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To Save America, Help West Virginia

By Liza Featherstone - Jacobin, March 30, 2021

A Democratic swing vote in an evenly divided Senate, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has already proved to be a significant obstacle to progressive policy. His opposition was a significant reason for Biden’s failure to raise the minimum wage to $15; Manchin also played a key role in shrinking the household stimulus checks, as well as the weekly unemployment checks. He will be a necessary and highly undependable vote as Democrats attempt to address the climate crisis, advance union organizing rights, and counter racist Republican efforts to legislate voter suppression.

However, the infrastructure bill that Biden and the Democrats are preparing to unveil, which is expected to call for $3 trillion in investment in public goods and services, presents an opportunity for West Virginians — and for all of us. Manchin has been championing this legislation, even calling for it to be funded with an increase in taxes on corporations and the wealthy. On this issue, Eric Levitz of New York magazine has convincingly argued, Manchin is actually pulling Biden to the left.

Manchin’s salience puts West Virginia in a powerful position. The state has urgent needs, given the long decline of the coal industry and the double impact of the opioid and coronavirus public health crises. Almost a third of West Virginians filed for unemployment between mid-March 2020 and the end of January 2021.

A report by University of Massachusetts economists with the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), released in late February, proposed a recovery plan for West Virginia, with good jobs and environmental sustainability at its center. The study showed how compatible these priorities really are. The state’s coal industry has spent years successfully demonizing Democrats and environmentalists as job killers. Under recent regimes of neoliberal austerity, there might been some truth to that, but with more generous investment from the federal government, West Virginia can redevelop its economy and lead the nation in fighting climate change at the same time.

PERI found that the struggling Appalachian state could reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050 — the targets the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined in 2018 were needed in order to avoid irreversible damage to our planet and to human civilizations — while creating jobs and promoting prosperity. The UMass researchers found that $3.6 billion per year in (both public and private) investments in a clean energy program — averaged over the 2021–2030 time period — would generate about 25,000 West Virginian jobs per year. The PERI researchers also analyzed the effect of $1.6 billion a year — also over 2021–2030 — in investments in public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration, and agriculture, finding that these efforts would generate about 16,000 jobs per year.

In fighting for such priorities, progressives need resist the pull of what we might call “woke neoliberalism.” Woke neoliberalism functions by using charges of racism and sexism — very real problems! — against initiatives that could help the entire working class. (Remember Hillary Clinton’s, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism?”) In the debate over the Biden infrastructure bill, some well-meaning people are falling into that trap, already pitting investment in care work and infrastructure against each other.

The Washington Post reported on Monday, “Some people close to the White House say they feel that the emphasis on major physical infrastructure investments reflects a dated nostalgia for a kind of White working-class male worker,” citing SEIU president Mary Kay Henry’s private admonitions to the White House not to overlook the care economy. Henry said, “We’re up against a gender and racial bias that this work is not worth as much as the rubber, steel and auto work of the last century.” Economists Heidi Shierholz, Darrick Hamilton, and Larry Katz reportedly argued to the White House that investing in care work would create more jobs than investing in infrastructure.

Let’s not do this.

Socialist Dog Catchers (or Presidents) Won’t Save Us

How Green is Jerry Brown?

By Liza Tucker - Consumer Watchdog, February 2017

This review fact-checks the perception of Jerry Brown as an environmentalist against his actions since taking office as Governor in 2011 to answer the question: “How Green Is Brown?” On a continuum of “Green” to “Murky” to “Dirty,” the review concludes that Brown’s environmental record is not green. The following advocates and public interest groups concur with the report’s analysis, conclusions, and recommendations: Food & Water Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Rootskeeper, Powers Engineering, Basin & Range Watch, Aguirre & Severson LLP, Public Watchdogs, the Southern California Watershed Alliance, The Desal Response Group, Restore The Delta, and Committee to Bridge the Gap.

Brown has staked his environmental legacy on fighting climate change, calling it the “singular challenge of our time.” He claims that he is enacting “a 1 thorough, integrated plan to reduce fossil fuel consumption.” He plans to have 1.5 million electric cars on the road by 2025 and has granted major investor-owned utilities a windfall of billions of dollars to build the charging infrastructure to make it happen. Yet, he has thrown his support to the fossil fuels industry whose products emit the most carbon on the planet when burned for transportation, electricity, and heat.

Far from the environmentalist that Brown claims to be, Brown has expanded the burning of heat-trapping natural gas and nurtured oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing while stifling efforts to protect the public from harm. The Public Utilities Commission has approved a slew of unnecessary new fossil-fuel power plants when the state’s three major investorowned utilities have overbuilt their generating capacity by nearly triple the minimum extra capacity that the state requires. Under Brown, the number of active onshore state oil and gas wells jumped by 23 percent since the year before he was elected Governor in a bid to produce more oil.

Hydraulic fracturing is producing 20 percent of the state’s oil, while companies continue to use other common, dirty methods of oil extraction exempted from fracking legislation under Brown. Companies are extracting oil from a few hundred newly permitted offshore wells in existing state leases since Brown came to office, though Brown asked then- President Obama to ban any new drilling in California’s federal waters. Brown’s regulators have ignored a petition signed by 350,000 people to ban the use of toxic oil wastewater for crop irrigation until proven safe.

Read the report (PDF).

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