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Want to Know How We Can Win a Just Transition? States Hold a Key

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, November 16, 2021

The climate justice movement has undoubtedly picked up steam in the last three years as talk of a Green New Deal has made its way into the mainstream. But even after uphill and innovative organizing, our federal government has not adequately responded to the serious and existential threat of climate change: The Build Back Better bill, touted by the Biden administration as our generation’s great hope for action on climate change, has been almost completely gutted in Congress, where it still awaits passage. And after the ultra-wealthy took private jets to and from the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, it does not appear that the urgent action we need will come any time soon. As temperatures increase and storms become worse, the environmental situation is even more dire: Humans can expect ​“untold suffering,” scientists warn, including mass extinction and death, if we don’t act fast.

Amid our elected leaders’ monumental failures, the climate justice movement has smartly moved its focus away from pet projects, like small-scale lawsuits, and towards organizing to build a movement with enough popular support to change our political system. To get the numbers we need — of workers in the many millions — it is necessary to ensure that climate solutions, whether it’s stopping coal extraction or halting fossil fuel digging, don’t abandon workers in those industries. This is the idea behind a ​“just transition,” which aims to move to an environmentally sustainable economy while making sure all workers have safe and dignified work. 

State by state, organizers are working hard to make a just transition a reality and, fortunately, there are a few wins to point to. Unions and environmental groups won a joint victory this June, when the Climate and Community Investment Act, SB 999, passed in Connecticut. The legislation will do three important things: require prevailing wages for construction workers on renewable energy projects, ensure renewable energy projects create good, union jobs for Connecticut residents from disadvantaged communities, and negotiate community benefits agreements, which are agreements that describe a developer’s obligations to the broader community.

This state-level legislation is a step toward an urgent — and existential — need. Kimberly Glassman is the director of the Foundation for Fair Contracting of Connecticut, a non-profit organization that represents both building trades unions and union contractors to monitor public works’ projects for compliance with wage and other labor laws. She told In These Times, ​“As we transition away from fossil fuel dependent energy into green energy, [we have to make sure] that the workforce that has built their livelihoods in the fossil fuel industry has a way to transition and has access to good paying jobs in the green energy sector.” 

Spurred by unions, states make strides on climate action

By Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Pat Devaney, Secretary-Treasurer of the Illinois AFL-CIO - Climate Jobs National Resources Center, November 4, 2021

With Washington still negotiating critical climate provisions in the reconciliation bill, you’d be forgiven for feeling impatient. The dual crises of climate change and extreme inequality are a threat to our society, and every one of us has a stake in pushing our elected leaders to build a climate-safe and equitable future.

Fortunately, workers and their unions are making tremendous progress in advancing bold legislation at the state level to address these two existential crises. Just last week, labor unions united under the Climate Jobs Illinois coalition scored a massive victory for workers and the planet when Illinois enacted a landmark climate bill that sets the state on a path to a carbon-free power sector by 2045 with the strongest-in-the-nation labor and equity standards.

Thanks to the labor movement’s leadership on climate change, the Illinois bill will slash emissions, create thousands of new clean energy union jobs, expand union apprenticeships for Black and Latinx communities, increase energy efficiency for public schools, and safeguard thousands of union workers at the state’s nuclear plants that currently generate the bulk of Illinois’ zero-emissions energy. It also contains a transition program for families and communities currently reliant on jobs in the fossil fuel industry. This win shows what’s possible when workers and their unions lead on pursuing bold climate action at the scale that science demands.

Illinois isn’t alone. This summer, unions and environmental groups in Connecticut organized to pass strong labor and equity standards for renewable energy projects through the state legislature. The legislation they won includes prevailing wage and project labor agreement provisions and requires energy developers to partner with in-state apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, which will expand access to good union jobs, specifically in communities of color that have seen generations of underinvestment and underemployment.

Illinois sets U.S. standard for equity and labour standards in new Climate and Equitable Jobs Act

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, October 6, 2021

The Climate and Equitable Jobs Act  (SB2408) is a 900-page bill signed into law by the Governor of Illinois in September 2021. It is summarized by Natural Resources Defence in a blog titled “Illinois Passes Nation-Leading, Equitable Climate Bill”, by David Roberts in his new blog, Volts, and by the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition press release

Why does David Roberts call it “ one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country”? Some highlights: the CEJA requires Illinois to achieve a 100% zero-emissions power sector by 2045 (including their coal power plant), while encouraging electrification of transportation and buildings, and reforms to the utility rate structure. It increases the existing Solar for All funding (by 5 times) to help low-income families to switch to solar energy, creates a Green Bank to finance clean energy projects. For workers, the Act requires that all utility-scale renewable energy projects must use project-labor agreements, and all non-residential clean-energy projects must pay prevailing wages. Diversity hiring reports will be required to prove that projects have recruited qualified BIPOC candidates and apprentices. The Act also provides funds for 13 Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs across the state, to deliver workforce-development programs to low-income and underserved populations. According to David Roberts, “The Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and the Illinois Department of Employment Security will work together to develop a “displaced worker bill of rights,” with $40 million a year to go toward transition assistance for areas dependent on fossil fuel production or generation.”

The CEJA is a model not only for what it contains, but also how it was achieved. Roberts calls it “a model for how diverse stakeholders can reach consensus” and describes the years-long process in detail: “The state’s labor community was sensitive to the fact that it had largely been left out of the 2016 bill; the legislation contained no labor standards, and recent years have seen Illinois renewable energy projects importing cheaper out-of-state workforces. Labor didn’t want to get left behind in the state’s energy transition, so it organized a coalition of groups under the banner Climate Jobs Illinois and set about playing an active role in negotiations. Environmental and climate-justice groups organized as the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. All the groups introduced energy bills of their own. And then they spent years banging their heads together. A special shout-out goes to the environmental-justice community in Illinois, which used three years of relentless grassroots organizing to build an incredible political force, without which the bill couldn’t have passed and wouldn’t have been as equity-focused.” The result, according to Roberts, “As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state’s energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.”

Labor is Leading: Building the Climate Jobs Movement Now!

Illinois Now Boasts the ‘Most Equitable’ Climate Law in America. So What Will That Mean?

By Brett Chase and Dan Gearino - Inside Climate News, September 17, 2021

Illinois is now the first Midwestern state to set climate-fighting targets for phasing out coal and natural gas in favor of cleaner energy sources like wind and solar power.

The bill that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law on Wednesday sets a goal for Illinois to move to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

The new law promises thousands of new jobs in clean energy, with an emphasis on hiring people of color. It sets priorities for closing sources of pollution in so-called environmental justice communities. And it gives almost $700 million over five years to subsidize three Northern Illinois nuclear power plants owned by Exelon. 

The law was pushed through by a coalition of environmental, community and religious activists who held more than 100 community meetings over the last three years with thousands of people around the state. That process was in sharp contrast to what happened five years ago, when utility companies dominated the writing of the state’s last major energy law. 

After Years of Grassroots Efforts, Illinois Passes Nation-Leading Climate and Equity Bill

By Renner Barsella and Hannah Lee Flath - Sierra Club, September 15, 2021

SPRINGFIELD, IL -- Today, Governor Pritzker signed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (SB2408) into law, marking one of the nation’s most groundbreaking advancements in climate justice and workforce transition. 

“This landmark legislation is a historic step forward for climate justice in Illinois, the Midwest, and the nation. As the largest polluter in the Midwest, and historically a major coal-producing state, Illinois is now on course to show what a just transition to a clean energy future can look like, lifting up workers and communities while achieving our climate goals,” said Sierra Club Illinois Director Jack Darin. “We have shown not only that jobs, justice, and climate are inextricably linked, but also that there are tangible policy solutions here that could be a useful model for lawmakers in DC and across the country. Sierra Club unequivocally opposes nuclear energy, and though this bill includes difficult compromises, it overwhelmingly supports true clean energy resources like wind, solar, and energy efficiency, putting Illinois on track to replace all retiring dirty energy, including Exelon’s nuclear fleet, with 100% clean energy ”

Sierra Club joined other environmental advocates with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition in support of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which sets bold targets to: 

  • Put Illinois on a path to 100% renewable energy by 2050 by increasing Illinois’ Renewable Portfolio Standard to 40% by 2030, 50% by 2040, and setting an ultimate goal of 100% clean energy by 2050, generating approximately $10 billion for Illinois renewables. 

  • Prioritize clean energy investments, job training, hiring, ownership, and new business creation in BIPOC, low-income, and environmental justice communities through some of the most progressive programs in the nation, including: 

    • a $50 million/year expansion to the Illinois Solar for All Program launched under the Future Energy Jobs Act, 

    • over $80 million/year to build a network of workforce hubs and contractor development programs, 

    • over $35 million/year for business development grants and low-cost inclusive capital access, 

    • minimum diversity and equity requirements for all renewable energy projects and support for BIPOC contractors. 

  • Completely decarbonize Illinois’ energy sector by 2045 with retirement tiers for coal and gas plants based in part on plants’ proximity to environmental justice communities and local pollution impacts. This approach marks an important shift in climate policy that prioritizes emissions reductions first from plants with the worst environmental justice impacts rather than a singular focus on greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Create just transition programs for communities and workers impacted by power plant and mine closures, including a Displaced Energy Worker Bill of Rights to support job training and placement needs, scholarship funds, and health care support. 

  • Tackle Illinois’ heavily polluting transportation sector by committing millions over the next decade to expanding access to and adoption of electric vehicles, public transit, and medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles with the objective of 40% of the benefits going to environmental justice and economically disadvantaged communities. 

  • Install rigorous new ethics standards with restrictions and transparency into utility finances and lobbying activities. 

Climate Jobs Illinois Applauds Senate Passage of Clean Energy Legislation to Create Thousands of Union Jobs, put State on Path to be 100% Carbon Free by 2045

By Staff - Climate Jobs Illinois, September 2021

Labor coalition urges Gov. Pritzker to sign bill immediately

Legislation sets national precedent for labor standards on clean energy projects, expands job and apprenticeships for Black and Latinx communities

UPDATE: Governor Pritzker signed this bill into law.

Springfield, Ill. — Labor coalition Climate Jobs Illinois (CJI) praised the Illinois Senate’s passage of historic legislation to move Illinois to a carbon-free economy by 2045 and called on Gov. Pritzker to sign SB2408 immediately to get thousands of union members and new apprentices from Black and Latinx communities to work building the state’s clean energy infrastructure of the future.

CJI Executive Director Joe Duffy issued the following statement after the Senate vote:

“We commend our partners in the Senate for their steadfast leadership and their commitment to getting this bill over the finish line. What this legislation proves is that we don’t have to choose between jobs and a cleaner, fairer future. We can do both.

With this landmark legislation, we will build the clean energy economy of the future—powered by union jobs—to reverse generations of carbon emissions and build a pathway to the middle class for new generations of highly trained workers from historically disinvested communities. We will justly transition from fossil fuels and raise the bar on transparency and accountability for utilities and energy developers in the greater interest of ratepayers and consumers.

This bill is the most pro-worker, pro-climate legislation in the country and will establish Illinois as a leader in fighting the climate crisis. The urgent need for bold climate action cannot wait any longer, and we can’t wait to get to work building a cleaner, fairer future for Illinois. We urge Gov. Pritzker to immediately sign this legislation.”

SB 2408 sets the strongest clean energy labor standards in the country and promises to raise the bar for other states seeking to enact new labor and employment policies for building and maintaining clean energy developments.

The bill will create thousands of new clean energy union jobs, expand union apprenticeships for Black and Latinx communities, increase energy efficiency for public schools and safeguard thousands of union workers at the state’s nuclear plants that currently generate the bulk of Illinois’ zero-emissions energy.

Climate Jobs and Just Transition Summit: Maine, Texas, Illinois and Connecticut

Coal Plant Communities Seek a Just Economic Transition

By Lilli Ambort - Institute for Local Self-Reliance, August 7, 2020

Xcel Energy’s announcement that the Sherburne County Generating Station (Sherco) in Becker, Minn. will close by 2030 did not come as a surprise, but for local residents, the uncertainty of the city’s economic future has become a pervasive issue. Sherco is one of the largest coal-powered generating stations in the state, with three boilers and a total capacity of 2,238 megawatts. The Sherco power plant provides 301 jobs and a huge portion of the small city’s tax base. Sherburne County Commissioner Tim Dolan remarks “At 77% [of the City’s tax base], it’s probably easier to point to stuff [Sherco] didn’t pay for. It’s a much shorter list.”

Xcel Energy plans to replace two of the coal boilers with a 786 megawatt gas plant that will provide roughly 30 permanent jobs. Environmentally, the closure of coal plants drastically reduces carbon emissions and air pollution (but the addition of a gas plant at Sherco is questionable). Economically, Becker and many cities like it are left scrambling, looking for alternative forms of employment and tax revenue.

As gas dethrones coal generation as the ruler of the U.S. power sector, the cost of running coal power plants becomes economically uncompetitive. Eventually, gas may be surpassed by renewable energy, with solar and wind expected to be the fastest growing source of electricity generation for the next two years. For communities that rely on coal plants for tax revenue and jobs, the early closure of these plants spells trouble even as it reduces pollution and saves electric customers money. The transition away from fossil fuels provides new economic opportunities, but the question becomes whether these clean energy opportunities can replace lost income and tax revenue from coal generation plants.

Despite the news about the Sherco plant, Becker city officials remain hopeful for new economic opportunities that may come from the plant closure. Becker has attracted the attention of Google, which is looking to build a $600 million data center next to Sherco, potentially generating 2,000 short-term construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. The data center would be powered by two wind power projects. While the Google project is still up in the air, Northern Metal Recycling is already moving to build a metal recycling plant next to Sherco, with the potential to create about 150 jobs in Becker. The possibility of new jobs, new people, and new tax revenue excites residents, and for now, these new developments do not completely replace all the jobs and tax revenue lost from the closure of Sherco, but they provide some economic hope. Unfortunately, other communities across the U.S. have not been as lucky, left with little to no other options for economic revitalization after coal plant closures.

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