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A Debate Over Carbon Capture in the Infrastructure Bill Could Test the Labor-Climate Alliance

By Rachel M Cohen - In These Times, April 15, 2021

President Biden wants to include carbon capture technology in his push for infrastructure investment. While unions are on board, some climate groups are keeping quiet for now.

In late March, President Joe Biden unveiled a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, that his administration hopes to move forward this year. The plan would make major investments in improving physical infrastructure such as roads, schools and bridges while also creating good-paying jobs, expanding collective bargaining rights and funding long-term care services under Medicaid. 

The president’s plan also endorsed another proposal that a group of bipartisan lawmakers hope makes it into a final bill: expanding carbon-capture utilization and storage (CCUS) in the United States. The SCALE Act, introduced in mid-March by eleven senators and six House representatives, represents the country’s first comprehensive CO2 infrastructure and jobs bill. In describing the president’s infrastructure plan, the White House said it ​“will support large-scale sequestration efforts” that are ​“in line with the bipartisan SCALE Act.” 

The legislation, which would authorize $4.9 billion in spending over five years, would create programs to transport and store carbon underground. Its provisions include establishing low-interest loan programs modeled off of federal highway development programs, increasing EPA funding for permitting carbon storage wells, and providing grants to states to create their own permitting programs. Advocates point to countries such as Canada, Norway and Australia where elected officials have made similar investments in carbon storage infrastructure. 

The SCALE Act is notable both for the support it has, and hasn’t, received. Its early endorsers include a half-dozen industrial labor unions, centrist climate groups like the National Wildlife Federation, and energy companies like GE Gas Power and Calpine. Fossil fuel industry support for carbon-capture has historically been a top reason why progressive climate groups, meanwhile, remain skeptical of the idea, wary of subsidizing anything that amounts to corporate giveaways to some of the world’s worst polluters. While carbon-capture has long been a flashpoint in Democratic climate politics, most critics of the policy have stayed quiet on the SCALE Act for now.

Modeling released in December by the Princeton Net-Zero America Project found that construction of nearly 12,000 miles of pipelines capable of storing 65 million tons of CO2 per year would be needed by 2030 for the United States to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — a stated goal of the Biden administration. The Clean Air Task Force, a climate advocacy group, says the SCALE Act programs are ​“consistent” with the quantity and timeline of infrastructure deployment needed to meet those goals.

To date, nearly all U.S. carbon-capture projects are situated near existing CO2 pipelines and Lee Beck, the CCUS policy innovation director at the Clean Air Task Force, says the SCALE Act’s goal would be to capture emissions from multiple sources and then transport the CO2 for storage elsewhere, as is currently being carried out through Canada’s Alberta Carbon Trunk Line System and Norway’s Northern Lights Project.

Supporters point to a number of recent scientific analyses that make the case for greater investment in carbon-capture. In February, the National Academies of Sciences released a report on decarbonizing the U.S. energy system which recommends that, over next decade, officials should focus on increasing deployment of carbon-capture technologies by a factor of ten while investing in permanent CO2 storage infrastructure. In 2020, the International Energy Agency warned that it would be ​“virtually impossible” to reach net-zero emissions without carbon capture technology, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said carbon capture is likely necessary to meet global climate targets. Supporters note that renewable energy sources like wind and solar are not viable alternatives for reducing carbon emissions in the industrial sector, which account for 32 percent of the United States’ energy use and nearly a quarter of its direct greenhouse gas emissions. 

Our Time To Thrive: A Town Hall

Why major unions are wary of the move to wind and solar jobs

By Ella Nilsen - Vox, March 19, 2021

President Joe Biden wants to quickly move the United States toward clean energy jobs in wind and solar. But unions — some of Biden’s strongest allies — are skeptical about the transition to green energy.

Biden and congressional Democrats are poised to introduce a large infrastructure plan that is supposed to deliver on two promises: putting job creation into overdrive, and decarbonizing the economy, with an aggressive goal of powering 100 percent of America’s electricity sector with clean energy by 2035.

To achieve both goals, the administration is betting on a massive push toward wind and solar. Renewables already produced 20 percent of US electricity in 2020, and expanding them further to decarbonize the economy necessarily means phasing out fossil fuels. But even as wind and solar production has increased, wages and the rate of unionized jobs in renewables haven’t kept up with the industries they’d be replacing. In order to make more profits, many companies want to keep their costs low — which includes keeping wages low.

“The fossil fuel industries were unionized in long struggles that were classic labor stories,” said University of Rhode Island labor historian Erik Loomis. “Now, they’re in decline and you have these new industries. But a green capitalist is still a capitalist, and they don’t want a union.”

About 4 percent of solar industry workers and 6 percent of wind workers are unionized, according to the 2020 US Energy and Employment Report. The percentage of unionized workers in natural gas, nuclear, and coal power plants is about double that, around 10 to 12 percent unionized (although still not a huge amount). In transportation, distribution, and storage jobs — which exist largely in the fossil fuel sector — about 17 percent of the jobs are unionized. Still, the solar and wind unionization rates are in line with the low national rate of unionized workers in the private sector, which is about 6.3 percent.

This is one of the big reasons there’s a real hesitancy on the part of many unions and workers to transition from fossil fuel to renewable jobs: They are worried the jobs waiting for them in wind and solar won’t pay as well or have union protections. This has long been a tension point between environmental groups and labor, often exploited by the right wing. Even though alliances between the two are forming, those underlying tensions won’t vanish easily.

Is clean energy ready for Biden's union crusade?

By David Ferris - E&E News, March 9, 2021

One evening in September 2018, Lucas Franco parked on the shoulder of a dirt road in the Minnesota cornfields. He examined the passing cars, especially their license plates.

The trucks and SUVs were rolling off the construction site of a wind farm called Stoneray. Upon spying each plate, Franco noted its origin state and entered it into a spreadsheet on his laptop. Utah, Florida, South Carolina, Texas.

Franco was not a police officer or a private investigator, but a Ph.D. candidate in political science trying to solve a mystery. His employer, the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter of the Laborers' International Union of North America, wanted to know where these workers were coming from.

For several years, wind farms like Stoneray had been rising in southern Minnesota, with each energy project promising to create hundreds of jobs. But developers rarely called the Laborers' Local 563 union hall in Minneapolis. Instead, the Laborers' and the state's other construction unions suspected that wind companies were importing workers from other states and denying the income to Minnesotans.

"We kept asking questions" of the developers about their workforce, said Kevin Pranis, 49, the local's marketing manager and Franco's boss. "But they would just fob us off."

The data on Franco's laptop changed that. It would, in fact, form the basis of the most successful labor actions in the short history of American renewable energy.

This Minnesota episode is relevant now because of the union sympathies of the new U.S. president, Joe Biden. Biden launched his campaign two years ago in a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh. Last week, he posted a video implicitly cheering on a unionization effort at an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in Alabama, which is being closely watched to see whether a new, union-loving president could revive a labor movement long in decline.

Biden has made no secret of his intention to bring this rare brand of presidential labor activism to clean energy...

Read the rest here.

The work-technology nexus and working-class environmentalism: Workerism versus capitalist noxiousness in Italy’s Long 1968

By Lorenzo Feltrin and Devi Sacchetto - Theory and Society, March 5, 2021

This article traces the trajectory of theory and praxis around nocività or noxiousness – i.e., health damage and environmental degradation – drawn by the workerist group rooted in the petrochemical complex of Porto Marghera, Venice. While Porto Maghera was an important setting for the early activism of influential theorists such as the post-workerist Antonio Negri and the autonomist feminist Mariarosa Dalla Costa, the theories produced by the workers themselves have been largely forgotten. Yet, this experience was remarkable because it involved workers employed by polluting industries denouncing in words and actions the environmental degradation caused by their companies from as early as 1968, when the workerists had a determining influence in the local factories.

The Porto Marghera struggles against noxiousness contradict the widespread belief that what is today known as working-class environmentalism did not have much significance in the labour unrest of Italy’s Long 1968. The Porto Marghera group’s original contribution was based on the thesis of the inherent noxiousness of capitalist work and an antagonistic-transformative approach to capitalist technology. This led to the proposal of a counterpower able to determine “what, how, and how much to produce” on the basis of common needs encompassing the environment, pointing to the utopian prospect of struggling for a different, anti-capitalist technology, compatible with the sustainable reproduction of life on the planet.

Read the text (Link).

Australian Guide to Agrisolar for Large-Scale Solar for Proponents and Farmers

By staff - Clean Energy Council, March 2021

Farmers are keen to send the message that the linkages between the agricultural and renewable energy sectors have the potential to be mutually beneficial for both, as the two industries are set to meet to share experiences and opportunities to work together.

Farmers and project developers alike are set to meet for the National Renewables in Agriculture Conference to be held in Dubbo next month.

Conference founder, Karin Stark, said including renewable energy projects on farmland was becoming an increasingly attractive way for farmers to reduce their costs and potentially help diversify income streams.

“Renewable energy is a practical way for farmers to significantly reduce their costs, reduce their exposure to energy price fluctuations and build business resilience,” Stark said.

“It’s important for farmers to be able to get together and share their stories and also their challenges and mistakes so that others can learn from them.”

Stark added that the conference would help break down some of the knowledge barriers when it comes to integrating renewable energy with farming operations.

“The National Renewables in Agriculture Conference is designed to overcoming the barriers to the uptake of renewable energy by farmers. There is a gap in the knowledge and understanding of what renewable energy solutions work for what farming operations plus there is a general lack of trust in solar suppliers, which constrains investment,” Stark said.

The addition of renewable energy projects with farming operations can prove to be highly complementary, with access to land with high solar and wind availability, potentially useable for both continued agricultural use while allowing for the generation of zero emissions electricity.

Read the text (PDF).

Texas: grids, blackouts, and green new deals

By Jonathan Neale - The Ecologist, February 17, 2021

The failure of the electricity grid in Texas, USA, and the rolling blackouts in the Midwest, are one more consequence of climate breakdown.

The root problem is that the Arctic is growing warmer. As it does so, paradoxically, there is less of a barrier preventing very cold weather in the far north from moving south. This extremely cold weather then blankets cities and downs where people live. 

Download Fight the Fire for free now.

The electricity grid in Texas simply cannot supply enough power for all the extra demands on heating. This is a problem what will grow much worse, and not just in Texas.

Complexity

But Fox News and the Governor of Texas are blaming the failure of the grid on the Green New Deal and renewable energy. That’s silly.

There is no Green New Deal in Texas. There are some wind turbines, that have apparently frozen. But the wind turbines in Canada and Antarctica have not frozen.

This is a problem caused by fossil fuels and privatized energy, not wind trubines.

But environmentalists have to be careful here, and we have to be up to speed on the full complexity of what a Green New Deal will mean for electricity grids.

That’s why The Ecologist is posting here the chapter on supergrids from my new book, Fight the Fire: Green New Deals and Global Climate Jobs.

Power

In what follows, I explain the difficulties in integrating 100 percent renewable energy into the grid, and how it can be done. I also show why that will be impossible if renewable energy and electricity supply are owned by private corporations.

The chapter is about supergrids around the world, but many of the examples come from the United States.

A rewired world does not mean that all energy will come from renewables. But it does mean that most energy will come from electricity, and all that electricity will come from renewables.

That will not be an easy thing to construct. We will need new national and international supergrids to integrate all these new kinds of power into new electrical supply systems. These will be qualitatively new undertakings.

The challenge of mixing together power from renewable energy is different in kind from mixing together energy from fossil fuels – and far more complex.

Just Transition: Time for a Rethink?

By Rosa Martínez Rodríguez - Green European Journal, February 10, 2021

Since 2019, Spain has been ahead of the curve with the launch of a Just Transition Strategy to protect its historic coal mining regions from the impacts of decarbonisation. Rosa Martínez examines the uptake of just transition in public policy and where Spain’s affected regions find themselves today. Progress is encouraging, but accelerating processes of digitalisation and automation mean that it is time to bring the notion of just transition up to speed so it can offer future-proof solutions in a world where employment is increasingly precarious.

In 2015, before the Paris Agreement had been ratified, the International Labour Organization published its Guidelines for a Just Transition Towards Environmentally Sustainable Economies and Societies for All. The concept of just transition, however, was already well established among Green parties and environmental activists. It offered a response to critiques of the ecological transition based on its impact on employment, and also reinforced social justice as a core green value.

From political concept to public policy

In Spain, just transition worked its way into public policy months before the EU decision to end financial aid for the coal mining industry took effect, forcing the closure of mines unable to operate without support. The Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which came to power in 2018 after a vote of no confidence ousted the conservative People’s Party (PP), found themselves in a politically delicate situation, given that the most affected areas were made up of socialist voters. The response from the Ministry of Ecological Transition was to create a Just Transition Urgent Action Plan (2019-2021) for the regions impacted by the closure of the mines and five thermal power plants.

Months later, in February 2019, the Just Transition Strategy featured as one of the pillars of the government’s Strategic Energy and Climate Framework. The introduction of a social angle in climate policy and the energy transition was a first for politics and would later be adopted by the European Commission in the European Green Deal with its Just Transition Mechanism launched in January 2020.

Where are we now? So far, processes have only been implemented in areas affected by the closure of coal mines and thermal power plants through agreements with local administrations – 13 signed to date – with the aim of protecting jobs. In November 2020, a brief progress report was published, detailing the actions carried out to date and giving a sense of the complexity of the challenge undertaken.

With 10-Point Declaration, Global Coalition of Top Energy Experts Says: '100% Renewables Is Possible'

By Jake Johnson - Common Dreams, February 9, 2021

Setting out to rebut defeatist and cynical claims that transitioning the entire global energy system to 100% renewables by 2035 is infeasible, a group of dozens of leading scientists from around the world unveiled a joint declaration Tuesday arguing that such a transformation of the fossil fuel-dependent status quo is not only necessary to avert climate disaster but eminently achievable.

What's required, argue the 46 signatories of the new 10-point declaration (pdf), is sufficient political will, international coordination, and concrete action on a massive scale to institute a total "re-design of the global energy system."

"We have lost too much time in our efforts to address global warming and the seven million air pollution deaths that occur each year, by not focusing enough on useful solutions," said Mark Jacobson, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.

"Fortunately, low-cost 100% clean, renewable energy solutions do exist to solve these problems, as found by over a dozen independent research groups," added Jacobson, one of the seven original signers of the declaration. "The solutions will not only save consumers money, but also create jobs and provide energy and more international security, while substantially reducing air pollution and climate damage from energy. Policymakers around the world are strongly urged to ensure we implement these solutions over the next 10-15 years."

A Rapid and Just Transition of Aviation: Shifting towards climate-just mobility

By staff - Stay Grounded, February 2021

Covid-19 has grounded air traffic. The aviation industry itself expects to be operating at a lower capacity over the next few years. This Paper discusses how long-term security for workers and affected communities can be guaranteed, without returning to business as before. 

With the looming climate breakdown, automation, digitalisation and likely climate induced pandemics, we need to be realistic: aviation and tourism will change – and they will do so either by design or by disaster. They will transition either with or without taking into account workers’ interests.

This Discussion Paper, published by the Stay Grounded Network and the UK Trade Union PCS in February 2021, is a result of a collective writing process by people active in the climate justice movement, workers in the aviation sector, trade unionists, indigenous communities and academics from around the world. It aims to spark debates and encourage concrete transition plans by states, workers and companies.

Read the text (PDFs: EN | DA | DE | ES | FR | PT ).

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