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It’s Time for Public Power. New York State Could Lead the Way

By Ashley Dawson - Truthout, July 20, 2022

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in West Virginia v. EPA dismantles one of the last regulatory tools remaining to cut carbon emissions on a federal scale in the U.S. With the failure of the Democrats to pass significant legislation and the specter of looming defeats in midterm elections, it’s now up to progressive cities and states to take the lead in fighting the climate crisis.

We got close to breaking ground on such an alternative state-level strategy this year in New York. In May, the State Senate passed the Build Public Renewables Act. The bill mandates the state’s New Deal-era public power provider — the New York Power Authority (NYPA) — to generate all of its electricity from clean energy by 2030. It also sets up a process that would allow the New York Power Authority to build and own renewables while shutting down polluting infrastructure. Although it is the largest publicly owned utility in the country, with a track record of providing the most affordable energy in the state, the New York Power Authority cannot legally own or build new utility-scale renewable generation projects at present because the state limits the public power utility to owning only six large utility-scale projects of 25 megawatts or more. This is because renewable energy developers wanted to limit competition from the New York Power Authority. The Build Public Renewables Act would remove this restriction and unleash the New York Power Authority’s game-changing power.

The Build Public Renewables Act had enough votes to pass in the Assembly and move to the governor’s desk to be signed, but Speaker Carl Heastie refused to bring the bill to a vote. Stung by criticism of this undemocratic move and over the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations he has taken from fossil fuel interests, Speaker Heastie has called a special hearing on the Build Public Renewables Act for late July. The Public Power NY campaign is calling for Heastie and Gov. Kathy Hochul to call a special session so that the Build Public Renewables Act can be passed.

Three years ago, when the Public Power NY campaign began work, things looked a lot more hopeful on the federal level. Presidential hopefuls like Jay Inslee centered his plan for a clean energy economy on community-owned and community-led renewables while Bernie Sanders’s climate plan called for 100 percent public power. Sanders wanted to reach this goal quickly and efficiently by using public funding and infrastructure rather than leaving the transition up to corporate investors, who have failed the public miserably.

Divest from Fossil Fuels and Reinvest in Workers and Communities

By staff - American Federation of Teachers, July 16, 2022

WHEREAS, climate change represents an urgent and accelerating crisis, as extreme weather, forest and wildfires, infectious disease outbreaks, rising sea levels, and pollution wreak havoc on the ecosystems and societies in the U.S. (where the cost of climate disasters doubled in 2020) and across the globe; and

WHEREAS, the climate crisis exacerbates already existing systemic injustices along racial, regional, social and economic lines, concentrating harm in frontline communities (including Indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities and youth); and

WHEREAS, teachers, nurses, academic staff, public workers and higher education faculty have taken leadership in educating students on the climate emergency, in forging alliances with climate movements, and in promoting action to reduce carbon emissions, notably:

· In 2017, the American Federation of Teachers executive council resolved to “urge its locals, state federations and members’ retirement systems to … review strategies to mitigate the risk of climate change in their investment portfolios, including, … possible divestiture from other types of fossil fuel companies that contribute substantially to climate change. …”

· In 2017, the AFT executive council passed the “Resolution on a Just Transition to a Peaceful and Sustainable Society” (referred from the 2016 AFT national convention) and committed therein, “to a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy … [such that] most fossil fuels must be left in the ground.”

· In 2020, the AFT national convention resolved “that the American Federation of Teachers will fully participate in shaping the definition of ‘a just transition to a peaceful and sustainable economy,’ … in accord with the latest climate science regarding the need for very rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions;” and

WHEREAS, shareholder resolutions and even director votes at fossil fuel companies—as alternatives to divestment—have never resulted in significant change at coal, oil or gas companies nor led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from those companies' products; and

WHEREAS, the fiduciary duty of retirement funds obligates them to consider divestment from declining assets or at high risk of being stranded, a category that Blackrock, Makeda and the World Bank now believe includes fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS, there are now more than 1,500 institutions with assets over $39 trillion that have committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment, including the following funds (many explicitly in order to reinvest in environmentally and socially responsible industries): 

· Teachers’ Retirement System of the City of New York; 

· New York State Common Retirement Fund and the Maine Public Employees’ Retirement System; 

· City of Boston’s and the City of Baltimore’s investment funds; 

· London Pensions Fund Authority;

· La Banque Postale of France;

· Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec;

· Norway Sovereign Wealth Fund and the Vatican;

· The endowments of Harvard, Oxford, Rutgers and the University of California, among other institutions of higher education; and

WHEREAS, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, each $1 million reinvested from fossil fuels to green energy results in a net increase of five jobs—often unionized jobs in solar and wind farms or in other sectors suitable for organizing; and

WHEREAS, Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act of 2021 and the federal Build Back Better bill provide models for reinvestment in local, green jobs; and

WHEREAS, AFT members participate in public and private pension plans totaling roughly $5.8 trillion (of which an estimated $255 billion is invested in fossil fuel corporations) and, therefore, possess significant financial means to address the climate crisis and promote a just transition for workers and communities:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will urge boards managing the retirement funds of its members to divest their assets—in consultation with all members and their local unions—from all corporations or other entities that extract, transport, trade or otherwise contribute to the production of coal, oil and gas—and to reinvest those funds in projects that benefit displaced workers and frontline communities in the state or region of the given AFT members; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will urge the board of TIAA to divest the retirement funds of higher education members—in consultation with their local unions—from all corporations or other entities that extract, transport, trade or otherwise contribute to the production of coal, oil and gas—and to reinvest those funds in socially responsible, climate-positive projects that benefit displaced workers and frontline communities; and

RESOLVED, that AFT’s Climate Justice Task Force members and chair(s) shall convene quarterly or more frequently (beginning with the third quarter of 2022) to (1) assist in the implementation of this resolution, (2) identify means by which AFT may divest its own assets from fossil fuel corporations and reinvest them in workers and communities, and (3) promote all of AFT’s other work toward climate justice.

Australia’s Recent Power Market Crisis and the Struggle for Public Ownership

By staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, July 8, 2022

This past June 15th, Australia’s Electricity Market Operator (AEMO) announced the suspension of wholesale electricity spot markets in all regions covered by the country’s National Electricity Market (NEM). The NEM typically provides 80% of Australia’s electricity, mainly in developed coastal areas around the eastern third of the country.

The market suspension came in response to soaring wholesale electricity prices and serious shortages in supply — a combination of factors that, according to AEMO, made it “impossible to continue operating the spot market while ensuring a secure and reliable supply of electricity for consumers” in line with national regulatory requirements.

Key unions in Australia have recognized for years that the NEM does not serve the interests of unions, working people, or the public in general. According to Michael Wright, acting national secretary of the country’s Electrical Trades Union (ETU):

The ETU has been sounding the alarm about the NEM for years. This vindicates our long-held concerns that the market is broken and beyond repair.

The experiment in synthetic markets, trying to deliver essential public services through profit-motivated, tax-avoiding multinational energy corporations, has failed shockingly.

Similarly, Colin Long, Just Transitions Organizer for Australia’s Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC), points out that such markets only function when they ensure profits for private owners and investors. As Long states in a background document he has written on the current crisis:

The NEM [like other market-based systems] is designed to deliver electricity in a way that is profitable to generators, mostly privately-owned, not in a way that maximises public or social benefit to Australians.

As Long further explains:

Privatisation was supposed to lead to lower prices for consumers. In fact, the opposite has occurred. Reinstating public ownership would eliminate rentier behaviour by transmission and distribution companies and the need to concede to the profit demands of big overseas investors. It would enable us to plan the energy system transformation, with a clear schedule for closure of fossil fuel generators to give certainty to workers, their communities and electricity grid managers. It would enable us to schedule fossil fuel generation replacement by renewables in a way that guaranteed supply, efficiency and reduced cost – and ensures we meet decarbonisation targets. It would enable us to ensure that workers are guaranteed a just transition to new opportunities and new industries.

Readers who would like a copy of Long’s background document can contact him at clong@vthc.org.au.

Both ETU and VTHC are part of the TUED network, and have played key roles in advancing the project.

Portugal's Climate Justice Movement Takes on Oil and Gas Company Galp

By Leonor Canadas - Common Dreams, July 3, 2022

Amidst the threat of nuclear war posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which explicitly exposed Europe's dependence on oil and gas from Russia, one could expect that the smart solution would be to get away from fossil fuels and make massive investments in renewable infrastructure and production.

The war should have accelerated the transition to an economy moved fully by renewable energies. Yet, quite the contrary has happened. The European Commission proposes that investments in fossil, gas, and nuclear power are labeled "sustainable investments," understanding them as "transitional" energy sources.

At the same time, European countries, in order to condemn Russia, are looking for fossil fuels elsewhere, shifting dependence to other countries, where gas and oil exploitation perpetuate colonial exploitation or support authoritarian regimes. Shifting from one authoritarian regime to another is not the solution, and neither is shifting from one kind of fossil fuel to another by using gas as a "transitional" energy source, nor by going back to coal.

In Europe's westernmost country, Portugal, the government sees this war and crisis as an opportunity, claiming that it "has the unique conditions to be a supply platform for Europe," talking about how the Port in Sines could be an entry point to supply Germany with the gas it needs. Particularly, gas from the USA and Nigeria could arrive in Sines and then be transported to other places in Europe. This would require the expansion of the LNG terminal in Sines and the construction of new gas pipelines in Portugal and Spain, to overcome the Pirenees. This is obviously a megalomaniacal plan, which doesn't mean it will not get the green light.

Fossil infrastructure is exactly why we are trapped in this crisis, and why capitalism will never be able to avoid climate collapse. If we take climate science seriously, no project that leads to an emissions increase could go forward. We need to cut 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to the 2010 emissions levels. Consequently, there can be absolutely no option on the table when it comes to new fossil projects and infrastructure. On the contrary, we need plans for just and fast transitions and the shutdown of existing infrastructure. That is not the plan in Portugal, in the EU or in the richest countries in the world, by a long stretch.

Rhode Island Unions Help Win 100% Renewable Power by 2033

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

The Rhode Island legislature has just required that 100 percent of electricity sold in the state comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2033. That’s sooner than any other state in the country.

According to the Boston Globe, “Labor and environmental groups have joined together in the Climate Jobs Rhode Island coalition” which is advocating for a “just transition to a pro-worker and pro-climate green economy” in Rhode Island.

Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and Co-Chair of Climate Jobs Rhode Island said,

 We’re hoping that by demonstrating that the labor movement and the environmental movement can work together, that other states—my sister and brother labor organizations across the country—can look at this as an example for how to get things done in a big way.

“If we continue down this path, we will show the labor and environmental communities across the country that this is how it’s done,” Crowley said. “If you want to get it done, you do it the Rhode Island way.”

The UK Government's Nuclear Scam

No Climate Justice Without Workplace Justice!

By Tahir Latif Secretary, Greener Jobs Alliance - Greener Jobs Alliance, June 23, 2022

The industrial action currently being taken by the RMT is a source of hope and inspiration for workers across the country. But it is also action aimed at a more sustainable transport system that works for people and planet. The Greener Jobs Alliance fully endorses the statement set out here, produced by the Climate Justice Coalition.

“The Climate Justice Coalition stands in solidarity with RMT members taking industrial action to protect their pay, jobs and working conditions, and the wider fight to protect a public transport system for people – social need – not private greed. Billions are being cut from our transport system at a time when we should be increasing investment to ensure a fully public, affordable, and integrated transport system. Rail is critical to decarbonising the transport sector; £27 billion for more new roads and cutting duty on domestic aviation is the wrong way round.

Our railways are already being impacted by the effects of climate change, putting additional demands on a stretched workforce providing an essential public service. This action by the Government is symptomatic of their disregard for the concerns of climate, environment and workers.

As a coalition representing groups within climate and environmental campaigns, faith, race and social justice groups, and trade unions, we call on you all to support this struggle. This includes adding our voices to resist the anti-trade union and worker narrative being driven by the Government in the mainstream media and publicise that it is their inaction and behaviour that is detrimental to people, not workers seeking justice.

Inaction on climate change is harming innocent people across the globe. Protecting the rights of workers and living standards must be a priority for the climate justice movement in fighting for a Just Transition to a zero-carbon economy.

We stand with the RMT to fight for their aims, and to campaign for a better deal for workers and a fairer, climate just, society.”

Trade Union Papers and Positions

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, June 14, 2022

IndustriAll policy brief on the energy crisis

In a policy brief, IndustriAll union analyses the causes and effects of the recent energy price increases with a thorough criticism of the response measures being taken at the EU level. The policy brief notes that the observed rise in energy prices in the EU in 2021 was mainly driven by price developments in EU and international commodity markets, while the gas price on wholesale markets has reached unprecedented levels. It also adds that the impact of the commodity price increase on electricity goes beyond the share of the related commodities in the power generation due to the applied price-setting mechanism. This means that an electricity mix made of a majority of decarbonised sources, but requiring fossil-based sources to ensure part of its supply, is also exposed to the price increase of fossil-based electricity. Europe`s structural dependence on energy imports has even increased in the last decades, as in 2019, 61% of its gross energy consumption relied on imported energy products. IndustriAll also points to the investment challenge the EU is facing: beyond the electricity grid investment needs, reaching the EU 2030 emission reduction target would require €438 bn of additional annual investment, equivalent to 2.7-3% of GDP, while current investment commitments are massively falling short of this. The paper also claims that, not least due to market liberalisation, the EU has a fragmented energy supply chain where final consumers bear risk. An overview is provided about the response measures member states have undertaken to alleviate the effect of the price increases on consumers, from the temporary reduction of energy-related taxes and levies to handouts and `energy cheques`. The EU has recently published a toolbox to tackle energy prices. This document lists the initiatives that Member States can implement within the framework of the EU Energy and Single Market rules. Compensation measures and direct support for poor end-users, safeguards against disconnections, tax reductions, reform of the renewable support schemes, and the provision of state aid to companies and industries are among the most important recommendations to Member States.

IndustriAll argues that while reaching climate neutrality must remain the EU’s main objective, the current geopolitical situation and its impact on energy supplies and costs demand the mobilisation of all available means to secure affordable energy for all in the coming months.

IndustriAll Just Transition Manifesto

IndustriAll Europe launched a Just Transition Manifesto as the measures of the Fit for 55 package that implement European Green Deal objectives are taking their final shape. The union stresses that 25 million industrial workers in Europe potentially face restructuring and job losses due to the green transformation - exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, digitalisation, trade and market developments and a volatile geopolitical situation.

The manifesto is calling to policymakers Europe to ensure a transition to a green economy that is fair and just to ALL workers, and that does not destroy but preserves and creates good quality jobs. It speaks out for a transition that is anticipated, managed and negotiated with workers for every aspect that concerns them. For achieving this, the union demands a comprehensive Just Transition framework that provides guarantees for adequate resources, is based on effective policy planning, promotes and strengthen workers’ rights, and involves trade unions through intense social dialogue. 

The main demands of the manifesto are:

  • An industrial policy fit for ambitious climate goals and good quality jobs.
  • Adequate resources to fund the transition.
  • Stronger collective bargaining and social dialogue to negotiate the transitions.
  • A toolbox of workers’ rights and companies’ duties to anticipate and shape the change.
  • Tackling new skills needs and a right to quality training and life-long learning for every worker to support the Just Transition.

TUC Cost of Living Demo: Nationalise to De-Carbonise Energy and Transport

By various - London Green Left Blog and Red Green Labor, June 10, 2022

This is the text of Ecosocialist Alliance leaflet which will be circulated on the TUC demo on Saturday18 June, 11am start, Portland Place, London, W1. Come along and support us if you can, look out for the banner pictured above. Ecosocialism not Extinction!

The media is full of headlines about crises: cost of living, energy prices, health and social care, pandemics - and, less frequently, climate collapse. Mainstream politicians see these as separate crises, while ecosocialists recognise these are interrelated crises of the capitalist system itself.

Insulate Britain activists have been jailed for trying to get the Westminster government to begin a massive programme to insulate homes and Just Stop Oil activists also face jail for their protests outside the Kingsbury oil depot.

Simple measures like insulation and renewable energy would take millions of people out of fuel poverty and would greatly reduce the numbers dying each year because they cannot afford to heat their homes. Britain has the worst record in Europe for this: in 2020, fuel poverty charities estimated such deaths as around 10,000 a year.

Government funded insulation programmes, combined with putting taxpayers' money into renewable energy, would greatly reduce our carbon emissions as well as create thousands of good green jobs.. In addition, our reliance on the profiteering and polluting fossilfuel giants – posting record profits, while continuing to drive the climate and ecological crises – would be massively reduced.

The Tories' record is appalling with millions of working families living below the poverty line. The hike in energy prices will see well over 25% of UK households – 15m people – in fuel poverty. Johnson and Sunak’s subsidies and rebates barely touch the sides.

The British government gives the fossil fuel industry £10 billion a year in tax breaks and subsidies.

The Tories finally bowed to pressure for a windfall tax on dirty fuel producers but we would go much further. All subsidies to oil and gas companies must end now and be switched to renewables. We must take energy companies and road and rail infrastructure into public ownership and rapidly de-carbonise the whole economy. We stand for a rapid ecosocialist transition led by, and in the interests of, working people.

Ecosocialist Alliance is a network of organisations and individuals. We campaign for ecosocialist and ecofeminist solutions to the multiple crises of the system. We are internationalist: the climate crisis will not be solved by any one country, but by collective global action.

We stand firmly with the global south in seeking ecological and social justice.

We reject green capitalist “solutions”, which are unworkable under a capitalist system of infinite growth and accumulation. The planet will only be saved by disposing of this system and replacing it with ecosocialism.

Labour movement agendas in conflict over decarbonisation pathways

By Les Levidow - Greener Jobs Alliance, June 7, 2022

The Just Transition concept has sought to avoid socially unjust means and consequences of a low-carbon transition. Alternatives could provide the basis for a common agenda of the labour movement. Yet trade unions have had divergent perspectives on decarbonisation pathways, especially as regards the potential role of technological solutions. 

Such conflict has focused on Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS). This is favourably called ‘carbon abatement’ or pejoratively called a ‘technofix’. As one reason for US trade-unions supporting CCS and thus the fossil fuel industry, often they have achieved relatively greater job security and wages there; such gains may seem jeopardised by substituting renewable energy.

UK CCS agendas focus on the prospect to decarbonise natural gas into hydrogen. This agenda unites the UK ‘energy unions’ with their members’ employers, as a cross-class alliance for a CCS fix. From a critical perspective, this seeks to accumulate capital by perpetuating natural gas, while undermining or delaying its renewable competitors.

Trade-union divergences have arisen in many ways. For a Just Transition, ITUC has advocated phasing out ‘unabated coal’, implying that coal with CCS could continue indefinitely. In the name of climate justice, the TUC has advocated CCS as a means to continue fossil fuels within a ‘balanced energy’ policy. By contrast, according to the PCS, CCS ‘is not yet a proven technology at scale’, and we don’t have the luxury to wait; it counterposes a strategy of energy democracy.

Such political divergences within the labour movement have arisen around Just Transition proposals at TUC conferences, likewise around agendas for a Green New Deal. In 2019 these were promoted within the US Democratic Party and UK Labour Party. Both underwent internal conflicts over decarbonisation pathways, expressing conflicts within the labour movement. 

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