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‘Just transition’ bill for oil industry workers exposes labor rift

By Jesse Bedayn - Cal Matters, February 17, 2022

A leading environmental lawmaker has proposed a bill that would create a state fund to support and retrain thousands of oil industry workers as California tries to phase out fossil fuel production.

The idea of guiding California’s 112,000 oil industry workers out of their current field and into other careers is often referred to as “just transition,” and is considered by policy researchers a necessary step to counter job losses as the state strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

But even with a Democratic supermajority in the state Legislature, such a proposal faces an uphill battle because it’s pitting unions against unions.

Community and environmental groups say the state should start moving half the industry’s workforce out of oil fields, refineries and plants now in order to meet California’s goal of cutting 40% greenhouse gas emission by 2030. But a union that represents a portion of these workers has opposed efforts in the past. 

The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California – known as the Trades – which represents labor groups that include Ironworkers, electrical workers and Teamsters, worry about losing good-paying jobs. Last year, The Trades opposed a bill that would have prevented oil drilling near schools and communities, citing job losses. 

This time, however, the Trades is being countered by another group of unions including steelworkers, municipal workers and teachers. Although the current bill doesn’t specify an amount, those unions hope the state will dedicate $470 million annually for wage subsidies and training to help workers move into the growing green energy sector. 

Trades leaders say that beginning to dismantle the industry now will only push workers into lower-paid jobs. Instead, Trades officials say, the state should invest in big-ticket infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail and offshore wind projects that will create comparable jobs to what workers have been doing for decades.

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi’s bill exposes a rift among labor unions on how the state should address the transition to a green economy at a time of growing income inequality and fewer well-paying jobs for middle-class workers. 

It also puts labor’s main organizing body, California Labor Federation, in an uncomfortable position after Steelworkers requested that the organization convene “labor to labor” talks on the subject. Both sides say talks haven’t happened yet.

Is the California Coalition Fighting Subsidies For Rooftop Solar a Fake Grassroots Group?

By Anne Marshall-Chalmers and Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, February 8, 2022

Over 70 member organizations in the coalition received charitable contributions in 2020 worth $1.67 million from big California utilities that see solar as the competition.

In the fight over California’s rooftop solar policy, a coalition that claims to represent low-income, senior and environmental leaders is running ads warning about a cost shift that forces consumers to subsidize solar for people who live in mansions.

This message, by Affordable Clean Energy for All, is trying to influence the debate as California regulators consider rules that would sharply reduce the financial benefits of owning rooftop systems.

But Affordable Clean Energy for All is not a grassroots movement. It is a public relations campaign sponsored by big utility companies that stand to benefit from policies that hurt rooftop solar. Many of the 100-plus groups that make up the coalition have received charitable donations or other financial support from the utilities. Few of them wanted to talk about the campaign when contacted by Inside Climate News.

The utilities’ campaign is using what watchdog groups say is a familiar playbook from across the country, with community groups providing a relatable face for advocacy messages that align with those of the utilities. If the result is a policy that hurts rooftop solar, that could be a big setback for California’s push to get to net-zero emissions, an effort that is counting on a continued expansion of solar and other customer-owned energy systems.

High Equity Stakes in California’s Solar Fight

By Crystal Huang - Organizing Upgrade, February 1, 2022

A struggle is underway in California that might well determine if low-income communities across the country—especially frontline and BIPOC communities—will be able to reap the benefits of the clean energy revolution or if they will be further disempowered by it.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which regulates the state’s three big private energy utilities, is poised to stifle rooftop solar development in California—the state with the largest solar investment in the country! The policy being considered by the CPUC, and pushed by the utilities, would eliminate the economic benefits of rooftop solar in California.

This is not about fossil fuels versus renewables: the private utilities are fine with renewables as long as they control and profit from them. The revised CPUC policy would foreclose on the possibility of expanding rooftop solar into low-income communities. That includes the building of local, community-controlled “microgrids” to bolster energy security in communities most vulnerable to crisis-related power shutoffs. It’s a direct power grab, an attack on our communities’ ability to achieve self-determination in the face of climate disaster—and it’s being done in the name of “equity.”

“Communities like mine have been systematically shut out of the clean energy economy,” says Jessica Tovar, Energy Democracy Organizer at the Local Clean Energy Alliance. “And just as we are rising to demand clean energy, rooftop solar, microgrids, resilience hubs, and the benefits they bring, the private utilities and the CPUC slam us with attacks on local solar.”

California Weighs Help for Oil Workers in Green Future

By Anne C Mulkern - Energy Wire, January 31, 2022

California officials are brainstorming how to help oil industry workers as the state moves to phase out fossil fuels and replace gasoline-powered vehicles with electric cars.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and legislators are talking to unions representing industry workers, and a new state Assembly document outlines potential solutions. But it’s a complex quandary, raising questions about whether to guarantee workers their current salaries and benefits as their jobs disappear.

“One of the major hurdles in transitioning existing fossil fuels activities to clean energy ones has been the potentially negative economic consequences to workers and communities,” according to a document from the Assembly Office of Policy and Research obtained by E&E News. “As the state implements its ambitious climate goals, there is an opportunity to assist workers impacted by the transition to a green economy.”

Nearly 112,000 people work in 14 fossil fuel and ancillary industries in California as of 2018, according to a report last year from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The total includes oil and gas extraction operations, and support activities, and sectors such as fossil-fuel-based power generation.

What California decides to do about oil industry workers has the potential to ripple beyond the nation’s most populous state, said Catherine Houston, legislative, political and rapid response coordinator with United Steelworkers District 12.That union represents many oil industry workers.

“California typically takes the lead in a lot of these types of things, and we become an example for other states across the nation,” Houston said. “So whatever we do can potentially serve as a federal model.”

Our Oil Jobs Need Good Replacements: For a clean energy future, workers hear promises but not plans

By Norman Rogers - United Steelworkers Local 675, October 23, 2021

Just days after the latest oil spill off the Huntington Beach coast, Gov. Gavin Newsom came to Orange County. In response to renewed calls to ban offshore drilling after about 25,000 gallons of crude oil poured into the Pacific Ocean, the governor commented, “Banning new drilling is not complicated. The deeper question is how do you transition and still protect the workforce?”

I belong to the workforce Newsom speaks of. I’ve worked at a Los Angeles oil refinery for over 22 years as a member of United Steelworkers Local 675. USW represents thousands of workers across Los Angeles, Kern and Contra Costa counties who run refineries, oil wells, pipelines and terminals. Over the last 100-plus years, our workers have shown up and labored without fail through earthquakes, riots, world wars, fires and most recently the pandemic. We supply fuel for plane trips, backup generators for hospitals and materials for syringes that have been crucial as we contain the coronavirus crisis.

Even before the renewed calls to halt drilling, we have felt like our jobs are threatened. When we watch football, we see repeated ads for hybrid and electric cars and now electric trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning. In California, every new car sold after 2035 is to be an electric vehicle.

The writing is on the wall. As California pursues our goal of cutting emissions 40% by 2030, the resulting closure of the oil and gas industry means about 37,000 fossil fuel workers will need reemployment, while an additional 20,000 workers or so will voluntarily retire in the next nine years.

My father always said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Though the energy transition is inevitable, a just version is not. Workers know what happens when whole industries go away: Companies maneuver behind our backs, squeeze every last drop of work out of a dying auto plant, steel mill or coal mine and shutter it overnight, devastating communities and stiffing workers out of jobs, pensions and healthcare. The fear is real of jobs lost with no plan for when operations begin to phase out.

We’re also concerned for our communities: The loss in tax revenue will cripple county and city budgets, hampering our schools, libraries and other services. The loss of our good-paying jobs will have a serious ripple effect, especially in Kern and Contra Costa counties.

Many speak of a “just transition,” but we’ve never seen one. No worker or community member will ever believe that an equitable transition is possible until we see detailed, fully funded state safety net and job creation programs.

To offer these safety nets, California needs to establish an Equitable Transition Fund for fossil fuel workers covering wage replacement, income and pension guarantees, healthcare benefits, relocation and peer counseling for professional and personal support. It should also provide access to education and training for existing and future jobs that are safe and healthy. California also needs to account for the funding gaps communities face when their tax bases shrink, so schools and libraries can stay open.

Longer term, transitioning the workforce should mean creating stable jobs with good pay and benefits. Right now, we earn well over minimum wage, meaning we can support our families. Many of us can own homes with fossil fuel jobs, and some of us earn six figures. If we start new work, we want to be able to continue supporting our loved ones.

We can create good new jobs for fossil fuel workers and others by investing in California’s climate goals. USW Local 675 was one of 20 unions, including three fossil fuel unions, that endorsed the California Climate Jobs Plan, a study published in June and led by economist Robert Pollin.

With money from California’s budget, federal funds, bonds and new revenue sources, the plan outlines $70 billion of public investments annually in safety net programs as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, infrastructure upgrades and ecological agriculture. 

The goal is to reduce emissions and create 1 million new jobs in California by 2030. This will create opportunities for electricians, carpenters, bus drivers, teachers, engineers, planners and maintenance workers — including workers affected by the pandemic.

The best way to guarantee that these are good jobs and reduce disparity is to make sure they’re union jobs. Data showthat union representation means higher wages, better benefits and working conditions, and a better life for workers and the communities they support.

With a fully funded equitable transition plan — meeting the immediate need for a safety net for workers and communities, and offering a bold vision to restructure our economy — we can jump-start recovery and move California’s workers, communities and the planet toward a more secure future.

Norman Rogers is the second vice president of United Steelworkers Local 675.

Reclaiming Hydrogen for a Renewable Future: Distinguishing Fossil Fuel Industry Spin from Zero-Emission Solutions

By Sasan Saadat and Sara Gersen - Earth Justice, August 2021

To chart a course toward a safer climate and more habitable planet, we must rapidly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases across our society. The biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is the burning of fossil fuels. Consequently, the clearest path to reducing emissions is to switch from fossil fuels to renewable, zero-emission energy in our transportation, buildings, and power generation (sectors that are collectively responsible for about 75% of United States’ greenhouse gas emissions). This transition would make significant strides in eliminating the devastating public health impacts of pollution throughout the life cycle of fossil fuels—pollution that is most severely concentrated in Black, Brown, Indigenous, and poor communities. A just transition will also require careful policy design and meaningful engagement from frontline communities. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, and electrification are zero-emission solutions that eliminate both greenhouse gases and health-harming air pollution. To meet the scale and urgency of the climate crisis will require deployment of renewable resources on an unprecedented scale— ultimately achieving 100% clean power generation—and a complete transition to efficient, electric models for things like household appliances and cars.

As we electrify everything that can feasibly plug into a clean power grid, “green hydrogen” is a promising tool for transitioning to renewable energy in sectors that lack a viable route to direct electrification. Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced by using 100% renewable electricity to split water molecules.

To understand the potential role of green hydrogen, consider the challenges of cutting climate pollution from one hard-to-electrify sector: maritime shipping. Maritime travel is difficult to decarbonize because battery-powered ocean-going vessels will not be able to handle long-haul voyages across the ocean, at least for the foreseeable future. The hope for green hydrogen is that it may store energy from clean electric resources like wind and solar in a fuel that could be used to propel large, long-haul ships. This vision is at least a decade away from reality, if it overcomes the challenges to cost-effective production and efficient on-vessel storage. Still, it offers a path to displacing the highly polluting bunker fuel currently relied on to move much of the world’s goods across oceans.

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Refinery Communities Speak Out on Just Transition Reports

By Ann Alexander - Natural Resources Defense Council, February 9, 2021

Governor Newsom’s executive order mandating all-electric passenger cars and trucks by 2035 got quite a bit of deserved nationwide buzz last fall. What got less notice was that, buried toward the end of the order, were several mandates for action on the supply side of our fossil fuel problem—that is, California’s oil extraction and refining industry. 

We noted at the time that these mandates were not, unlike the pretty well thought out electric vehicles mandate, given much attention in the order. We expressed concern that the Governor was basically throwing a bone to people concerned about the human and environmental damage being wrought on an ongoing basis by the state’s oil production industry.

Two of those mandates, however, stood out from the beginning as critically important—both having to do with the issue of just transition for workers and communities to new economic opportunities as California phases out its oil industry. The first mandate was a directive to two California agencies—the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and the Labor and Workforce Development Agency—to develop and implement a “Just Transition Roadmap” for the state, consistent with recommendations developed pursuant to Assembly Bill 398 in 2017. The second is a directive to two other California agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Agency—to “expedite regulatory processes to repurpose and transition . . . oil production facilities,” and produce an “action plan” reporting on their progress, in order “[t]o support the transition away from fossil fuels.” Both reports—the Roadmap and the action plan—are required to be completed by July of this year. 

Among the missing specifics is anything about how the public and key stakeholders are to be involved in the preparation of these reports; or any clear guidelines about the required scope and depth of the reports. But what we already know is that just transition is a critically important topic for the public as the oil industry continues its slide into eventual oblivion, and merits sustained and robust attention. Not only has oil extraction been in steady decline since the mid-1980s (plunging nearly 60 percent since 1985), but California’s oil refineries are now on the brink as well—two of them announced conversions to biofuel production over the summer, while refineries around the nation and the world are increasingly becoming unprofitable and shutting down

Critics Say Newsom's Proposed 2022-23 Budget 'Falls Short' on Confronting Fossil Fuels

By Dan Bacher - Daily Kos, January 11, 2022

Governor Gavin Newsom on January 10 unveiled his 2022-23 state budget proposal including a $45.7 billion budget surplus, receiving both criticism and praise from environmental and climate advocates.

The budget proposal followed one of the most catastrophic years for fish and the ecosystem in California history during which the Delta smelt became virtually extinct in the wild, only 2.6 percent of winter-run Chinook juveniles on the Sacramento River below Keswick Dam survived warm water conditions and most spring-run Chinook salmon on Butte Creek perished before spawning.

The proposal also came after a year in which Consumer Watchdog and Fractracker Alliance revealed at www.NewsomWellWatch.org that Newsom’s oil and gas regulatory agency, CalGEM, had approved a total of 9,728 oil drilling permits from January 1, 2019 until October 1, 2021. In addition, the groups found that the Newsom Administration approved 150 offshore drilling permits in state waters since January 1, 2019. 

Newsom touted his “California Blueprint” budget proposal as a “bold plan building on the state’s ongoing work to confront California’s greatest existential threats, bolster our strong economic growth and make historic investments in California’s future.” 

“With major new investments to tackle the greatest threats to our state’s future, the California Blueprint lights the path forward to continue the historic progress we’ve made on our short-term and long-term challenges, including responding to the evolving pandemic, fighting the climate crisis, taking on persistent inequality and homelessness, keeping our streets safe and more,” claimed Governor Newsom. “As California’s robust recovery continues, we’re doubling down on our work to ensure all our communities can thrive.” 

Culver City Takes Historic Steps to End Neighborhood Oil Drilling

By staff - Sierra Club, August 14, 2020

CULVER CITY, CA—Last night, Culver City councilmembers took the first necessary steps to phase out oil extraction in the city’s 78-acre portion of the Inglewood Oil Field. After a presentation on the amortization study commissioned by the Oil Subcommittee, and virtual public testimony, the council unanimously directed staff to develop a framework and timeline for the phase out of active wells. Diverse stakeholders gave testimony in favor of the motion from labor unions including United Steelworkers Local 675, California Nurses Association, and Jobs to Move America, environmental organizations from Sierra Club, NRDC, Food & Water Action, Center for Biological Diversity and renewable energy advocates including GRID Alternatives and the Clean Power Alliance in addition to many local residents and medical professionals.

Urban oil extraction and production have long exposed Los Angeles residents to toxic emissions and dangerous chemicals in their own neighborhoods. Oil production sites use and emit known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors, like benzene and formaldehyde, fine and ultra-fine particulate matter, and hydrogen sulfide. All of these chemicals have proven records of toxicity and are known to cause health impacts ranging from nosebleeds to chronic headaches, increased risks of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, and increased risk of cancer.

“Every day nurses across California treat children with asthma and we see firsthand the connection between environmental and public health,” said Tveen Kirkpatrick, R.N. wth California Nurses Association/ National Nurses United. “We are proud to stand with the communities closest to toxic operations in Culver City and call for a shutdown of the Inglewood Oil Field. California should look beyond fossils to a future where workers and communities don’t pay the price for the oil industry’s pollution with their bodies.”

Over one million people live within five miles of the massive Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oilfield in the nation, sprawled across Culver City and the historically African American neighborhood of Baldwin Hills. For decades, residents have called on local and state elected officials to strengthen health and safety protections from industrial oil operations near their homes, schools and parks. With Culver City now advancing plans to phase out existing oil wells, local environmental justice, labor and health advocates are urging councilmembers to seize this opportunity to model a Just Transition. They have sent multiple letters to Heather Baker, Assistant City Attorney, calling for the city to hold oil operators responsible for cleanup costs, and ensure that a properly trained and local unionized workforce is paid a living wage for the remediation of wells. 

Doing Away With Private Utilities Is a Matter of Life and Death

By Ryan Smith - Broke Ass Stuart, January 16, 2019

The toll of this year’s wildfires is the second in as many years to break entirely too many state records, increasing the call to hold private utility companies like Pacific Gas & Electric to the flames of their own making. When the last embers cooled there was no question that the Camp Fire that ravaged Butte County, along with the devastating fires that tore through Malibu and Ventura, were among the most destructive in California history inflicting an estimated $10 billion in property damage. This was only topped, in dollar value, by last year’s devastation where the state suffered an unprecedented $12 billion in direct property damage. From a purely economic standpoint these figures don’t consider the secondary impacts such as loss of tourism, rebuilding and the opportunity cost of once thriving communities no longer capable of any sort of economic activity.

These numbers, already adding up to a truly staggering cost, don’t even touch on the immeasurable human cost. 2017 set a grim toll of 43 confirmed dead, a total that was already greater than all loss of life from the previous decade of California wildfires combined. This past season is on track to double that with a confirmed 89 dead so far. One can only imagine how many more will join them in the coming months and years thanks to the long-term damage from noxious fumes released by this year’s fires. The sheer quantity of toxic particulates in the air during the height of the blaze made Butte County’s air the most hazardous on the planet.

There is little doubt who is responsible for this blaze. The most recent investigations have all but concluded the cause of the fires was due to improperly maintained wiring, property of PG&E, setting a deadly inferno ablaze. In the face of an estimated $30 billion in liability for the Camp Fire, PG&E, earlier this week, filed bankruptcy. They are not alone in such negligence, with SoCal Edison suspected of similarly irresponsible practices in Southern California. Such a failure to perform such basic, fundamental tasks – maintenance of consistent power flow and safety of California’s communities – is astonishing all by itself. Unfortunately this is far from the first time PG&E has screwed up this badly.

In the wake of the 2017 wildfires investigators concluded the most likely cause of an already horrific disaster was PG&E’s inability to do their jobs. Gerald Singleton, an attorney specializing in wildfire cases, argued PG&E’s history shows this was no surprise as the privately-owned utility company has a history of disregarding basic maintenance necessary both for community safety and delivering power. In 2010 PG&E’s lax management piled up until one of their natural gas pipelines exploded, snuffing out the lives of eight San Bruno residents. Their cost-cutting is so extreme that, only two years after the San Bruno disaster, PG&E found they didn’t have enough staff to properly mark all of their gas lines so the company hid the mistake by filing false claims stating they had. This reckless culture even extends to data management as shown by reports from earlier this year where PG&E managed to lose 30,000 people’s personal information in a single data breach.

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