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Unions Making a Green New Deal From Below: Part 2

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, June 2022

This second of two commentaries on “Unions Making a Green New Deal from Below” portrays what it looks like when unions in a town decide to create a local Green New Deal or when unions in a state decide to transform their economy to expand jobs and justice by protecting the climate.

Workers and unions are among those who have the most to gain by climate protection that produces good jobs and greater equality. That’s why unions in the most diverse industries and occupations are creating their own Green New Deal-type programs in localities around the country. Here are some examples:

Climate-Safe Energy Production–From Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, February 2022

Climate-safe energy is being produced locally all over the country in ways that also produce jobs and increase racial, social, and economic justice – fulfilling the basic principles of the Green New Deal.

Protecting the climate requires meeting the original Green New Deal proposal’s goal of 100% of national power generation from renewable sources within ten years.[1] That requires greatly expanding climate-safe sources of energy. It involves an unprecedented transformation of the energy system, and that requires national investment and planning. But much of the transformation will actually be composed of local building blocks – and those can begin right now. Indeed, hundreds of local initiatives around the country, ranging from community solar to municipal ownership to local microgrids, are already expanding renewable energy production.

Sunlight, Jobs, and Justice

Solar gardens are sprouting up all over Denver.

On November 3, 2020, Denver voters overwhelmingly approved Ballot Measure 2A, the Climate Protection Fund, to raise approximately $40 million per year dedicated to climate action. As stated in the ballot measure, the intent of this fund is to “fund programs to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution and adapt to climate change. Funding should maximize investments in communities of color, under-resourced communities and communities most vulnerable to climate change.”[2]

Community solar gardens use photovoltaic (PV) panels to produce electricity from sunlight for an entire neighborhood. Now such solar gardens are dotting sites owned and financed by the City of Denver, including rooftops, parking lots, and vacant lands. The power generated from the solar gardens will be shared between city facilities, income-qualified residents, and publicly accessible electric vehicle charging stations.

In accord with the principles of the Green New Deal, Denver’s solar garden program has a strong justice dimension. Since Denver owns the project, it can set its own standards. Ten percent of the energy generated by the solar gardens is allocated to low-income housing through the Denver Housing Authority. An additional 10 percent will be allocated to low-income households through Energy Outreach Colorado, and will be exempt from subscription fees. A paid workforce training program available to Denver residents will provide 10 percent of the city and county’s solar workforce.

The solar gardens are designed to contribute to the goal of Denver’s “80 x 50 Climate Action Plan” to transition Denver to 100 percent renewable electricity for municipal buildings by 2025; achieve 100 percent community-wide renewable electricity by 2030; and reduce Denver’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent, as compared to a 2005 baseline, by 2050.[3]

Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

By Liz Shuler - AFL-CIO, September 17, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

2018 Massachusetts Offshore Wind Workforce Assessment

By Paul Vigeant, et. al. - Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, January 2019

The 2018 Massachusetts Offshore Wind Workforce Assessment provides a comprehensive analysis of the workforce needs and economic development impacts associated with the deployment of 1600 megawatts of offshore wind in Massachusetts. The report describes the jobs associated with planning, constructing and servicing offshore wind projects and provides information on the education, skills and health and safety credentials required for each job. Importantly, the report highlights the opportunities for Massachusetts residents to work in this emerging industry, and identifies recommendations and key strategies to better position the Commonwealth, offshore wind industry, educational institutions, non-profits, and labor to develop and serve a burgeoning offshore wind workforce.

Read the Report (PDF).

Prison Drinking Water and Wastewater Pollution Threaten Environmental Safety Nationwide

By John E. Dannenberg - Prison Legal News, November 15, 2017

Aging infrastructure concerns are not limited to America's highways, bridges and dams. Today, crumbling, overcrowded prisons and jails nationwide are bursting at the seams -- literally -- leaking environmentally dangerous effluents not just inside prisons, but also into local rivers, water tables and community water supplies. Because prisons are inherently detested and ignored institutions, the hidden menace of pollution from them has stayed below the radar. In this report, PLN exposes the magnitude and extent of the problem from data collected over the past several years from seventeen states.

Alabama

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been ignoring complaints of wastewater pollution from its prisons since 1991. Back then, the problem was limited to leaking sewage from the St. Clair prison. Although the Alabama Legislature promised to provide the $2.3 million needed to build a new wastewater treatment plant that would match St. Clair's vastly expanded population, no money has been appropriated.

Today, the problem has grown statewide and includes pollution from ADOC's Draper, Elmore, Fountain/Holman, Limestone prisons and the Farcquhar Cattle Ranch and Red Eagle Honor Farm. The problem has drawn the ire of the private watchdog group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) and of the state Attorney General (AG), both of whom have filed lawsuits against ADOC. The AG's office claims ADOC is violating the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act (Act) by dumping raw sewage into Little Canoe Creek, from which it flows into the Coosa River. The AG has demanded that ADOC fix the problems and pay fines for the damage they have caused. All parties acknowledge that the problems stem from ADOC's doubling of its population to 28,000, while the wastewater treatment facilities were designed for less than half that number.

The environmental damage is huge. ADOC is pumping extremely high levels of toxic ammonia, fecal coliform, viruses, and parasites into local streams and rivers. When raw sewage hits clean water, it sucks up the available dissolved oxygen to aid decomposition. But in so doing, it asphyxiates aquatic plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.
Telltale disaster signs include rising water temperatures and the appearance of algae blooms. The pollution renders public waterways unfit for human recreation as well.

BWR notes in its suit that Donaldson State Prison has committed 1,060 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1999, dumping raw sewage into Big Branch and Valley creeks, and thence into the Black Warrior River. BWR seeks fines for the violations, which could range from $100 to $25,000 each. Peak overflows were documented at 808,000 gallons in just one day, which isn't surprising for a wastewater treatment plant designed to handle a maximum of 270,000 gallons per day. Donaldson, designed to hold only 990 prisoners, has 1,500 today.

One path to reformation was found in turning over wastewater treatment to privately-run local community water treatment districts. Donaldson came into compliance with its wastewater permit after contracting with Alabama Utility Services in 2005. Limestone and other ADOC prisons are now seeking privatization solutions.

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