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2022 Oil Change International Supporter Briefing

Wake Up Call: Refinery Disaster in Philadelphia

A Pick Axe and a Heart Attack: Workers Suffer As They Clean Up Toxic Mess That Vernon’s Old Battery Recycling Plant Left Behind

By Mariah Castañeda - L.A. Taco, October 26, 2022

When workers tasked with cleaning up toxic lead dust spilled by the Exide battery recycling plant from Guadalupe Valdovinos’ yard started packing up, she noticed they hadn’t finished. She saw a large patch of soil on her property that they hadn’t touched. 

When she insisted they missed a spot, she remembers the clean-up workers rudely said that cleaning up the untouched corner of her property “wasn’t part of the plan.” 

Valdovinos says that the apparent disregard for her home started early in the clean-up process “They would hit and break things. We expected them to repair it. They were hostile. They were they would grunt or be very like, well, we didn’t do that,” said Valdovinos, “Like, we didn’t come at them attacking them. We were just pointing out, hey. You broke something. And they took it very offensive, like, No, we didn’t do that. No, that’s not our problem. So that was another issue. Yeah, it wasn’t a friendly environment.”

She complained about the clean-up at an Environmental Board Meeting in July and addressed California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC), the state agency responsible for cleaning up the mess made by Exide Technologies’ battery recycling plant. For decades, Exide belched out thousands of tons of poisonous lead dust across the predominantly Latino communities surrounding the industrial city of Vernon. 

“I’m here to urge the Council and DTSC not to contract the cleaning crew National Engineering Consulting Company Group, also known as NEC because they are not professional,” said Valdovinos at the Environmental Board Meeting.

She was hardly the first to complain of sloppy standards affecting the cleanup of more than 7 million pounds of lead dust spewed out by Exide. Residents have long complained about issues with the cleanup, and now employees of the contractors responsible for the cleanup are speaking out too. Reporting by L.A. TACO found two incidents of severe injuries to subcontractor workers due to possibly unsafe working conditions and questionable treatment of poisonous lead dust. 

One cleanup worker died after suffering injuries inflicted by a Bobcat digger at one site in 2020. At another, in the spring of 2022, an employee of a state contractor was severely injured by a pickax blow to their chest and shoulder area after a site was not appropriately cleared for overhead hazards. 

I Survived the Rig Explosion That Caused the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill; This Is What I Saw

By Maximillian Alvarez and Leo Lindner - In These Times, October 7, 2022

It’s been 12 years since the catastrophic explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, killing 11 workers and causing the largest marine oil spill in human history. A lot of forgetting can happen in that time. A lot of cultural amnesia and historical distortion has set in over the past 12 years, whether that came in the form of a years-long PR campaign from British Petroleum (BP), the high-budget Hollywood-ification of the disaster in the 2016 movie starring Mark Wahlberg, or just the general lack of workers’ voices and stories in the media. 

In this episode, we talk with Leo Lindner, who worked for 10 years at the mud company M-I, the last five of which were spent working on the Deepwater Horizon. Leo was on the rig on April 20, 2010, the day of the explosion. We talk to Leo about his life, about moving to and growing up in Louisiana as a kid, working on tugboats and in oil fields, and about the experience of being a worker in the midst of one of the most devastating industrial and environmental disasters of the modern era.

Labor Network for Sustainability says workers need environmental protection, not Joe Manchin’s dirty side-deal

By Labor Network for Sustainability - Red, Green, and Blue, September 17, 2022

Right now there is a new threat to environmental protection. A recently leaked draft bill text – bearing the watermark of the American Petroleum Institute – would override the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by accelerating permitting review and timelines for energy development projects. West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are now planning to attach these requirements to a “must-pass” federal budget resolution.

The deal would likely undermine the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the fundamental law protecting the US environment, which was passed almost unanimously by Congress half-a-century ago. It is expected to greatly shorten the time available to consider whether projects should be given permits for fossil fuel infrastructure – meaning that our local communities simply won’t have time to make effective arguments to pipelines, wells, and other projects that may damage their environment forever.

The Promise and Perils of Biden’s Climate Policy

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is properly recognised as the largest climate policy in US history. In this short essay I will first summarise and comment on its provisions, then outline the reactions to it, with a focus on labour unions, and will close by providing my own thoughts.

The IRA allocates around $370 billion over a period of ten years. About 75% of that is in the form of incentives (rather than direct investments or regulatory mandates) to advance the transition to ‘clean energy’ that includes renewables but also nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration. These incentives focus primarily on advancing the production of clean energy but also on stimulating its consumption. Smaller energy investments focus on tackling pollution in poorer communities and on conservation and rural development.

The IRA also authorises as much as $350 billion of loans to be disbursed by the Department of Energy. While such loans have been around since the Bush Administration, the amounts and the likelihood that they will be used during the Biden Administration are much higher. Finally, its main regulatory provision is the designation of carbon, methane and other heat-trapping emissions from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas wells as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, one of the bedrocks of US environmental legislation, which the Environmental Protection Agency implements. Overall, it is estimated that by 2030 the IRA will help reduce emissions by around 40% of 2005 levels, compared to the about 25% reduction projected without it. 

However, the policy mandates that renewable energy siting permits cannot be approved during any year unless accompanied by the opening up of 2 million acres of land or 60 million acres of ocean to oil and gas leasing bids, respectively, during the prior year (for more details see 50265 of Act). In either case, the amount of actual leasing and drilling is subject to market dynamics rather than regulatory limits, while the Act also streamlines the permitting process for pipelines. The growing transition to electric vehicles will lessen the market for oil but the strategic repositioning of natural gas in energy production (as well as plastics) suggests that it (along with nuclear power) will be a long-term source of energy, including in the production of hydrogen. Nevertheless, overall, it is the prevailing view that the IRA will decisively transition the US into renewable energy as part of a broader energy mix.

The Case Against Nuclear Power: A Primer

By Joshua Frank - CounterPunch, September 9, 2022

A version of the following was presented at Socialism 2022, sponsored by Haymarket Books, which just published Joshua Frank’s Atomic Days: The Untold Story of the Most Toxic Place in America.

Thanks everyone for showing up for this talk. I think it’s a vitally important topic, but I’ll admit, it’s a bit disheartening that it’s now a subject of debate on the Left.

I’ve long believed that we ought to build on the successes that came before us, not tear them down. Sadly, with the wrath of climate change impacting every corner of the earth, that is exactly what some are attempting to do. Last week a friend sent me an NPR story, “When Even Environmentalists Support Nuclear Power.” I read it, it’s awful propaganda that distorts the reality of how many of us view nuclear power and will continue to fight against it.

Building Trades End Legislative Session As A Big Political Loser

By unknown - Golden State Grid, September 9, 2022

What You Need To Know:

  • The California Building and Construction Trades Council came down on the losing side of key legislative fights and party platform disputes this legislative session, and found itself crosswise with Governor Newsom and other leading unions on a much-hyped electric vehicle ballot measure.

  • These losses reflect a stunning fall from grace for The Trades, an organization that political insiders and journalists often treat as an all powerful force in Sacramento with the juice to successfully back, or block, key legislation.

  • This year’s losses worsened an already rapidly widening rift between The Trades and key Democratic power players, including other key labor unions, the Newsom Administration, and even senior leadership within the Democratic Party. 

  • This sudden loss of influence corresponds with the tenure of Andrew Meredith, the new and largely untested leader of The Trades, who has positioned the organization as a juggernaut that could threaten and bully the Democratic Party and its leaders into submission—a strategy that appears to be backfiring. 

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Labor-Climate Movement

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act reveals the power that can arise when the movements for worker protection, climate protection, and justice protection join forces.

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. They almost succeeded. But at the last minute, the combined power of climate protectors, worker advocates, and justice fighters was enough to force passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.[1]

That power was enough to include important positive elements in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will provide the largest climate protection investment ever made. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs annually for a ten-year period.[2] It includes modest but significant funding to address pollution in frontline communities.[3]

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs, and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. It allows increased extraction of fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows massive drilling and pipeline construction that will turn areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good jobs. It makes few “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the changes it will fund.

The Fight to Stop the Inflation Reduction Act’s Fossil Fuel Giveaway

By Yessenia Funes - Atmos, August 10, 2022

Depending on whom you ask, the United States is on the verge of passing one of its most beneficial climate bills—or one of its most harmful. The Inflation Reduction Act is historic, hands down, but it’s also imperfect in the way it continues to prop up the fossil fuel industry at a time when we need to urgently invest in new energy sources. 

The Senate voted to pass the bill Sunday (which all Republicans opposed), and it’s now in the hands of the House of Representatives, which is slated to vote on it later this week. For the first time in my lifetime at least, the U.S. government is on course to pass a climate policy that can actually reduce emissions on a national scale—but at what cost?

Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re still awaiting climate justice. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate director of Atmos. President Joe Biden promised us sweeping climate action, and he finally delivered. However, the Inflation Reduction Act is not built on the foundations of climate and environmental justice. It continues the traumatic legacy of sacrificing Black and Brown communities—of handing over their lives to the fossil fuel sector. Leaders on the frontlines are preparing to fight back.

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