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infrastructure and mega-projects

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.

LNS Calls for Climate-Safe Infrastructure Not Line 3 and Dakota Access Tar Sands Pipelines

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 2021

The Labor Network for Sustainability calls for a halt to the Line 3 Pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline and other climate-destroying fossil-fuel infrastructure of the past. It calls instead to start creating the jobs of the future building the climate-safe infrastructure of the future.

The U.S. is already building extensive new fossil-free energy infrastructure and is creating more jobs than a similar investment in fossil fuel facilities. Rather than spend a penny more on new fossil fuel infrastructure, it is time to invest in a massive, jobs-rich conversion to a fossil-free energy infrastructure.

The U.S. government, the people of the world, and even major oil companies recognize that the climate emergency requires us to move rapidly to a fossil-free economy. President Joe Biden recently recognized this by cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline. It is time to halt other new fossil fuel infrastructure—urgently, the Line 3 and Dakota Access Pipelines—and use our precious resources for a just transition to climate safety.

A 2013 LNS study compares jobs created by the Keystone XL pipeline to the jobs that could be created by water, sewer and gas repair projects in the five states the pipeline crosses. It finds that meeting unmet water and gas line repair infrastructure needs in the five states along the KXL pipeline route would create:

  • More than 300,000 total jobs across all sectors;
  • Five times more jobs, and better jobs, than KXL;
  • 156% of the number of direct jobs created by Keystone XL per unit of investment.

See the full report: “The Keystone Pipeline Debate: An Alternative Job Creation Strategy”

Workers should not have to pay the price of protecting the climate—they deserve a just transition to a climate-safe future. Cancelation of fossil fuel projects like the tar sands pipelines should be paired with a program to see that every worker whose job may be threatened by climate policies has access to a new job creating the economy of the future.

Overwhelming odds, unexpected alliances and tough losses: how defeating Keystone XL built a bolder, savvier climate movement

By Nick Engelfried - Waging Nonviolence, January 29, 2021

When President Biden rescinded a crucial permit for the Keystone XL pipeline last week, it marked the culmination of one of the longest, highest-profile campaigns in the North American climate movement. The opposition to Keystone XL included large environmental organizations, grassroots climate activist networks, Nebraska farmers, Texas landowners, Indigenous rights groups and tribal governments. Few environmental campaigns have touched so many people over such large swaths of the continent.

The Keystone XL resistance was part of the ongoing opposition to the Canadian tar sands, one of the most carbon-intensive industrial projects on the planet. Yet, it came to symbolize something even bigger. Many activists saw stopping Keystone XL as a measure of success for the climate movement itself.

“Keystone XL isn’t just any project,” said longtime activist Matt Leonard, who coordinated several major protests against the pipeline. “Its defeat is a testament to what movement building and direct action can accomplish.”

A stroke of President Biden’s pen finally killed Keystone XL. But paving the way for this victory were countless battles at the grassroots level, where activists tested new tactics and organizing strategies that built a bolder, savvier climate movement. Some of the groups involved took radically different approaches to politics, leading to unexpected alliances and occasional bitter feuds. And there were losses — other major oil pipelines, including the southern leg of Keystone XL itself, were completed even as the fight over the more famous northern half dragged on.

Yet, resistance to the Keystone XL’s northern leg succeeded against overwhelming odds. While there is always a possibility it could be resurrected someday, chances of that happening anytime soon seem slim. Understanding how this victory happened — and what it means for the climate movement — requires examining how 10-plus years of tar sands resistance played out in far-flung parts of North America.

The Hydrogen Hype: Gas Industry Fairy Tale or Climate Horror Story?

By Belén Balanyá, Gaëtane Charlier, Frida Kieninger and Elena Gerebizza - Corporate Europe Observatory, December 2020

Industry’s hydrogen hype machine is in full swing. An analysis of over 200 documents obtained through freedom of information rules reveals an intense and concerted lobbying campaign by the gas industry in the EU. The first goal was convincing the EU to embrace hydrogen as the ‘clean’ fuel of the future. Doing so has secured political, financial, and regulatory support for a hydrogen-based economy. The second task was securing support for hydrogen derived from fossil fuels as well as hydrogen made from renewable electricity. Successful lobbying means the gas industry can look forward to a lucrative future, but this spells grave danger for the climate as well as the communities and ecosystems impacted by fossil fuel extractivism.

Pipe Dreams: Why Canada’s proposed pipelines don’t fit in a low carbon world

By Axel Dalman and Andrew Grant - Carbon Tracker - July 2020

Carbon Tracker’s modelling shows no new oil sands are needed in a low carbon world.

Prospective pipeline projects represent a significant expansion of capacity, with taxpayer support. However, new pipelines are surplus to requirements under Paris Agreement demand levels.

Canadian authorities face the challenge of trying to reconcile their natural resources development plans with their positioning on climate. Canada has previously having shown leadership on climate change issues, but its government support for pipelines – which are reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement – risks damaging its credibility.

Key Findings:

Our research has previously shown that no new oil sands projects are needed in a low carbon world. All unsanctioned oil sands projects are uncompetitive under both the International Energy Agency’s 1.7-1.8°C Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS) and c.1.6°C Beyond 2 Degrees Scenario (B2DS).

All proposed new pipelines from Western Canada, in particular Keystone XL and Trans Mountain expansion, are surplus to requirements in a Paris-compliant world. Pipeline capacity may have proved a constraint in recent years, but under SDS, all future oil supplies from Western Canada can be accommodated by upgrades and replacements to existing pipelines, local refining and limited rail freight.

Even if discounts for Canadian crude narrow, new oil sands projects remain uneconomic. Western Canadian heavy oil trades at a steep discount to international benchmarks due to quality and transport challenges, averaging $25 below Brent over the last decade. Even if greater pipeline capacity reduces this to $10 in the future, in line with levels seen during previous periods of unconstrained supply, new projects still remain uneconomic under the SDS. Indeed, even if Canadian heavy oil were to trade at parity with Brent, which is extremely unlikely due to its lower quality, there would still be no new oil sands production under the B2DS and just 120,000 bbl/d would enter the market in the SDS – a level which would be covered by existing rail capacity.

Investors in oil sands face depressed cash flows in a low carbon world of falling oil demand and weak pricing, but will be forced to produce or pay the price due to inflexible “take-or-pay” transport fees for excess new pipeline capacity.

While take-or-pay contracts spread the impacts, pipeline investors still face financial risks as upstream production weakens. Uncontracted capacity will probably remain unused by producers, and contracts may cannibalise tariffs from other pipelines. Even take-or-pay commitments are subject to counterparty risk in a falling oil market.

The Canadian government’s stakes in Keystone XL and Trans Mountain could well prove to be a drain on the public purse. Under the SDS, government tax revenues and the value of the assets are unlikely to reach the levels anticipated at the time of sanction.

Canada’s leadership position on climate change may be undermined by its support for projects reliant on the failure of the Paris Agreement.

Read the report (Link).

Lighting a spark: How to Blow Up a Pipeline

By Harry Holmes - Bright Green, December 14, 2020

How to Blow up A Pipeline starts with what will be a familiar image for many. It’s the yearly climate negotiations, activists have streamed towards the conference space, pleading with representatives to ratchet up their ambition to tackle the climate crisis. People block city traffic with banners, with activists dancing and playing music in the reclaimed streets. The next day brings a giant public theatre performance, with environmentalists pretending to be animals run over by cars whilst ‘negotiators’ walk around with signs saying ‘blah blah blah.’

Was this a collection of Extinction Rebellion activists performing and blocking traffic? Was it even earlier, in 2015 at the Paris negotiations? Maybe it’s 2009, during the economic crisis and the Copenhagen conference? No, this image comes all the way from COP1, the climate conference that started it all – in the lost world that was 1995.

Speaking straight from his experiences of this first COP, Andreas Malm’s recollection of these early climate protest indicates a wider malaise – a certain sluggishness of environmental strategy. Despite the growth in awareness around the climate crisis and the rapid increase in the number of people organising for environmental justice, there has been limited change in the actions climate groups are willing to take to defend life.

In How to Blow Up a Pipeline, Malm has written a short and gripping manifesto which aims to wrench the climate movement out of its complacency. By convincingly arguing against movements’ dogmatic attachment to milquetoast non-violence, Malm makes clear that as the climate crisis escalates so too must the tactics of those seeking to defend life. Not content simply dispelling the misguided understandings of pacifism environmentalists hold, How to Blow Up a Pipeline gives a balanced assessment of the conditions which make sabotage, vandalism, and other forms of strategic direct action necessary in a warming world. Coming out of the pandemic, with movements regrouping and attempting to navigate the mess that is the 2020s, this book is the shock to the system the world needs.

Repairing America’s Aging Pipelines

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, August 2016

Repairing the US nation’s aging natural gas pipelines has the potential to create and support quality, family-sustaining jobs and drive billions in investment. The BlueGreen Alliance’s RECAP campaign was developed to accelerate the repair and replacement of this network to create hundreds of thousands additional jobs while addressing the urgent threat of climate change.

By tripling the rate of repair for leak-prone sections of the nation’s natural gas distribution system, the U.S. can create more than 300,000 good, family-supporting jobs across the economy, save consumers $1.5 billion in charges for lost gas, and prevent the emission of 81 million metric tons of climate change pollution—the equivalent of taking 17 million cars off the road for a year. The economic benefit would be Gross Domestic Product $30 billion higher in a decade versus a business-as-usual 30 year timeline.

At the very least, these jobs are an alternative to construction of new, unneeded, climate destroying gas pipelines.

Read the report (PDF).

LIUNA Partners with Anti-Union Forces, AFP and ALEC Advocating with Koch Money for Risky Keystone XL Tarsands Pipeline

By staff - Bold Nebraska, January 2015

Since 2010, the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) has partnered with several anti-union organizations that are funded by the Koch brothers along with TransCanada to gain approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Many construction unions partner with industry to win approval for projects and secure work for their members; this is often appropriate and productive. However, the industry and political partnerships that LIUNA has forged to gain approval of Keystone XL (KXL) seriously undermines workers’ rights and unions’ strength, and display a complete lack of concern for the broader labor movement or even the longer-term interests of LIUNA members.

In fact, their partnerships with the fossil fuel industry and far right political groups, namely Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), contribute to the vicious attacks on workers, unions and democracy.

Read the report (PDF).

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