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The Promise and Perils of Biden’s Climate Policy

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is properly recognised as the largest climate policy in US history. In this short essay I will first summarise and comment on its provisions, then outline the reactions to it, with a focus on labour unions, and will close by providing my own thoughts.

The IRA allocates around $370 billion over a period of ten years. About 75% of that is in the form of incentives (rather than direct investments or regulatory mandates) to advance the transition to ‘clean energy’ that includes renewables but also nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration. These incentives focus primarily on advancing the production of clean energy but also on stimulating its consumption. Smaller energy investments focus on tackling pollution in poorer communities and on conservation and rural development.

The IRA also authorises as much as $350 billion of loans to be disbursed by the Department of Energy. While such loans have been around since the Bush Administration, the amounts and the likelihood that they will be used during the Biden Administration are much higher. Finally, its main regulatory provision is the designation of carbon, methane and other heat-trapping emissions from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas wells as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, one of the bedrocks of US environmental legislation, which the Environmental Protection Agency implements. Overall, it is estimated that by 2030 the IRA will help reduce emissions by around 40% of 2005 levels, compared to the about 25% reduction projected without it. 

However, the policy mandates that renewable energy siting permits cannot be approved during any year unless accompanied by the opening up of 2 million acres of land or 60 million acres of ocean to oil and gas leasing bids, respectively, during the prior year (for more details see 50265 of Act). In either case, the amount of actual leasing and drilling is subject to market dynamics rather than regulatory limits, while the Act also streamlines the permitting process for pipelines. The growing transition to electric vehicles will lessen the market for oil but the strategic repositioning of natural gas in energy production (as well as plastics) suggests that it (along with nuclear power) will be a long-term source of energy, including in the production of hydrogen. Nevertheless, overall, it is the prevailing view that the IRA will decisively transition the US into renewable energy as part of a broader energy mix.

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Labor-Climate Movement

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act reveals the power that can arise when the movements for worker protection, climate protection, and justice protection join forces.

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. They almost succeeded. But at the last minute, the combined power of climate protectors, worker advocates, and justice fighters was enough to force passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.[1]

That power was enough to include important positive elements in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will provide the largest climate protection investment ever made. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs annually for a ten-year period.[2] It includes modest but significant funding to address pollution in frontline communities.[3]

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs, and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. It allows increased extraction of fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows massive drilling and pipeline construction that will turn areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good jobs. It makes few “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the changes it will fund.

Biden’s NLRB Forces Alabama Coal Miners to Pay $13 Million in Damages for Strike

By Daniel Werst - Left Voice, August 18, 2022

The NLRB is imposing a $13 million fine on the UMWA coal miners’ union over a protracted strike in central Alabama. Not just a fine, in fact, but monetary restitution to the company that the strikers are fighting. What explains this profoundly anti-labor decision?

On August 3, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and the Associated Press reported that the subunit of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for Region 10 (much of the South) has ordered the union to pay $13.3 million to Warrior Met Coal.

About 1,000 workers from two mines and two aboveground facilities southwest of Birmingham, Alabama, have been on strike against Warrior Met since April 2021, resisting brutal working conditions. Now the Biden NLRB is demanding the UMWA pay what amounts to $13,000 per striker into the company’s pocket. The government says this is reimbursement for security guards, security cameras, repairs, and production lost because of the strike, plus buses for carrying scabs across picket lines.

This workforce routinely does six-day weeks and 12-hour days. The company operates on Sundays and almost all holidays. A hated company policy fires workers automatically if they miss four days of work in a year, even because of health problems or family emergencies.

Early in the strike, the company offered a raise of $1.50 an hour for 2021 to 2026. Workers retorted that back in 2016 they accepted a $6-an-hour reduction when the company declared bankruptcy and threatened mass layoffs if the workers didn’t “help” shore up its profitability. More than 95 percent of the strikers voted no when the UMWA leadership put up this company offer as a tentative agreement.

The $13.3 million NLRB judgment is more than half of the strike pay distributed to 1,000 strikers in 16 months. The UMWA provides only $350 a week, or $18,000 a year, for miners’ families to live on. The money grab goes to a company that made $146 million in profit for January to March this year and last year paid its CEO $5.7 million.

NLRB demand for UMWA to pay Warrior Met Coal strike costs “outrageous,” threatens American workers’ right to strike

By staff - United Mine Workers Of America, August 3, 2022

The United Mine Workers of America today made it clear that it will vigorously challenge an outrageous assessment of damages made by the National Labor Relations Board Region 10 regarding the UMWA’s 16-month strike against Warrior Met Coal in Alabama.

“This is a slap in the face not just to the workers who are fighting for better jobs at Warrior Met Coal, but to every worker who stands up to their boss anywhere in America,” UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “There are charges for security, cameras, capital expenditures, buses for transporting scabs across picket lines, and the cost of lost production.

“What is the purpose of a strike if not to impact the operations of the employer, including production,” Roberts asked. “Is it now the policy of the federal government that unions be required to pay a company’s losses as a consequence of their members exercising their rights as working people? This is outrageous and effectively negates workers’ right to strike. It cannot stand.”

The union entered into a settlement agreement in June with NLRB Region 10 regarding charges the company had made about picket line activity in order to save striking members and families from days of hostile questioning by company lawyers. On July 22, the NLRB sent the union a detailed list of damages totaling $13.3 million dollars, more than 33 times the estimated amount NLRB lawyers had initially indicated would be assessed.

Warrior Met has reported millions of dollars in costs it has incurred over the course of the strike. “It appears that Warrior Met wants us to reimburse it for those costs, including costs it incurred before the strike even began,” Roberts said. “What’s extremely troubling here is that the NLRB appears to have taken up the company’s cause without a second thought.

“I want to be clear: Warrior Met Coal instigated this strike and has brutally extended it through its sustained unwillingness to reach a fair and reasonable agreement at the bargaining table,” Roberts said. “We have no intention of paying its costs for doing so. The right to strike in America must be preserved. We will fight this at every level, in every court. We will spend every penny of our resources rather than give in to something like this from the NLRB, Warrior Met or any other entity.”

'Public Pressure Works': Postal Service to Boost Electric Vehicle Purchases After Backlash

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, July 20, 2022

Pressure from progressive advocacy groups and lawmakers bore fruit on Wednesday when the U.S. Postal Service announced that it would be making 40% of its new delivery vehicles electric, up from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's initial plan to electrify just 10% of the mail agency's aging fleet.

The news comes in the wake of a lawsuit filed in late April by a coalition of environmental organizations that accused the USPS of conducting an unlawfully shoddy analysis of the widely condemned plan's climate impacts. More than a dozen state attorney generals and the United Auto Workers (UAW) also sued to halt DeJoy's anti-green and anti-labor procurement scheme pending a comprehensive review of its ecological and public health consequences.

"Public pressure works, and today's announcement from the Postal Service is proof of that," Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club's Clean Transportation for All campaign, said in a statement. "The agency's original plan for a fleet of 90% fossil fuel trucks should have never been a consideration."

"Still, making only half of its delivery fleet electric does not go far enough to address climate change or improve air quality in neighborhoods across the nation," said García. "There is also no guarantee in today's announcement that union workers will be building these pollution-free vehicles."

"This is an opportunity to transform the postal fleet to be 100% union-built electric vehicles," she added. "We won't settle for anything less."

Extreme Judicial Activism in West Virginia v. EPA

By Kevin Bell - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, June 30, 2022

Ruling will restrict the federal government’s ability to address climate change

The Supreme Court issued a decision today in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency that will hamstring the federal government’s ability to issue a wide range of regulations covering the environment, public health, climate change and the economy.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that the Clean Air Act’s grant of authority for EPA to implement the “best system of emission reductions” does not allow a nationwide system capping total carbon emissions to force a transition away from the use of fossil fuels. Its reasoning is, essentially, that the EPA cannot use this kind of system because it has never done it before. The court explicitly declined to determine what “system of emissions reductions” it would allow, leaving EPA, and every other agency in government, to guess what a reviewing court will or will not allow.

The ruling, in effect, smothers any attempt to use EPA’s existing statutory authorities to control carbon emissions or meaningfully slow climate change.

Instead of applying the Constitution, the Court relied on a relatively new conservative judicial theory called the “major questions doctrine.” The “major questions doctrine” holds that courts should not defer to agency statutory interpretations that concern questions of “vast economic or political significance.” However, in reality, this nebulous doctrine allows the judicial branch of government to usurp the power of the legislative and executive branches of government by allowing judges to insert themselves into any issue they find important economically or politically. It also further undermines 40 –years of precedent known as “Chevron Deference” which calls on judges to accept reasonable interpretations of a statute by an administrative agency.

The Green New Deal–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, October 30, 2021

This is the first in a series of commentaries on “The Green New Deal–From Below.” This commentary explains the idea of a Green New Deal from Below and provides an overview of the series. Subsequent commentaries in this series will address dimensions of the Green New Deal from below ranging from energy production to the role of unions to microgrids, coops, anchor institutions, and many others.

The Green New Deal is a visionary program to protect the earth’s climate while creating good jobs, reducing injustice, and eliminating poverty. Its core principle is to use the necessity for climate protection as a basis for realizing full employment and social justice.

The Green New Deal first emerged as a proposal for national legislation, and the struggle to embody it in national legislation is ongoing. But there has also emerged a little-noticed wave of initiatives from community groups, unions, city and state governments, tribes, and other non-federal institutions designed to contribute to the climate protection and social justice goals of the Green New Deal. We will call these the Green New Deal from Below (GNDfB).

The purpose of this commentary is to provide an overview of Green New Deal from Below initiatives in many different arenas and locations. It provides an introduction to a series of commentaries that will delve more deeply into each aspect of the GNDfB. The purpose of the series is to reveal the rich diversity of GNDfB programs already underway and in development. The projects of Green New Dealers recounted here should provide inspiration for thousands more that can create the foundation for national mobilization–and reconstruction.

The original 2018 Green New Deal resolution submitted by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called for a national 10-year mobilization to achieve 100% of national power generation from renewable sources; a national “smart grid”; energy efficiency upgrades for every residential and industrial building; decarbonizing manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, and other infrastructure; and helping other countries achieve carbon neutral economies and a global Green New Deal. It proposed a job guarantee to assure a living wage job to every person who wants one; mitigation of income and wealth inequality; basic income programs; and universal health care. It advocated innovative financial structures including cooperative and public ownership and public banks. Since that time a wide-ranging discussion has extended and fleshed out the vision of the Green New Deal to include an even wider range of proposals to address climate, jobs, and justice.

The Green New Deal first emerged as a proposal for national mobilization, and national legislation has remained an essential element. But whether legislation embodying the Green New Deal will be passed, and how adequate it will be, continues to hang in the balance. Current “Build Back Better” legislation has already been downsized to less than half its original scale, and many of the crucial elements of the Green New Deal have been cut along the way. How much of the Green New Deal program will actually be passed now or in the future cannot currently be known.

But meanwhile, there are thousands of efforts to realize the goals of the Green New Deal at community, municipal, county, state, tribal, industry, and sectoral levels. While these cannot substitute for a national program, they can contribute enormously to the Green New Deal’s goals of climate protection and economic justice. Indeed, they may well turn out to be the tip of the Green New Deal spear, developing in the vacuum left by the limitations of national programs.

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