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Joe Biden

Making "Build Back Better" Better: Aligning Climate, Jobs, and Justice

By Jeremy Brecher - Common Dreams, June 1, 2021

At the end of March 2021, President Joe Biden laid out his $2 trillion American Jobs Plan–part of his "Build Back Better" infrastructure program–to "reimagine and rebuild a new economy." Congress is expected to spend months debating and revising the plan. The public and many special interests will play a significant role in that process. President Biden has promised to follow up with additional proposals to further address climate policy and social needs.

Many particular interests will seek to benefit from the overall Build Back Better program–and that's good. But as Congress and the public work to shape the ultimate form of that program, we also need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize: combining climate, jobs, and justice. What policies can integrate the needs of working people, the most oppressed, and our threatened climate and environment?

The Green New Deal reconfigured American politics with its core proposition: fix joblessness and inequality by putting people to work at good jobs fixing the climate. The Biden administration's Build Back Better (BBB) plan has put that idea front and center in American politics. Now we need to specify strategies that will actually achieve all three objectives at once.

There are many valuable plans that have been proposed in addition to Biden's Build Back Better plan. They include the original Green New Deal resolution sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; the THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) Agenda; the Evergreen Action Plan; the Sierra Club's "How to Build Back Better" economic renewal plan; the AFL-CIO's "Energy Transitions" proposals; the BlueGreen Alliance's "Solidarity for Climate Action," and a variety of others. All offer contributions for overall vision and for policy details.

There are six essential elements that must be integrated in order to realize the Build Back Better we need for climate, jobs, and justice:

  • Managed decline of fossil fuel burning
  • Full-spectrum job creation
  • Fair access to good jobs
  • Labor rights and standards
  • Urgent and effective climate protection
  • No worker or community left behind

These strategies can serve as criteria for developing, evaluating, and selecting policies to make Build Back Better all that it could be.

Just transition needed in transit electrification, labor leaders say

By Chris Teale - Utility Dive, April 27, 2021

Dive Brief:

  • As public transit agencies electrify their bus fleets and other vehicles, they must ensure a just transition to protect workers who may be put out of work by the new technologies, transportation labor groups warned Monday.
  • In a joint policy statement, leaders of two unions that represent transportation workers — the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Transport Workers Union (TWU), alongside the Transportation Trades Department of the AFL-CIO (TTD) — said transit agencies should be required to show the workforce impacts of buying electric vehicles (EVs), establish a national workforce training center to train current employees on those systems and guarantee that workers will be represented on task forces and committees around climate change and technology.
  • The groups cautioned that if the federal government fails to mandate worker protections as transit agencies electrify their operations, major job losses could result, while a lack of training programs could leave workers unprepared for the next generation of vehicles.

Read the remainder of the article here.

White House targets $38B to aid coal sector transition, but it's likely not enough, analysts say

By Emma Penrod - Utility Dive, April 26, 2021

Dive Brief:

  • Existing federal programs have up to $38 billion in unspent funds available that could be used to spur job creation in communities impacted by the decline of the coal industry, according to a report released Friday by the White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization.

  • President Joe Biden "is taking real steps to address the problems head on and not gloss over and say everything's going to be fine for workers because we're going to create a bunch of jobs," said Carol Zabin, director of the Green Economy Program at UC Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education. "He's saying everything can be fine, if we make those jobs union."

  • While likely necessary to maintain public support for cutting carbon emissions, it remains to be seen whether the policies outlined in the report will spur economic recovery in affected communities, according to Zabin and Ed Crooks, vice-chair of Americas for energy research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

Mineworkers Union Supports Biden's Green Energy Plan

By Brian Young - ucommBlog, April 21, 2021

One of the biggest impediments to President Biden’s climate plan has done a 180 and is now supporting the plan.

The United Mineworkers of America (UMWA) announced this week that they support the President’s green energy policies in exchange for a robust transition strategy. The union hopes that this will mean more jobs for their members as it becomes clear that more industries are moving away from coal. The move by the UMWA is especially important as they have a close working relationship with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin whose support will be needed to pass any green energy plan. Manchin is also the Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The union is also calling on Congress to allocate funds to train miners for good-paying jobs with benefits in renewable energy sectors.

President Biden has proposed allocating $16 billion to reclaim abandoned mines and to plug leaking gas and oil wells. This would not only provide bridge jobs for workers in areas like West Virginia, but it would also address serious environmental issues that these abandoned mines and wells are causing.

Mineworkers President Cecil Roberts said in a live-streamed event with the National Press Club that coal jobs decreased by 7,000 last year leaving only about 34,000 active coal miners in the United States.

“Change is coming, whether we seek it or not. Too many inside and outside the coalfields have looked the other way when it comes to recognizing and addressing specifically what that change must be, but we can look away no longer,” the United Mineworkers stated. “We must act, while acting in a way that has real, positive impact on the people who are most affected by this change.”

“We have to think about the people who have already lost their jobs,” Roberts said. “I’m for any jobs that we can create that would be good-paying jobs for our brothers and sisters who have lost them in the UMWA. As we confront a next wave of energy transition, we must take steps now to ensure that things do not get worse for coal miners, their families, and communities, but in fact get better."

To help these workers through a just transition, the union is proposing significant increases in federal funding for carbon capture technology and storage research and development funding. They are also calling for building out a carbon capture infrastructure such as pipelines and injection wells. This would allow coal-fired plants to remain open, but they would have to install technology that would capture emissions and store them underground instead of in the atmosphere.

Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition

By staff - United Mineworkers of America, April 20, 2021

At the end of 2011, nearly 92,000 people worked in the American coal industry, the most since 1997. Coal production in the United States topped a billion tons for the 21st consecutive year. Both thermal and metallurgical coal were selling at premium prices, and companies were making record profits.

Then the bottom fell out. The global economy slowed, putting pressure on steelmaking and metallurgical coal production. Foreign competition from China, Australia, India and elsewhere cut into met coal production.

Domestically, huge increases in production from newly-tapped natural gas fields, primarily as a result of hydraulic fracturing of deep shale formations, caused the price of gas to drop below that of coal for the first time in years. As a result, utilities began switching the fuel used to generate electricity from coal to gas. An enlarging suite of environmental regulations also adversely impacted coal usage, production and employment.

By 2016, just 51,800 people were working in the coal industryii. 40,000 jobs had been
lost.

Companies went bankrupt. Retirees’ hard-won retiree health care and pensions were threatened. Active union miners saw their collective bargaining agreements – including provisions that had been negotiated over decades -- thrown out by federal bankruptcy courts. Nonunion miners had no recourse in bankruptcy courts and were forced to accept whatever scraps their employers chose to throw their way.

Since 2012, more than 60 coal companies have filed either for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy or Chapter 7 liquidation. Almost no company has been immune.

In 2017 and again in 2019, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and its bipartisan allies in Congress, led by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), successfully preserved the retiree health care and pensions that the government had promised and tens of thousands of miners had earned in sweat and blood.

The UMWA was successful in preserving union recognition, our members’ jobs and reasonable levels of pay and benefits at every company as they emerged from bankruptcy, but in no case has the contract that came out of bankruptcy been the same as the one our members enjoyed when a company went into bankruptcy

Read the text (PDF).

Don’t call it a Just Transition: United Mineworkers announce Principles for Preserving Coal Country

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, April 20, 2021

United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts was accompanied by West Virginia’s senior Senator Joe Manchin on April 19 when he announced the UMWA’s new principles for addressing climate change and the energy transition. Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition is built on three goals: “preserve coal jobs, create new jobs, and preserve coalfield families and communities.” The UMWA statement calls for specific steps to achieve those goals, including enhanced incentives for carbon capture and storage research, with a goal of commercial demonstration of utility-scale coal-fired CCS by 2030; tax incentives for build-out of renewable supply-chain manufacturing in coalfield areas, with hiring preference for dislocated miners and families; and provision of wage replacement, family health care coverage, and pension credit/401(k) contribution, as well as tuition aid. For the community, the principles call for direct grants to coalfield counties/ communities/school districts to replace lost tax revenues for 20-year period, as well as targeted investment in infrastructure rehabilitation and development – roads, bridges, broadband, schools, health care facilities. 

The document concludes with a statement of willingness to work with Congress, President Biden, and other unions, and with this: “This cannot be the sort of “just transition” wishful thinking so common in the environmental community. There must be a set of specific, concrete actions that are fully-funded and long-term. The easiest and most efficient way to fund this would be through a “wires” charge on retail electric power sales, paid by utility customers, which would add about two-tenths of one cent per kilowatt hour to the average electric bill. This would amount to less than $3.00 per month for the average residential ratepayer.”

Summaries appeared in: “Miners’ union backs shift from coal in exchange for jobs” from Associated Press, published in the Toronto Star; “Surprise news from the miners union gives Democrats an opening against Trumpism” in the Washington Post; “A coal miners union indicates it will accept a switch to renewable energy in exchange for jobs” in the New York Times, and “America’s largest coal mining union supports clean energy (with conditions)” in Grist.

At the same press conference on April 19, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced that he will co-sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, as reported by Reuters here. Passage of the PRO Act is also one of the action items in the Mine Workers Preserving Coal Country statement, and a key goal for American unions.

Climate Movement Applauds Coal Miners' Demand for Just Transition, Green Jobs

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, April 19, 2021

The largest union of coal miners in the U.S. announced Monday that it would accept a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as long as the federal government takes care of coal workers through the provision of green jobs and income support for those who become unemployed.

"There needs to be a tremendous investment here," said Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International. "We always end up dealing with climate change, closing down coal mines. We never get to the second piece of it."

Ahead of a press conference outlining the UMWA's approach to addressing the climate emergency in a way that improves rather than diminishes the well-being of workers in the dirty energy sector, Roberts said in a statement that "energy transition and labor policies must be based on more than just promises down the road. We want to discuss how miners, their families, and their communities can come out of this transition period and be certain that they will be in as good or better shape than they are today."

"Much of the coal-producing areas of Appalachia and elsewhere are already in bad economic shape," said Roberts. "Washington has taken little action to address it over the past decade. That must change."

"As we confront a next wave of energy transition," he added, "we must take steps now to ensure that things do not get worse for coal miners, their families, and communities, but in fact get better."

Sunrise Responds to Decision by United Mine Workers Association, Commits to Fighting Alongside Them and Demands Manchin Supports 'Tremendous Investment'

By Ellen Sciales - Common Dreams, April 19, 2021

Today, in response to the news that the United Mine Workers Association, the main and essential union for coal miners, and Senator Joe Manchin are supporting the transition to renewable energy, Evan Weber, Political Director of Sunrise Movement, released the following statement:

“For generations, coal communities have sacrificed to keep the lights on for all of us, while they’ve been abandoned by executives and politicians in DC. Sunrise Movement stands with and celebrates the United Mine Workers Association announcement today as they lean in to the transition towards a renewable energy economy, and we renew our commitment to fight alongside them to ensure the government leads in ensuring coal communities are whole and not left behind. We fully support their calls for job training, investments and prioritization of coal communities to receive economic development, and guaranteeing wages and benefits for workers impacted by the urgent and necessary transition towards a carbon-free economy.

“The radical truth is that at the end of the day, most of us want the same thing — a good, reliable job with a stable wage and a sense of comfort and security. And the brutal reality of the climate crisis is that it has threatened our jobs, our homes and the lifestyles that some of us have known for centuries. We agree wholeheartedly with Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America’s warning that there must be ‘tremendous investment’ as this transformation takes place. From the climate crisis, to technological shifts, to global pandemics, the 21st century promises more disruption — but our government can and must take care of its people along the way. In addition to what the mineworkers have outlined, we support a federal job guarantee to ensure every American has the right to a good job as our society faces more disruption, and see a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps employing millions of Americans in jobs tackling the crisis and revitalizing our communities as a step in that direction.

“Whether or not America has noticed, there has been a movement in West Virginia and across the United States growing around these basic ideas — and towards our vision for a Green New Deal. And today, the labor movement and young activists have proven they can be more powerful than the executives who have delayed action for years. While we may not agree on all of the specifics of how we get there, we are more aligned on the destination than those who seek to divide us would like you to think.

“At Sunrise, we say we have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, and when we see stances that reflect our values, we’ll celebrate those. With Senator Manchin’s support on the PRO Act and for a just transition for coal workers, it is our hope that today marks a turning point for Senator Manchin. If he is truly committed to protecting this community and West Virginians, he will support the ‘tremendous investment’ the Mineworkers call for, starting with $10 trillion over the next decade, or $1 trillion per year, in order to ensure we can truly transition in a way that leaves no one behind. He’ll also stop pretending that this is an agenda that the Republican Party, which has long abandoned its desire to productively deliver for the American people, will come along with, and urge passage of this important agenda for Mineworkers and West Virginians through a simple majority by abolishing the filibuster.” 

Climate Justice, Jobs, and Freedom to Thrive

Can Biden unite Labour and climate activists with his American Jobs Plan?

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, April 8, 2021

On March 31, U.S. President Biden announced his “American Jobs Plan,” which outlines over $2 trillion in spending proposals, including $213 billion to build, modernize and weatherize affordable housing, $174 billion for incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles; $100 billion for power grid modernization and resilience; $85 billion investment in modernizing public transit and bringing it to underserved areas; $35 billion investment in clean technology research and development, including incubators and demonstration projects; $16 billion employing union oil and gas workers to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and clean up mines, and $10 billion to launch a Civilian Climate Corps to work on conservation and environmental justice projects. All of these are proposals, to be subject to the political winds of Washington, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting a date of July 4 for a vote on legislation.

The White House Fact Sheet outlines the specifics . Robert Reich calls the plan “smart politics” in “Joe Biden as Mr. Fix-it” in Commons Dreams, and according to “Nine Ways Biden’s $2 Trillion Plan Will Tackle Climate Change” in Inside Climate News, “President Joe Biden aims to achieve unprecedented investment in action to address climate change by wrapping it in the kind of federal spending package that has allure for members of Congress of both parties.” David Roberts offers a summary and smart, informed commentary in his Volt blog, stating: “Within this expansive infrastructure package is a mini-Green New Deal, with large-scale spending targeted at just the areas energy wonks say could accelerate the transition to clean energy — all with a focus on equity and justice for vulnerable communities on the front lines of that transition. If it passes in anything like its current form, it will be the most significant climate and energy legislation of my lifetime, by a wide margin.”

Julian Brave NoiseCat writes in the National Observer on April 6, summing up the dilemma: …” Each policy has the potential to unite or divide the Democrat’s coalition of labour unions, people of colour, environmentalists and youth activists. Some policies, like the creation of a new Civilian Climate Corps …. are directly adopted from demands pushed by activists like the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Others, like investments in existing nuclear power plants and carbon capture retrofits for gas-fired power plants, will pit labour unions against environmental justice activists from the communities those industries often imperil. Uniting the environmental activists who oppose the development of fossil fuel pipelines with the workers who build them will be among the Democrats’ greatest challenges.”

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