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How the Walton Family is Threatening Our Clean Energy Future

By Stacy Mitchell - Institute for Local Self-Reliance, October 2014

Critical fights over the future of our energy system are underway in dozens of states, with far-reaching implications for both climate change and our economy. At issue is the recent, rapid expansion of rooftop solar, which is revolutionizing who owns and profits from electricity generation. Rather than power production being monopolized by utilities, more and more households are becoming energy producers themselves. This transition is saving families money and driving the creation of tens of thousands of well-paying jobs.

But rooftop solar threatens the profits of utilities and the companies that supply them with energy. These powerful interests have gone on the offensive and are campaigning to weaken policies that enable rooftop solar in multiple states. They have begun to score wins, including a pivotal victory in Arizona, where regulators granted the state’s largest utility, APS, the right to impose new fees on households with rooftop solar. The fees have undermined the economics of rooftop solar, dramatically slowing installations and causing widespread job losses.

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Drilling Deeper: a Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom

By J David Hughes - Post Carbon Institute, October 2014

In recent years Americans have been hearing that the United States is poised to regain its role as the world’s premier oil and natural gas producer, thanks to the widespread use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). This “shale revolution,” we’re told, will fundamentally change the U.S. energy picture for decades to come—leading to energy independence, a rebirth of U.S. manufacturing, and a surplus supply of both oil and natural gas that can be exported to allies around the world. This promise of oil and natural gas abundance is influencing climate policy, foreign policy, and investments in alternative energy sources.

The primary source for these rosy expectations of future production is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Each year the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) releases its Annual Energy Outlook (AEO), which provides a range of forecasts for energy production, consumption, and prices.

The 2014 AEO reference case projects U.S. crude oil production to rise to 9.6 million barrels of oil per day (MMbbl/d) in 2019 and slowly decline to 7.5 MMbbl/d by 2040, while natural gas production is projected to grow for at least the next 25 years and hit 37.5 trillion cubic feet per year in 2040. Tight oil (shale oil) and shale gas serve as the foundation for these optimistic forecasts.

This report provides an extensive analysis of actual production data from the top seven tight oil and seven shale gas plays in the U.S. (These plays account for 89% of current tight oil production and 88% of current shale gas production, and serve as the primary sources of future production in the EIA’s forecasts—82% of forecast tight oil and 88% of forecast shale gas production through 2040.) It concludes that the current boom in domestic oil and gas production is unsustainable at the rates projected by the EIA, and that the EIA’s tight oil and shale gas forecasts to 2040 are extremely optimistic. What this means is that the country's current energy policy—which is largely based on the expectation of domestic oil and natural gas abundance far into the future—is badly misguided and is setting the country up for a painful, costly, and unexpected shock when the boom ends.

The Effect of Natural Gas Supply on US Renewable Energy and CO2 Emissions

By Christine Shearer, et. al. - Environmental Research Letters, September 9, 2014

Increased use of natural gas has been promoted as a means of decarbonizing the US power sector, because of superior generator efficiency and lower CO2 emissions per unit of electricity than coal. We model the effect of different gas supplies on the US power sector and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Across a range of climate policies, we find that abundant natural gas decreases use of both coal and renewable energy technologies in the future. Without a climate policy, overall electricity use also increases as the gas supply increases. With reduced deployment of lower-carbon renewable energies and increased electricity consumption, the effect of higher gas supplies on GHG emissions is small: cumulative emissions 2013–55 in our high gas supply scenario are 2% less than in our low gas supply scenario, when there are no new climate policies and a methane leakage rate of 1.5% is assumed. Assuming leakage rates of 0 or 3% does not substantially alter this finding. In our results, only climate policies bring about a significant reduction in future CO2 emissions within the US electricity sector. Our results suggest that without strong limits on GHG emissions or policies that explicitly encourage renewable electricity, abundant natural gas may actually slow the process of decarbonization, primarily by delaying deployment of renewable energy technologies.

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Integrated life-cycle assessment of electricity-supply scenarios confirms global environmental benefit of low-carbon technologies

By Edgar G. Hertwich, et. al. - National Academy of Sciences of the United States, September 3, 2014

Decarbonization of electricity generation can support climate-change mitigation and presents an opportunity to address pollution resulting from fossil-fuel combustion. Generally, renewable technologies require higher initial investments in infrastructure than fossil-based power systems. To assess the trade offs of increased up-front emissions and reduced operational emissions, we present, to our knowledge, the first global, integrated life-cycle assessment (LCA) of long-term, wide-scale implementation of electricity generation from renewable sources (i.e., photovoltaic and solar thermal, wind, and hydropower) and of carbon dioxide capture and storage for fossil power generation. We compare emissions causing particulate matter exposure, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and climate change for the climate-change-mitigation (BLUE Map) and business-as-usual (Baseline) scenarios of the International Energy Agency up to 2050. We use a vintage stock model to conduct an LCA of newly installed capacity year-by-year for each region, thus accounting for changes in the energy mix used to manufacture future power plants. Under the Baseline scenario, emissions of air and water pollutants more than double whereas the low-carbon technologies introduced in the BLUE Map scenario allow a doubling of electricity supply while stabilizing or even reducing pollution. Material requirements per unit generation for low-carbon technologies can be higher than for conventional fossil generation: 11–40 times more copper for photovoltaic systems and 6–14 times more iron for wind power plants. However, only two years of current global copper and one year of iron production will suffice to build a low-carbon energy system capable of supplying the world’s electricity needs in 2050.

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Coal Miners and the Green Agenda

By Robert Pollin - New Labor Forum, Winter 2014

From 2014...

In June 2012, President Obama announced his “Climate Action Plan.” This is his administration’s major second-term initiative to re-energize its agenda around fighting climate change and supporting major new investments in clean energy.

The primary focus of the Action Plan is the administration’s program to dramatically reduce carbon emissions from the country’s electricity utility plants. These emissions result primarily from burning coal, but also natural gas, to produce electricity. Carbon emissions from electricity generation represent about one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions produced by all sources within the U.S. economy today. It is evident that these emissions need to be cut dramatically if we are going to stop playing Russian roulette with the environment.

New Regulations and Technologies Are Not Enough

The administration’s strategy for achieving these emissions cuts is to begin strictly enforc-ing the existing air pollution regulations estab-lished as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act.

The administration is taking this approach because it allows them to avoid asking Congress to either spend more money or pass new regulations.The administration expects that the utility companies can achieve the needed emissions reductions through a technological fix: the introduction of carbon capture and sequestra-tion (CCS) processes, through which, they believe, coal and natural gas could burn cleanly. This is how the phrase “clean coal” has begun to emerge on billboards and TV commercials. CCS encompasses several specific technolo-gies that aim to capture carbon emissions from power plants and other industrial facilities. The captured carbon is then transported, usually through pipelines, to locations where it is then stored permanently—that is, for all time—in subsurface geological formations.

Opponents of the administration’s Action Plan claim that CCS remains unproven and, even if it becomes technically feasible, would impose heavy new costs on utilities.

In this instance, the administration’s critics have the weight of evidence on their side. As such, the Action Plan faces two fundamental problems. First, as there is no proven technol-ogy for delivering clean coal—or, for that mat- ter, clean oil or natural gas—the only viable path for dramatically reducing carbon emis-sions is to sharply reduce fossil fuel consump-tion. This, in turn, means that workers and communities dependent on the fossil fuel indus-tries will face job losses and retrenchment. It is therefore no surprise that even Democratic pol-iticians representing the affected communities are actively opposing Obama’s initiative.

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Jobs Beyond Coal

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, 2012

This manual is intended for anyone—communities, unions, environmentalists, native tribes, public officials, and others—involved with or affected by the retirement of coal-fired power plants. It is designed as a guide for those who wish to make the transition away from coal in a way that is most beneficial and least threatening to ordinary workers, consumers, and community members.

In the past decade, a broad-based campaign has formed to move America beyond coal and power the nation with clean energy. The movement includes people from all walks of life—medical professionals, faith leaders, environmentalists, business people, workers, decision makers, and local residents—who are working to address the serious pollution problems caused by coal and to seize the economic opportunity offered by clean, safe, renewable energy.

This campaign has been remarkably successful, preventing the construction of more than 165 new coal-fired power plants, and thereby keeping energy markets open for clean energy. In state after state, as newcoal proposals have stalled, advocates have launched campaigns to retire existing coal plants and replace them with clean energy, securing the retirement of more than 110 existing coal plants to date.The coal industry and their allies regularly claim that jobs, workers, and unions benefit from coal plants and that transitioning away from coal will harm them. Industry claims about creating or protecting jobs have often proved fallacious or hugely exaggerated. Still, this message resonates powerfully in tough economic times and presents a real challenge to coal retirement efforts.

Several recent campaigns have demonstrated that coal retirements can be structured in ways that take care of affected workers and the area economy, and even win the support of organized labor and local decision makers. As the case studies described in this manual show, addressing these economic challenges is most effective when the concerns of workers and the local economy are built into the campaign objectives, messaging, proposals, action, and interventions in policy arenas.

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Towards a Greener Economy: The Social Dimensions

By International Institute for Labour Studies - International Labour Organization, November 16, 2011

The European Commission and the International Labour Organization have combined efforts in reaction to the deep crisis that hit the global economy in 2008. The aim of this joint project is to examine policies that will lead not only to a quicker recovery but also to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly and equitable global economy. This is particularly relevant given the uneven and fragile nature of the recovery process across and within countries. These efforts have culminated in the publication of two Synthesis Reports. The first report examines the origins of the crisis and provides an overview of immediate policy responses across both developed and developing economies; the second discusses green policies and labour market issues related to this necessary long-term economic transformation. Both reports are based on a series of technical discussion papers.

This second report aims to promote a clearer understanding of the nature of the green economy and its implications for labour markets, especially the reallocation of jobs from high- to low-polluting sectors. It shows that a double dividend in terms of increased decent work opportunities and a greener economy is possible, provided that complementarities between environmental, economic and social policies are adequately exploited. The report discusses the green policy measures that EU countries are currently undertaking, with a view to identifying any gaps in the policy mix. It also presents model estimates on the likely transmission mechanisms arising from these measures.

Read the report (Link).

Labor’s Route to a New Transportation System: How Federal Transportation Policy Can Create Good Jobs, First-Rate Mobility, and Environmentally Sustainable Communities

By staff - Cornell University Global Labor Institute, July 2011

Federal transportation policy is set every five to six years through the Surface Transportation Authorization Act. This policy largely shapes investment in our nation’s transportation system. Currently, only unions whose members are employed in the transport sector play a role in trying to influence federal transportation legislation, but the Reauthorization Act is hugely important to all union members and working people. The current legislation, Safe, Accountable, Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA -LU ) expires September 30, 2011. The reauthorization of federal transportation policy presents an important opportunity for union leaders and members to advocate for key policy reforms that will create good union jobs, defend and expand the role of the public sector in transportation, provide safe and affordable mobility to working families and reduce the transport sector’s contribution to air pollution and climate change.

The state of the U.S. transportation system determines working families’ access to affordable, high-quality mobility and, in turn, their ability to meet essential needs such as getting to work, school, medical services, recreation and more. The maintenance and operation of private vehicles consumes a growing portion of working families’ household budgets and puts owning and operating a vehicle completely out of reach for some. The impact of rising gas prices on working families’ mobility exacerbates the fact that only 50% of Americans have access to public transit. (need citation) Furthermore, in response to budget shortfalls, local governments have increased fares, laid off workers, reduced transit services and offered up public transit systems to privatization.

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Coming Now to a Job Near You! Why Climate Change Matters for California Workers

By Jeremy Brecher, Brendan Smith, and Lisa Hoyos - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2020

California is at the forefront of driving the expansion of the clean energy economy. California’s groundbreaking climate law, the Global Warming Solutions Act — AB 32 — is the most comprehensive climate legislation enacted anywhere in the US. But this law is at risk from political interests, backed by oil company resources, which are trying to overturn it.

AB 32 opponents are using a job-loss argument, creating a false divide between job creation and climate protection. They’ve done this is spite of the fact that green jobs have grown by 5% during a recessionary period where net jobs in our state fell. California already has 500,000 green jobs. We’ve got 12,000 clean energy businesses and we hold 40% of the US patents in solar, wind and advanced battery technology. Sixty percent of all clean energy venture capital is invested here (the runner-up state, Massachusetts, has 10%), with a large spike coming in the years after the passage of AB 32.

Climate change is a global problem. The AB 32 opponents who are working to stop the implementation of California’s climate law argue that our state shouldn’t try to address this problem on its own. However, California is the world’s eighth largest economy, and what we do here carries global significance, both politically and economically. We passed AB 32 in 2006. Four years later, at the national level, it is proving difficult or impossible to pass comprehensive climate policy. If California fails to build on our leadership in this arena, we will be playing into the hands of those, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, who are spending millions of dollars to thwart national action on climate change.

While the foot-dragging on climate protection continues at the national level, everyday’s news brings new evidence of the varied and devastating impacts of climate change happening around the world and within the borders of our own country.

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France ends coal mining with tears but not a single protest

By John Lichfield - Indypendent, April 24, 2004

The French coal miner, a powerful symbol of social revolt and industrial strength for more than a century, passed into extinction yesterday.

The French coal miner, a powerful symbol of social revolt and industrial strength for more than a century, passed into extinction yesterday.

The last lump of coal was ceremonially carved last night from the La Houve mine near Creutzwald in Lorraine. An industry that produced 60 million tons of coal and employed 150,000 people as recently as 40 years ago has ceased to exist.

Although several smaller European countries have already stopped coal mining, France is the first of the world's large industrial powers to abandon production of what remains the world's second largest energy source.

Paris decided10 years ago to close its remaining mines, rather than compete with cheap, open-cast coal from other countries. The last shipments of French coal cost €130 (£86) a tonne to extract. Coal imported from Australia costs €40 (£26) a ton, including transport costs.

French coal miners, once numbering 300,000, built a fearsome reputation as the spearhead of social revolt and the champion of workers' rights - illustrated by Emile Zola's novel Germinal, based on the strikes in the northern coal fields in the 1880s. The last pit closed yesterday with nostalgic ceremonies but not a single protest.

By agreement with the unions, all redundant miners are paid 85 per cent of their salary until they are 45 and then 80 per cent until they reach normal retirement age. They keep their free homes and generous health and other social benefits.

Although the end of the industry has been a cause for mourning in the once great coalfield near the German border, there has been none of the social unrest about the sudden destruction of communities that accompanied the demise of Britain's coal industry. Britain still has 16 pits and 4,000 miners, compared with 170 pits and 180,000 miners at the time of the 1984-5 strike, according to the National Union of Mineworkers.

The subsidised inactivity of tens of thousands of men in France's former mining regions has brought other social problems, such as alcoholism, suicide and higher rates of divorce. In the north, where the last mines closed in 1990, and in central France and the Marseille area, which ceased mining last year, former pit workers have found it hard to live without the companionship and almost military discipline of the mines.

Under the 1994 redundancy agreement, men as young as 35 can draw almost full salaries for life, provided they do not take another job. Other work in the ex-mining areas remains hard to find. Some have taken up hobbies; others voluntary work, but many find themselves slumped in front of the television all day. Although the active coal miner has ceased to exist, there are more than 380,000 former coal miners or their widows who have rights to benefits up to 2050.

The last few coal miners, who ceased work yesterday, had mixed feelings. Bernard Starck, 50, said: "When you're down there, you're useless as an individual. You live for, and through, your work mates."

"The redundancy terms are fair but the past few months have been a time of great suffering. It was as if we were working for nothing."

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