 4, 2017

This study examines the prospects for a transformative Green New Deal project for Washington State.  The centerpiece of the Green New Deal will be clean energy investments—i.e. both investments in the areas of renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The first aim of this Green New Deal project is to achieve a 40 percent reduction in all human-caused carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Washington State relative to the state's 2014 emissions level.  The second aim is to achieve this 2035 CO2 emission reduction standard while also supporting existing employment levels, expanding job opportunities and raising average living standards throughout Washington State.   

We estimate that clean energy investments in Washington State that would be sufficient to put the state on a true climate stabilization trajectory will generate about 40,000 jobs per year within the state.   We consider a series of policies to support this state-level Green New Deal program.  These include a carbon tax, which we estimate can raise an average of about $900 million per year even with a low-end tax rate of $15 per ton of carbon.   We also consider a series of regulatory policies, direct public spending measures, and private investment incentives.

Read the text (PDF).

Clean Energy Investments for New York State: An Economic Framework for Promoting Climate Stabilization and Expanding Good Job Opportunities

By Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier, and Jeannette Wicks-Lim - Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) - November 2017

This study examines the prospects for transformative clean energy investment projects for New York State. Taken as a whole, these investments should be understood as a major initiative within the state to advance the fundamental goal of global climate stabilization. These investments should be undertaken by both the public and private sectors in New York State, supported by a combination of public investments and incentives for private investors.

This study builds from New York State’s existing Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) project and the New York State Energy Plan, which fleshed out a policy agenda based on the REV project. Governor Andrew Cuomo first presented the REV program in April 2014 and reaffirmed New York State’s commitments in June 2017. The primary goals of the REV program, which are targeted to be achieved by 2030 in New York State, include: 1) a 40 percent reduction in all greenhouse gas emissions; 2) generating 50 percent of all electricity from renewable energy sources; and 3) achieving a 23 percent improvement in energy efficiency in buildings relative to the 2012 level.

The REV goals and the State Energy Plan are unquestionably significant starting points for advancing clean energy policies in New York State. But they are not adequate to enable the state to achieve emissions reduction goals that meet the challenges we face with global climate change. As such, this study works from a more ambitious set of goals, both in terms of emissions reductions and in achieving broader positive impacts with respect to expanding job opportunities and raising living standards throughout New York State.

The first specific aim on which we focus in this study is to achieve, by 2030, a 50 percent reduction below the 1990 level in all human-caused CO2 emissions in New York State, along with comparable reductions in methane emissions resulting from natural gas extraction.

The second, equally important, goal is to achieve the 2030 CO2 emission reduction standard while also expanding job opportunities and raising average living standards throughout New York State. The expansion of clean energy investments will need to focus on 1) dramatically improving energy efficiency standards in New York’s stock of buildings, automobiles and public transportation systems, and industrial production processes; and 2) equally dramatically expanding the supply of clean renewable energy sources—primarily wind, solar, and geothermal power—available at competitive prices to all sectors of New York State’s economy.

In addition to these goals for 2030, this study also explores the prospects for achieving the longer-term aim of bringing CO2 emissions in New York State down to zero by 2050, while, again, concurrently expanding job opportunities and raising average living standards throughout the state.

Read the Report (PDF).

Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska's Economy

By John Talberth, Ph.D. and Daphne Wysham - Center for Sustainable Economy, October 2017

Of the 50 United States, Alaska best exemplifies the types of problems the rest of the country may well face in a matter of decades, if not years, if we don’t wean ourselves from fossil fuels. The U.S. is in the middle of an oil and gas production boom, one that has caused oil and gas prices to plummet, with devastating consequences for Alaska, a state that has grown dependent on revenue from the oil and gas industry for its public funds.

However, if one only looked at the prominent outlines of the boom-and-bust, oil and gas economy in Alaska, one would miss a subtler shift happening on a much smaller scale: A more sustainable, self-reliant economy is beginning to take shape in remote villages and towns throughout the state.

While this sustainable economy is beginning to take root, it needs special care. In a report, commissioned by Greenpeace USA, entitled “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska’s Economy,” CSE’s John Talberth and Daphne Wysham write that this nascent economy in Alaska shows great promise but will require investments in the following key sectors if it is to thrive:

  • human capital—particularly in computer literacy in rural areas;
  • sustainable energy, including wind, wave, tidal and solar energy;
  • greater local self-reliance in food including produce, which currently is imported at great cost, and fisheries, which is often exported for processing, and manufacturing;
  • the clean-up of fossil fuel infrastructure, including abandoned infrastructure sites;
  • the protection of ecosystems;
  • tourism led and controlled by Alaska Native communities;
  • and sustainable fisheries.

But investment in these key building blocks is only the first step. Also needed are policy changes at the state and federal level that would remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, begin to internalize the price of pollution, and make federal funds available that are currently out of reach for many Alaska Natives.

Read the report (PDF).

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.

Trade unions in the UK engagement with climate change

By Catherine Hookes - Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group, August 15, 2017

Despite being faced with many immediate battles to fight, it is to the credit of many trade unions that they are also addressing the long term wellbeing of their members, and of future generations, by introducing policies to tackle climate change. A new report providing the first ever overview of the climate change policies of 17 major UK trade unions could help raise wider awareness of this important work.

The author, Catherine Hookes, is studying for a masters degree at Lund University, Sweden, and her research drew on a comprehensive web review of policies in these unions, going into more depth for many of the unions, interviewing key figures and activists. The research was facilitated by the Campaign against Climate Change.

For anyone within the trade union movement concerned about climate change (or for campaigners wishing to engage with trade unions on these issues) this report is of practical use in understanding the context, the diversity of different trade unions' approaches, and the progress that has been made in the campaign for a just transition to a low carbon economy.

While every attempt was made to ensure the report is comprehensive, and accurately reflects union positions, there are clearly controversies and different viewpoints over issues such as fracking and aviation. Trade unions with members in carbon intensive industries will always have a challenging task in addressing climate change, but their engagement in this issue is vital. And, of course, this is a rapidly changing field. It is very encouraging that since the report was written, Unison has voted to campaign for pension fund divestment. This is an important step in making local authority pension funds secure from the risk (both financial and moral) of fossil fuel investment.

Anyone attending TUC congress this September is welcome to join us at our fringe meeting, 'Another world is possible: jobs and a safe climate', to take part in the ongoing discussion on the role of trade unions in tackling climate change.

Read the text (PDF).

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.”)

read more...

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: 

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: 

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