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Coal Mine Cleanup Works: A Look at the Potential Employment Needs for Mine Reclamation in the West

By Kate French - Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), July 2020

The collapse of the coal industry is devastating small communities across the Western United States, but reclaiming these mined lands quickly could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two to three year period after mine closure according to our new report, Coal Mine Cleanup Works. The report estimates potential reclamation job creation for four Western coal states (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming) and provides recommendations for decision makers to ensure cleanup is fully funded and employs the local workforce. 

These findings offer a rare bright light of opportunity for coal communities that are facing massive lay-offs and lost revenue as the coal industry crumbles. Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shuts down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.

Coal Mine Cleanup Works key findings include:

  • Surface coal mine reclamation could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two to three year period after mine closure. These potential yearly jobs represent up to 65% of the current surface mining workforce in the four-state region. 
  • Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shut down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.
  • An important component of a just economic transition is having some immediate job creation solutions, like cleanup jobs, paired with longer-term job solutions.
  • Delayed and underfunded reclamation are the biggest hurdles to getting laid-off miners back on the job doing cleanup work.

Read the text (PDF).

Fighting the wrong battles: how obsession with military power diverts resources from the climate crisis

By Sam Perlo-Freeman - Campaign Against Arms Trade, February 15, 2020

The first duty of government, it is often said, is to provide for the security of its people. But what is security? For whom, and from what? UK governments typically view security through a military lens; but the real threats affecting the security of people in the UK and worldwide, most urgently the climate crisis, are not susceptible to military force, and indeed military interventions by the UK and its allies this century have had an overwhelmingly disastrous impact on peace and security.

The central role of the military in the government’s understanding of security is reflected in budgetary allocations. There is thus a widespread consensus on maintaining military spending at a minimum of 2% of GDP, the NATO target, with many politicians calling for far higher levels. Meanwhile, the climate crisis, the most urgent threat to human security worldwide, receives far less funding.

Military security or sustainable security

This report argues for a shift of focus both in understanding of security and in resources away from military security and towards a concept of sustainable security that prioritises the security of people over that of states and addresses the underlying causes of conflict and insecurity. In particular, the climate crisis needs to be treated as the urgent, devastating and present threat to human security that it is, with resources allocated accordingly.

Arguments for higher military spending typically start from the premise that the world is an ever more dangerous place. While this contains an element of truth, such arguments are based on a narrow and fundamentally flawed understanding of security centred on military power. The conclusion that what is needed is greater military force from the west is fallacious. Indeed, it has often been the actions of the UK and its allies that have made the world more dangerous, as in Iraq.

Non-military security challenges are minimised or ignored. Climate change, for example, is barely mentioned in the Government’s most recent Strategic Defence and Security Review. When mentioned, they are often framed in terms of the impact on national security, and approached with ‘hard’ security responses, such as militarised borders to deal with mass migration. Meanwhile, ambitions for the UK to retain or regain status as a ‘great military power’, able to project military force around the world, are presented as essential requirements for security, on a par with ensuring the survival and sovereignty of the nation.

Read the text (PDF).

Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future

By staff - UAW Research Department, January 2020

The American automotive industry is constantly evolving and, throughout the union’s history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has fought to ensure industry changes result in quality jobs that benefit workers and the economy.

The auto industry is facing a new shift in technology with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs). This shift is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing. But this opportunity will be lost if EVs or their components are imported or made by low-road suppliers who underpay workers. In order to preserve American jobs and work standards, what is needed is a proactive industrial policy that creates high-quality manufacturing jobs making EVs and their components.

Read the text (PDF).

Drilling Towards Disaster: Why US Oil and Gas Expansion is Incompatible With Climate Limits

By Kelly Trout and Lorne Stockman - Oil Change International, et. al., January 2019

World governments, including the United States, committed in 2015 in the Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and, at a maximum, to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (°C). This report is part of The Sky’s Limit series by Oil Change International examining why governments must stop the expansion of fossil fuel production and manage its decline – in tandem with addressing fossil fuel consumption – to fulfill this commitment.

The global Sky’s Limit report, released in 2016, found that the world’s existing oil and gas fields and coal mines contain more than enough carbon to push the world beyond the Paris Agreement’s temperature limits. This finding indicates that exploring for and developing new fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with the Paris goals. In fact, some already-operating fields and mines will need to be phased out ahead of schedule.

Since the global Sky’s Limit report in 2016, new scientific evidence has added urgency to this call for a managed decline of fossil fuel production. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that reaching 2°C of warming would significantly increase the odds of severe, potentially irreversible impacts to human and natural systems, compared to limiting warming to 1.5°C. The difference could be the wipeout or resilience of whole communities and ecosystems. The report underscores that a 1.5°C path is possible but will require “rapid and far- reaching” transitions and “deep emissions reductions in all sectors” so that carbon pollution nears zero by 2050.

Unfortunately, existing climate measures aren’t cutting it – literally. Current national policy pledges under the Paris Agreement would put the world on course for 2.4 to 3.8°C of warming, a catastrophic outcome.

This glaring gap in ambition has been driven in part by a systemic policy omission. Over the past three decades, climate policies have primarily focused on addressing emissions where they exit the smokestack or tailpipe. Meanwhile, they have largely left the source of those emissions – the oil, gas, and coal extracted by fossil fuel companies – to the vagaries of the market.

Basic economics tells us that the consumption of any product is shaped by both supply and demand. It follows that reducing supply and demand together, or ‘cutting with both arms of the scissors,’ais the most efficient and effective way to reduce a harmful output. Putting limits on fossil fuel extraction – or ‘keeping it in the ground’ – is a core yet underutilized lever for accelerating climate action.

Curbing the supply of fossil fuels does not mean turning off the taps overnight. Rather, it means stopping new projects that would lock in new pollution for the coming decades. It means managing an orderly and equitable wind-down of existing fossil fuel infrastructure and extraction projects within climate limits. It makes it possible to plan for a just transition for workers and communities.

If the world is to succeed in meeting the Paris goals, this type of comprehensive and clear-eyed approach is urgently needed everywhere, and particularly in the United States – one of the world’s top producers and users of fossil fuels.

Read the report (PDF).

Realizing a Just and Equitable Transition Away From Fossil Fuels

By Georgia Piggot, Michael Boyland, Adrian Down, and Andreea Raluca Torre - Stockholm Environment Institute, January 2019

Meeting agreed climate goals requires a rapid decarbonization of the global energy system, which in turn necessitates a reduction in fossil fuel production. While limiting fossil fuel use will likely bring a multitude of societal benefits — related to reduced climate risks, sustainable economic growth, air quality and human health — it is important to recognize that not everyone will benefit equally from a transition to a low-carbon economy. In particular, those who rely on fossil fuel production for their livelihood, or who were anticipating using fossil-fuelled energy to meet development needs, may carry a disproportionate share of the burdens of an energy transition.

The need for a “just transition” to a low-carbon economy — namely, a transition that minimizes disruption for workers and communities reliant on unsustainable industries and energy sources — is gaining traction in climate policy and political discourse. A call for “a just transition of the workforce” was included in the preamble to the Paris Agreement, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat has prepared a technical paper on transition planning.10 In addition, several national and regional governments have recently announced new transition planning processes, including Canada, Germany, Spain, Scotland, New Zealand, and the European Union.

A central concern of just transition efforts is to ensure that low-carbon transitions address social and economic inequality. The UNFCCC calls for a transition that “contribute(s) to the goals of decent work for all, social inclusion and the eradication of poverty.” Likewise, the European Commission aims to “boost the clean energy transition by bringing more focus on social fairness.” And the Scottish Government is seeking a transition that “promotes inclusive growth, cohesion and equality.”

Key messages:

  • Governments are introducing new “just transitions” policies to help workers and communities move away from fossil fuels.
  • Most policies assume that justice goals will be achieved by helping those dependent on coal, oil and gas move into new roles; however, there is little critical reflection on what justice means in the context of an energy transition away from fossil fuels.
  • There are a number of gaps in current just transition policies when viewed through a justice lens. For example, no policies contain measures to improve the lives of people currently marginalized in the energy system.
  • Creating just and equitable transition policies requires collecting data on the current distribution of the harms and benefits of the energy system, and mapping out how this will change as fossil fuels become a less-prominent part of the energy mix.
  • By taking justice considerations into account, transition policies are more likely to limit social and political resistance, win a broad consensus, and achieve effective implementation.

Read the text (PDF).

Just cuts for fossil fuels? Supply-side carbon constraints and energy transition

By Philippe Le Billon and Berit Kristoffersen - Economy and Space, November 2018

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions has generally been approached through demand-side initiatives, yet there are increasing calls for supply-side interventions to curtail fossil fuel production. Pursuing energy transition through supply-side constraints would have major geopolitical and economic consequences. Depending on the criteria and instruments applied, supply cuts for fossil fuels could drastically reduce and reorient major financial flows and reshape the spatiality of energy production and consumption. Building on debates about just transitions and supply constraints, we provide a survey of emerging interventions targeting the supply of, rather than the demand for, fossil fuels. We articulate four theories of justice and selection criteria to prioritize cuts among fossil fuel producers, including with regard to carbon-intensity, production costs, affordability, developmental efficiency, and support for climate change action. We then examine seven major supply-constraint instruments, their effectiveness, and possible pathways to supply cuts in the coal, oil and gas sectors. We suggest that supply cuts both reflects and offers purposeful political spaces of interventions towards a 'just' transition away from fossil fuel production.

Read the text (PDF).

Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska's Economy

By John Talberth, Ph.D. and Daphne Wysham - Center for Sustainable Economy, October 2017

Of the 50 United States, Alaska best exemplifies the types of problems the rest of the country may well face in a matter of decades, if not years, if we don’t wean ourselves from fossil fuels. The U.S. is in the middle of an oil and gas production boom, one that has caused oil and gas prices to plummet, with devastating consequences for Alaska, a state that has grown dependent on revenue from the oil and gas industry for its public funds.

However, if one only looked at the prominent outlines of the boom-and-bust, oil and gas economy in Alaska, one would miss a subtler shift happening on a much smaller scale: A more sustainable, self-reliant economy is beginning to take shape in remote villages and towns throughout the state.

While this sustainable economy is beginning to take root, it needs special care. In a report, commissioned by Greenpeace USA, entitled “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska’s Economy,” CSE’s John Talberth and Daphne Wysham write that this nascent economy in Alaska shows great promise but will require investments in the following key sectors if it is to thrive:

  • human capital—particularly in computer literacy in rural areas;
  • sustainable energy, including wind, wave, tidal and solar energy;
  • greater local self-reliance in food including produce, which currently is imported at great cost, and fisheries, which is often exported for processing, and manufacturing;
  • the clean-up of fossil fuel infrastructure, including abandoned infrastructure sites;
  • the protection of ecosystems;
  • tourism led and controlled by Alaska Native communities;
  • and sustainable fisheries.

But investment in these key building blocks is only the first step. Also needed are policy changes at the state and federal level that would remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, begin to internalize the price of pollution, and make federal funds available that are currently out of reach for many Alaska Natives.

Read the report (PDF).

Can Coal Make a Comeback?

By Trevor Houser, Jason Bordoff, and Peter Marsters - Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, School of International and Public Affairs, and the Rhodium Group, April 2017

From the introduction: Six years ago, the US coal industry was thriving, with demand recovering from the Great Recession, and global coal prices at record highs along with the stock prices of US coal companies. By the end of 2015, however, the industry had collapsed, with three of the four largest US miners filing for bankruptcy along with many other smaller companies. While coal mining employment has been on the decline for decades – from a peak of more than 800,000 in the 1920s to 130,000 in 2011 – the pace of job loss over the past six years has been particularly dramatic. After campaigning on a promise to end what he called his predecessor’s “War on Coal,” President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order in March 2017 ordering agencies to review or rescind a raft of Obama-era environmental regulations, telling coal miners they would be “going back to work.”

This paper offers an empirical diagnosis of what caused the coal collapse, and then examines the prospects for a recovery of US coal production and employment by modeling the impact of President Trump’s executive order and assessing the global coal market outlook. In short, the paper finds:

  • US electricity demand contracted in the wake of the Great Recession, and has yet to recover due to energy efficiency improvements in buildings, lighting and appliances. A surge in US natural gas production due to the shale revolution has driven down prices and made coal increasingly uncompetitive in US electricity markets. Coal has also faced growing competition from renewable energy, with solar costs falling 85 percent between 2008 and 2016 and wind costs falling 36 percent.
  • Increased competition from cheap natural gas is responsible for 49 percent of the decline in domestic US coal consumption. Lower-than-expected demand is responsible for 26 percent, and the growth in renewable energy is responsible for 18 percent. Environmental regulations have played a role in the switch from coal to natural gas and renewables in US electricity supply by accelerating coal plant retirements, but were a significantly smaller factor than recent natural gas and renewable energy cost reductions.
  • Changes in the global coal market have played a far greater role in the collapse of the US coal industry than is generally understood. A slow-down in Chinese coal demand, especially for metallurgical coal, depressed coal prices around the world and reduced the market for US exports. More than half of the decline in US coal company revenue between 2011 and 2015 was due to international factors.
  • Implementing all the actions in President Trump’s executive order to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations could stem the recent decline in US coal consumption, but only if natural gas prices increase going forward. If natural gas prices remain at or near current levels or renewable costs fall more quickly than expected, US coal consumption will continue its decline despite Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama-era regulations.
  • While global coal markets have recovered slightly over the past few months due to supply restrictions in China and flooding in Australia, we expect this rally to be short-lived. Slower economic growth and structural adjustment in China will continue to put downward pressure on global coal prices and limit the market opportunities for US exports. Indian coal demand will likely grow in the years ahead, but not enough to make up for the slow-down in China. The same is true for other emerging economies, many of whom are negatively impacted by decelerating Chinese commodities demand themselves.
  • Under the best case scenario for US coal producers, our modeling projects a modest recovery to 2013 levels of just under 1 billion tons a year. Under the worst case scenario, output falls to 600 million tons a year. A plausible range of US coal mining employment in these scenarios ranges from 70,000 to 90,000 in 2020, and 64,000 to 94,000 in 2025 and 2030 -- lower than anything the US experienced before 2015.

These findings indicate that President Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities. As such, the paper concludes with recommendations for steps that the federal government can take to safeguard the pension and health security of current and retired miners and dependents and support economic diversification. Attracting new sources of economic activity and job creation will not be easy, and even at its most successful will not return coal country to peak levels of past prosperity.

But responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the US coal sector—including the causes of coal’s decline and unlikeliness of its resurgence—rather than offer false hope that the glory days can be revived. And then support those in America’s coal communities working hard to build a new economic future.

Read the text (PDF).

Red state rural America is acting on climate change; without calling it climate change

By Rebecca J. Romsdahl - The Conversation, February 21, 2017

President Donald Trump has the environmental community understandably concerned. He and members of his Cabinet have questioned the established science of climate change, and his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA many times and regularly sided with the fossil fuel industry.

Even if the Trump administration withdraws from all international climate negotiations and reduces the EPA to bare bones, the effects of climate change are happening and will continue to build.

In response to real threats and public demand, cities across the United States and around the world are taking action to address climate change. We might think this is happening only in large, coastal cities that are threatened by sea-level rise or hurricanes, like Amsterdam or New York.

Research shows, however, that even in the fly-over red states of the U.S. Great Plains, local leaders in small- to medium-size communities are already grappling with the issue. Although their actions are not always couched in terms of addressing climate change, their strategies can provide insights into how to make progress on climate policy under a Trump administration.

The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading California

By various - International Transport Federation, et. al., November 2016

In the recent election, Chevron-backed campaigns lost bigtime, despite the $61 million the company has spent to influence California elections since 2009. That’s far more than any other oil company spend in state elections. The report, by the International Transport Workers Federation, was released Nov. 17 at the Chevron gates by a coalition including the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), and more.

Members of the coalition said the report, The Chevron Way: Polluting California and Degrading Democracy, will educate the public about the corrupting influence of corporate money and alert politicians that they will be judged on whether they act in the public interest or in Chevron’s interest.

In this election, in State Assembly and State Senate races, candidates heavily backed by Chevron lost. In Monterey County, Chevron spent $1.5 to oppose a ballot measure to ban fracking and expanded oil drilling. Despite being outspent 33 to 1, the measure passed.

In Richmond, Chevron sat out this election, having spent $3 million in the last election, when its candidates lost anyway. This year, two additional progressive candidates won seats on the city council and a longstanding Chevron candidate was voted out.

Chevron makes billions in profits from its huge retail and refining business in California, but has aggressively cut tax payments to federal, state and local governments. In 2015, the company paid no net income tax in the US, but instead banked nearly $1.7 billion in tax credits.

In 2015, Chevron had over $45 billion stashed in offshore accounts, including the company’s 211 active Bermuda subsidiaries, and the company’s global effective tax rate fell to below 3%.

Read the report (PDF).

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