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Frontline Organizations Demand a Just Recovery After Millions are Left to Freeze in the Face of Another Climate Catastrophe in Texas & the Southeast

By Diana Lopez and Juan Parras - Climate Justice Alliance, February 18, 2021

As our neighbors burn furniture to stay warm amidst widespread power outages in below freezing temperatures, this arctic weather event, fueled by the climate crisis, has exposed the vulnerability of the Texas power grid and its failure to effectively serve its people. It is clear how much we need a just recovery: an all-encompassing, community-based, solutions oriented approach putting community needs and equity above profit in these times of climate chaos. We must prioritize a Just Transition to a modern, regenerative and renewable energy system, one that is clean and safe for us all.

The current reliance on the fossil fuel industry and the historic stranglehold its industry holds in Texas politics underlies the lack of comprehensive extreme weather planning, mitigation and preparedness. This has left the region, state and especially frontline communities, in a state of continuous crises. While the oil and gas industries have tried to blame what is happening on alternative energy models, the reality is they did not build resilient infrastructure that can adapt to increasingly extreme weather.

An outdated, overly fossil fuel reliant, heavily privatized electricity grid has failed, leaving 3 to 4 million households without power for days not only in Texas, but throughout the region that is the cradle of this industry. Far too many people have died and hundreds more have been hospitalized, as Indigenous, Black, Latinx, Asian and other frontline communities once again remain the hardest hit. Thousands more are also facing contaminated water and massive damages from broken pipes. The privatization of the Texas energy grid is the seed of this crisis, where the profits of fossil fuel industries have been prioritized over the needs of the people.

The climate crisis is risking lives and it is impacting all communities, those at the margins are the hardest hit. Individuals with disabilities that rely on medical respirators, families having to break quarantine to keep eachother safe, and all the while the cost of energy increases during a time where the economy is a long way from stabilizing.The true cost of ignoring climate change is sadly yet to come, as those affected by this most recent extreme weather in the region are seeing the aftermath of burst water pipes, non weatherized homes and outdated infrastructure ill-equipped to handle the reality of climate change.

While our communities work to recover from Covid-19, massive job loss and the current climate crises, now is the time for investments to move toward a Just Transition to rebuild clean water and energy infrastructure for our future. We can put millions of people to work by creating locally controlled clean energy jobs, building new stable systems of power without pollution, and energy without exploitation. This is the time to Build Back Fossil Free.

Water and energy are not commodities — they are basic human rights. We need emergency response right now to distribute solar power, clean water and basic emergency needs for vulnerable communities as well as long term changes toward a healthy and sustainable future. We recognize that other communities in neighboring states are also impacted by the devastating winter vortex, power outages and water shortages. We support their efforts to self organize and will act in coordination and solidarity with all of those on the frontlines of climate catastrophes.

As our communities continue to care for each other through local mutual aid networks long established to deal with crises like these, we call on local and state officials to immediately begin a just recovery by:

Organizers & Organizations, Foundations & Philanthropists

Regenerative & Just 100% Policy Building Blocks Released by Experts from Impacted Communities

By Aiko Schaefer - 100% Network, January 21, 2020

The 100% Network launched a new effort to bring forward and coalesce the expertise from frontline communities into the Comprehensive Building Blocks for a Regenerative and Just 100% Policy. This groundbreaking and extensive document lays out the components of an 100% policy that centers equity and justice. Read the full report here.

Last year 100% Network members who are leading experts from and accountable to black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and frontline communities embarked on a collective effort to detail the components of an ideal 100% policy. The creation of this 90-page document was an opportunity to bring the expertise of their communities together.

The Building Blocks document was designed primarily for frontline organizations looking to develop and implement their own local policies with a justice framework. Secondly, is to build alignment with environmental organizations and intermediary groups that are engaged in developing and advocating for 100% policies. The overall goals of the project are to:

  • Build the capacity of BIPOC frontline public policy advocates, so that impacted community groups who are leading, working to shape or just getting started on 100% policy discussions have information on what should be included to make a policy more equitable, inclusive and just
  • Align around frontline, community-led solutions and leadership, and create a shared analysis and understanding of what it will take to meet our vision for 100% just, equitable renewable energy.
  • Create a resource to help ensure equity-based policy components are both integrated and prioritized within renewable energy/energy efficiency policies. 
  • Build relationships across the movement between frontline, green, and intermediary organizations to create space for the discourse and trust-building necessary to move collaboration forward on 100% equitable, renewable energy policies. 

Remaking Our Energy Future: Towards a Just Energy Transition (JET) in South Africa

By Richard Halsey, Neil Overy, Tina Schubert, Ebenaezer Appies, Liziwe McDaid and Kim Kruyshaar - Project 90 by 2030, September 19, 2019

A just transition (JT) is a highly complex topic, where the overall goal is to shift to systems that are better for people and the planet, and to do so in a fair and managed way that “leaves no one behind”. A JT is about justice in the context of fundamental changes within the economy and the society.

Both of these areas are extremely contested, consensus is hard to achieve, and people are generally resistant to change. A JT confronts “business as usual” and threatens powerful vested interests in certain economic sectors. In recent years, a vast amount of literature on the subject has been published, and in South Africa the conversation has picked up pace. The urgency of acting now is indisputable.

While a JT can apply to many sectors and industries, this publication focuses on energy. In addition to being a major contributor to climate change, environmental damage and impacts on human health, the energy sector (particularly Eskom), is facing significant challenges in South Africa. We fully acknowledge that energy is linked to other sectors such as transport, agriculture, water and land use, and that a just energy transition (JET) is a part of a wider JT. While the focus of this report is on one sector, we do so recognising that it is linked to other parts of a larger system in many ways.

Our approach was to look at what we can learn from international experience, to combine that with what has already been done in South Africa, and to make recommendations about how to move forward. This publication focuses on the shift from coal to renewable energy (RE), mainly for electricity generation. We are well aware that a movement away from fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) is far more than just moving from coal to RE, but as discussed in Chapter 3, this particular transition is the obvious starting point in South Africa. The lessons and recommendations presented here can also be adapted to other fossil fuel sectors. While the focus of this study is on coal, a big picture perspective of the energy system is crucial. South Africa must adopt an integrated planning approach, for energy and other sectors.

Read the text (PDF).

Doing It Right: Colstrip's Bright Future With Cleanup

By staff - Northern Plains Research Council and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1638, July 2018

In 2018, Northern Plains Research Council partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local union 1638 to conduct a research study into the job creation potential of coal ash pond cleanup in Colstrip, Montana.

Because coal ash pond closure and associated groundwater remediation is only now becoming a priority for power plants, there are many unanswered questions about the size and nature of the workforce needed to do it right. This study aims to shed light on some of the cleanup work being done now around the country and what that might mean for the Colstrip workforce and community.

From the executive summary: Coal ash waste is polluting the groundwater in Colstrip, but cleaning it up could provide many jobs and other economic benefits while protecting community health.

This study was conducted to analyze the job-creation potential of cleaning up the groundwater in Colstrip, Montana, that has been severely contaminated from leaking impoundments meant to store the coal ash from the power plants (Colstrip Units 1, 2, 3 and 4). Unless remediated, this contamination poses a major threat to public health, livestock operations, and the environment for decades.

Communities benefit from coal ash pond cleanup but the positive impacts of cleanup can vary widely depending on the remediation approach followed. Certain strategies like excavating coal ash ponds and actively treating wastewater lead to more jobs, stabilized property values, and effective groundwater cleanup while others accomplish only the bare minimum for legal compliance.

This study demonstrates that, with the right cleanup strategies, job creation and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand, securing the future of the community as a whole.

Read the text (PDF).

Ecosocialism or Bust

By Thea Riofrancos, Robert Shaw, Will Speck - Jacobin, April 20, 2018

At this past February’s “Alternative Models of Ownership Conference” hosted by the Labour Party in London, party leader Jeremy Corbyn asserted the centrality of energy policy to his vision of socialism: “The challenge of climate change requires us to radically shift the way we organize our economy.” He outlined a radical vision of an energy system powered by wind and solar, organized as a decentralized grid, democratically controlled by the communities that rely on it, and — crucially — publicly owned.

Corbyn’s declaration laid out an exciting and ambitious vision of how socialists can press on climate change. But it also served as a reminder that socialists need to get serious about the politics of energy — lest disaster capitalism continue to shape energy policy. We must get involved in concrete campaigns to transform how energy is governed and push for a just transition to renewable sources. The terrain of energy politics is multifaceted, comprising the production, transformation, distribution, and consumption of energy. Energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, biomass, hydropower, sunlight, and wind each entail distinct social and environmental costs related to their extraction or capture, and their subsequent transformation into usable electricity. Electrical grids connect energy production and transformation to its sites of consumption. Grids encompass both the high-voltage transmission of electricity from where it’s generated to population centers, and the direct distribution of that electricity to homes and businesses. In the US, beginning in the early 1990s, energy deregulation encouraged a separation in ownership between energy generation and its distribution, resulting in an increasingly complex set of state-level markets of competing energy providers, which in turn sell energy to the private, public, or cooperatively owned utilities.

Reclaiming Public Services: How cities and citizens are turning back privatisation

Edited by Satoko Kishimoto and Olivier Petitjean - Transnational Institute, June 2017

You would be forgiven, especially if you live in Europe, to think that public services are by nature expensive, inefficient, maybe even somewhat outdated, and that reforming them to adapt to new challenges is difficult. It would seem natural to assume – because this is what most politicians, media and so-called experts tell us continuously – that we, as citizens and users, should resign ourselves to paying ever higher tariffs for services of an ever lower standard, and that service workers have no choice but to accept ever more degraded conditions. It would seem that private companies will inevitably play an ever larger role in the provision of public services, because everything has a price, because politicians have lost sight of the common good and citizens are only interested in their own individual pursuits.

This book, however, tells a completely different story. Sometimes it may feel as though we are living in a time when profit and austerity are our only horizons. In reality, below the radar, thousands of politicians, public officials, workers and unions, and social movements are working to reclaim or create effective public services that address the basic needs of people and respond to our social, environmental and climate challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Our research shows there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalisation of public services worldwide in recent years, some of them involving several cities. In total there have been more than 1600 cities in 45 countries involved in (re)municipalisation. And these (re)municipalisations generally succeed-ed in bringing down costs and tariffs, improving conditions for workers and boosting service quality, while ensuring greater transparency and accountability.

Read the text (PDF).

Just Transition: Joint Proposal of PG&E, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, IBEW Local 1245, et. al. to Retire Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

By Various - June 20, 2016

This document is an example of an actual "Just Transition" agreement hammered out through negotiations after years of organizing by environmental organizations and dialog with unions. While it's no doubt far from perfect, it still represents a starting point for similar campaigns elsewhere, and like a union contract, it's the product of negotiations following struggle. To secure better deals, the unions and ecological movements need to keep organizing and building their collective power.

Read the report (PDF).

Enron Played Central Role in California Energy Crisis

Greg Palast and Robert Bryce interviewed by Amy Goodman - Democracy Now, May 16, 2006

[in 2001] California was plunged into an unprecedented energy crisis. Rolling blackouts shut down parts of the state. Power bills soared. It turned out that at the center of the crisis was Enron — although the company’s role wasn’t fully understood at the time. We play excerpts of audiotapes that proved Enron asked power companies to take plants offline at the height of the California energy crisis–in order to make more money.

AMY GOODMAN: In California, the state’s former governor Gray Davis praised the jury for convicting Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling. David said, quote, "Given the way Enron ripped off California, I think the jury did an excellent job. I take some solace in the fact that Lay and Skilling be will send some time in prison," he said. Six years ago, California was plunged into an unprecedented energy crisis, rolling blackouts shut down parts of the state, power bills soared. It turned out that at the center of the crisis was Enron, although the company’s role wasn’t fully understood at the time. Two years ago, lawyers involved in a lawsuit in Washington state obtained audio tapes that proved Enron asked power companies to take plants offline at the height of the California energy crisis, in order to make more money. In one taped phone call, an Enron employee celebrated the fact that a massive forest fire had shut down a transmission line carrying energy into California, causing the price of energy to rise.

California's Energy Crisis: Structural adjustment - American style

California's Energy Crisis: Power to the People?

By Jessie Muldoon and Todd Chretien - International Socialist Review, February-March 2001

THE LIGHTS are out in California. Rolling blackouts have cut electricity to millions. Only this time, it's not the San Andreas Fault that's to blame. It's the free market.

A year ago, electricity cost roughly 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour on the wholesale market. Today, that same amount costs upward of 40 cents. Why? Back in 1996, energy companies and big businesses showered millions of dollars on California politicians, convincing them to vote unanimously to "deregulate" the publicly owned and managed state electrical utility system. The state would no longer set prices and supervise the industry. In exchange, the energy companies promised Californians lower prices and cleaner power brought on by free-market competition.

Instead, a handful of energy profiteers have made a killing, while millions of Californians suffer higher rates and the harmful effects of power outages. The results of the power crunch have been devastating to ordinary people. Nathaniel Goodwin, who is 73, has emphysema and needs an electrical oxygen concentrator to breathe. As rolling blackouts spread across California, he stocked up on crackers and peanut butter, arranged for a battery-powered backup, and hoped for the best. "I live by myself and I've got to have my oxygen," he told a reporter.1

"We've got elderly folks with arthritis who have to have heat. Many of them have medical devices they need to live and no one knows what will happen when the electricity is turned off," said Marie Harrison, a community leader in the Bay View Hunters Point district of San Francisco, which is predominantly Black.2

The utility companies claim that hospitals and fire stations will not be affected by the blackouts, but two hospitals--Valley Convalescent Hospital in Watsonville and Community Medical Centers in Fresno--suffered outages. Across the state, workers are paying the price for deregulation. California Steel Industries of Fontana, the largest steel plant on the West Coast, sent 400 workers home without pay because of skyrocketing electrical costs. The Miller Brewing Company plant in Irwindale laid off its whole workforce for a week without pay.3

Schools have lost power or have been forced to cut back on heat, leaving tens of thousands of children shivering in the dark. Contrary to popular belief, temperatures during California winters often hover between 40 and 50 degrees, and few buildings have proper insulation. Meanwhile, the crisis shut down some of California's biggest oil refineries, which could quickly lead to a substantial hike in prices at the pumps. A dairy farmer put it this way: "This problem has the potential to be substantially more devastating than any earthquake we've seen."4

One economist estimated that the state lost $1.7 billion in wages, sales, and productivity in just one week of blackouts.5 And there is no end in sight. The Independent System Operator (ISO), the state-appointed agency that controls the California power grid, warned that Californians should get used to rolling blackouts for at least the next two years.6

This article explores how deregulation and the free market are behind the crisis, and why we should fight for public power as a solution.

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