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infrastructure and mega-projects

A Brief Recap of the Fight Against Line 3

By Les P - Washington Socialist, September 2021

On August 23, a DC protest against construction of the Line 3 pipeline rallied against Joe Biden and his Chief of Staff, Ron Klain, calling on the administration to cancel the pipeline. Two days later, on August 25, Indigenous leaders led more than 2,000 to the Minnesota state capitol to make the same demand of Governor Tim Walz. As construction on the pipeline nears completion, it feels necessary to recount the history of Line 3’s development in order to consider how socialists might commit to the fight against its completion.

In 2014, Enbridge Inc. — a multinational oil and gas pipeline company headquartered in Calgary, Alberta — proposed an expansion to its existing Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline. The pipeline begins in Alberta and is set to end in Superior, Wisconsin — cutting across greater areas of Canada, North Dakota, Wisconsin and (pending construction completion) northern Minnesota; that includes three different Indigenous reservations in Minnesota and land that, according to the Treaty of 1855, Ojibwe people have the right to use for hunting, fishing and gathering wild rice.

Ever since Enbridge submitted its proposal, Indigenous organizers and activists like Winona LaDuke, along with tribal governments, climate justice activists and Minnesota DSA chapters, have fought furiously to stop the additional construction of a pipeline that, in 1991, was the culprit of the worst inland oil spill in American history. More than 600 people have been arrested or received citations related to protests against Line 3 according to a recent Guardian report, with Native water protectors leading the charge. Protesters have blocked key roads on Enbridge’s pipeline route, chained themselves to construction equipment and stood up to Minnesota law enforcement which received $750,000 in order to police Line 3 protesters back in April.

Throughout the last nine months, activists have persistently called on Governor Walz and President Biden to cancel the pipeline. Importantly, this is within their powers and not without precedent: Biden took similar action against the Keystone XL pipeline early in his term, and in May, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced a plan to revoke the easement granted to Enbridge for another pipeline, Line 5. But in a too-predictable concession to the fossil fuel industry, both Walz and Biden have allowed Enbridge’s permits to stand. The Biden White House has supported the Trump administration’s federal approval of the project, and despite once tweeting that “any line that goes through treaty lands is a nonstarter for me,” Walz, too, has approved the pipeline’s construction.

Proponents of Line 3, including Walz, argue that replacing an aging pipeline is an environmentally responsible move. To make that argument during the same month that the IPCC released its climate report — which states, not with any subtlety, that we needed to move away from fossil fuel energy yesterday — is laughable. If completed, Line 3 will carry enough oil to produce approximately 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to around 50 coal power plants. Pipeline development also indicates a broader state commitment to fossil fuel dependency: a devastating policy decision with ramifications for our planet and the generations to come. We don’t need a new pipeline; we need there to be no pipelines.

Impact on labour of the electrification of vehicles: new reports from Canada and Europe

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, August 31, 2021

In late August, the Pembina Institute released Taking Charge: How Ontario can create jobs and benefits in the electric vehicle economy, discussing the economic and job creation potential for Canada’s main vehicle manufacturing province. The report considers manufacturing, maintenance, and the development and installation of charging infrastructure. Its modeling estimates that, “if Ontario were to grow its EV market to account for 100% of total light-duty automobile sales as of 2035, direct, indirect and induced economic benefits associated with EV manufacturing would include over 24,200 jobs, and over $3.4 billion in GDP in 2035. In this scenario, Ontario’s EV charger and maintenance sectors can additionally benefit from nearly 23,200 jobs, and over $2.7 billion in GDP in 2035.”

The report concludes with seven policy recommendations which centre on stimulating consumer demand and encouraging private capital to invest in electric vehicles and infrastructure, and which include the establishment of an Ontario Transportation Electrification Council. Such a council is seen as a coordinating body for “the departments responsible for transportation, economic development, energy, natural resources, and environment as well as labour, training, and skills development.”

DOE Quietly Backs Plan for Carbon Capture Network Larger Than Entire Oil Pipeline System

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, July 18, 2021

Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and major labor group AFL-CIO are behind the “blueprint” for a multi-billion dollar system to transport captured CO2 — and offer a lifeline to fossil fuel plants.

An organization run by former Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 labor unions, has created a policy “blueprint” to build a nationwide pipeline network capable of carrying a gigaton of captured carbon dioxide (CO2).

The “Building to Net-Zero” blueprint appears to be quietly gaining momentum within the Energy Department, where a top official has discussed ways to put elements into action using the agency’s existing powers.

The pipeline network would be twice the size of the current U.S. oil pipeline network by volume, according to the blueprint, released by a recently formed group calling itself the Labor Energy Partnership. Backers say the proposed pipeline network — including CO2 “hubs” in the Gulf Coast, the Ohio River Valley, and Wyoming — would help reduce climate-changing pollution by transporting captured carbon dioxide to either the oil industry, which would undo some of the climate benefits by using the CO2 to revive aging oilfields, or to as-yet unbuilt facilities for underground storage.

The blueprint, however, leaves open many questions about how the carbon would be captured at the source — a process that so far has proved difficult and expensive — and where it would be sent, focusing instead on suggesting policies the federal government can adopt to boost CO2 pipeline construction. 

Climate advocates fear that building such a large CO2 pipeline network could backfire, causing more greenhouse gas pollution by enabling aging coal-fired power plants to remain in service longer, produce pipes that could wind up carrying fossil fuels if carbon capture efforts fall through, and represent an expensive waste of federal funds intended to encourage a meaningful energy transition.

In March, over 300 climate and environmental justice advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress, arguing that subsidizing carbon capture “could entrench the fossil economy for decades to come.”

The AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative, which jointly produced the blueprint, did not respond to questions about concerns over their proposals.

Proponents of carbon capture, usage, and sequestration (CCUS) often highlight ways that it could be used for sectors like steel and cement whose carbon pollution is generally considered “hard to abate.” Yet, the pipeline network envisioned by Moniz would be capable of carrying over 10 times as much carbon dioxide as the steel and cement industries emit in total nationwide, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data from 2019. In fact, it could transport more CO2 than the entire industrial sector emits in the U.S., leaving the rest of the pipeline network’s capacity available for carbon from fossil fuel-fired power plants or from “direct air capture” technologies that would remove ambient CO2 but don’t currently exist at a commercial level

“Even the advocates of direct air capture technology acknowledge that they don’t anticipate that it would be at a scale to make any meaningful reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels until 2060, 2070 and beyond,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the environmental law nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law. “When we’re dealing with a world where we need to cut emissions in the next decade, direct air capture just has no meaningful place in that conversation.”

Instead, the proposed CO2 pipeline network would be used to offer a lifeline to existing fossil fuel power plants. In Appalachia, for example, 90 percent of the carbon emissions the plan seeks to capture would come from existing coal-fired power plants in the Ohio River Valley. Those plants, none of which are currently outfitted with the costly upgrades needed for capture carbon, are already facing difficult questions about their ability to compete economically with wind and solar energy.

Nonetheless, momentum behind the project appears to have been gathering behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., particularly inside the Department of Energy (DOE).

“It’s a great pleasure to have our first kind of public interaction with our good friend, Dave Turk,” Moniz said of Biden’s Deputy Secretary of Energy at the blueprint’s online launch on July 1.

“It’s incredible the volume and quality of the thought-leadership that you all are behind,” Turk, who is second in command to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, told Moniz. “And I think the report that you all have put together is incredibly helpful to show that we need to do more from the DOE side, other agencies, and Congress,” he added, describing the blueprint as “actionable.”

Green Left Show #14: Why nuclear is NOT a climate solution

10 reasons why climate activists should not support nuclear

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, June 23, 2021

In a recent Guardian article, Jacobin magazine’s founding editor Bhaskar Sunkara declared that “If we want to fight the climate crisis, we must embrace nuclear power.” He praised nuclear as a clean and reliable and suggested that opponents of nuclear power are either gripped by “paranoia … rooted in cold war associations” or are relying on “outdated information.”

I disagree entirely. Here are 10 reasons why nuclear power is still no solution for climate change.

1. Nuclear is dangerous. Building many new nuclear power plants around the globe means a higher risk of unpredictable Fukushima-type accidents. We know more extreme weather events are locked in due to climate change, adding to the danger as time passes.

What if a nuclear power plant had been in the path of Australia’s huge bushfires in 2020? What nuclear power plant could withstand super typhoons like the one that flattened Tacloban City in the Philippines in 2013? What if a nuclear plant was submerged by unexpectedly massive floods, like those in Mozambique for the past three years in a row?

Planning for a hotter future means switching to safer, resilient technologies. Building more nuclear power plants in this context is reckless.

2. Nuclear wastes water. Nuclear power is an incredibly water-guzzling energy source compared with renewables like solar and wind. We know climate change-induced droughts and floods will make existing freshwater shortages a lot worse. So it’s a bad idea to waste so much water on more nuclear.

Uranium mining can also make nearby groundwater unusable forever. Half of the world’s uranium mines use a process called in-situ leaching. This involves fracking ore deposits then pumping down a cocktail of acids mixed with groundwater to dissolve the uranium for easier extraction. This contaminates aquifers with radioactive elements. There are no examples of successful groundwater restoration.

The National Black Climate Summit

Can sabotage stop climate change?

By Simon Butler - Climate and Capitalism, April 28, 2021

Despite the climate movement’s growth, epitomized by Extinction Rebellion and Student Strike for Climate, fossil fuel extraction continues to grow, and a safe climate can seem dismayingly distant. Given a choice between forgoing capital accumulation and tipping the whole world into a furnace, our rulers prefer the furnace.

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Andreas Malm asks how the climate movement can emerge from the Covid-19 hiatus as a stronger force. In particular, he questions whether the movement’s until now near-universal commitment to non-violent protest is holding it back. “Will absolute non-violence be the only way, forever the sole admissible tactic in the struggle to abolish fossil fuels? Can we be sure that it will suffice against this enemy? Must we tie ourselves to its mast to reach a safer place?”

To make his point, Malm cites examples of popular historic movements, some of which are invoked by today’s climate campaigners as examples of non-violent change. The overthrow of Atlantic slavery involved violent slave uprisings and rebellions. The suffragettes of early 20th century Britain regularly engaged in property destruction. The US civil rights movement was punctuated by urban riots. As part of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa Nelson Mandela co-founded the armed wing of the African National Congress. The Indian National Congress is known for its non-violent tactics but violence also played a role of the resistance to British rule from the Great Rebellion of 1857 until independence.

Malm absolutely rules out violence that harms people, but he wants the climate movement to include sabotage and property destruction in its plans.

He puts forward several reasons why these kinds of protests might help “break the spell” of the status quo. Targeting the luxury consumption of the rich in this way could help to stigmatize the notion that the rich can blithely condemn the rest of us to ecological disaster. Physical attacks on new CO2 emitting devices might reduce their use and make them less popular options for new investment. He also speculates that such actions could help bring together a “radical flank” of the movement, helping to win partial reforms by making elites more keen to compromise with the movement moderates.

Malm believes such tactics could make for some powerful political symbolism: “Next time the wildfires burn through the forests of Europe, take out a digger. Next time a Caribbean island is battered beyond recognition, burst in upon a banquet of luxury emissions or a Shell board meeting. The weather is already political, but it is political from one side only, blowing off the steam built up by the enemy, who is not made to feel the heat or take the blame.”

Malm’s arguments have been met with alarm in some quarters. In a review posted on the Global Ecosocialist Network website Alan Thornett says adopting the book’s proposals would “not only be wrong but disastrous” and anyone who did so would soon have “armed police kicking down their door.” He calls Malm’s argument an impatient “bid for a shortcut” resulting from “frustration compounded by the lack of a socially just exit strategy from fossil energy.”

James Wilt’s review in Canadian Dimension is even harsher: he says How to Blow Up a Pipeline “veers awfully close to entrapment” — a totally unworthy accusation. More to the point, Wilt says Malm doesn’t look deeply at the likely outcomes of his proposals, failing to mention any “planning for the inevitable backlash” and repression activists would face.

But, as Bue Rübner Hansen points out in a Viewpoint Magazine article, Malm’s “provocative title makes a pitch for viral controversy, but its contents are more nuanced and equivocal.”

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.

Suez opened: Questions around monster ships remain

By Patrick Mazza - The Raven, March 29, 2021

Helped by a high tide, MV Ever Given was freed from the Suez Canal shallows yesterday at 3pm local time after two heavy-pull tugs arrived and thousands of tons of material were dredged away. 

After a week in which the massive container ship was lodged between two banks and under maximum stress - with maritime experts worrying it could break at the sagging center - the stern was freed early Sunday and the bow later in the day. Finally coming on the scene Sunday were tugs capable of anchoring to the bottom and exerting pulling force four times or more greater than most of the tugs on site. By this morning the ship had arrived at Great Bitter Lake mid-canal where the hull could be examined for cracks. Bow and stern compartments had been taking on water.

Now the questions will come. Why did the Suez Canal Authority not have rescue tugs on station for incidents like this? How prepared were authorities for the emergence of the new mega-ships, capable of carrying 20,000 and more containers?

In a broader sense, the Suez crisis shines a light on what maritime historian Sal Mercagliano, a merchant marine veteran, calls “a hidden industry” and its impacts on waterways and ports as well as port communities and workers. A powerful shipping industry has been dictating terms, based on its own economic calculations, and shunting costs off to the public. Taxpayers have been paying for expensive dredging and port upgrades. Communities have been subject to increased pollution and accidents from drayage trucks hauling containers, with drivers working under brutal conditions. And the global economy just suffered $10 billion in blocked trade each day for the last seven. It’s a large topic beyond the scope of a single post, so I will try to hit the high points. 

Biden's climate plan is also a union plan

By David Ferris - E&E News, March 17, 2021

President Biden's plan to spend trillions to build out clean energy and climate-ready infrastructure could be a singular opportunity for unions to make themselves newly relevant.

To find a president and a moment so perfectly paired, historians say, you have to look back almost 90 years.

"There hasn't been as big an opening since FDR," said Leon Fink, a labor history professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, speaking of the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who saw America through the Great Depression, World War II and a turning point in organized labor's role in the economy.

The eras echo each other, he added, in "the level of economic distress and also willingness for the government to step in in a major way."

Even so, Biden's moment is different. The prospect of passing a sweeping infrastructure bill that creates millions of jobs or shifts the tide for labor unions is anything but certain. Democrats control Congress by a thin margin, and the political temperature in Washington and the states remains red-hot after a polarizing election that shattered unity within the Republican Party. It won't be easy for Biden to draw out political compromise.

But labor advocates say Biden's bold pro-union positions during his run for the White House and in the early days of his presidency could permeate a major infrastructure bill that finds its way to his desk.

Legislation that incorporates Biden's energy and climate goals could benefit workers in electric vehicles, electric transmission and solar farms, among others. If some of that spending around energy and technology build-outs goes to the construction business, labor stands to gain...

Read the rest here.

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