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As New York’s Offshore Wind Work Begins, an Environmental Justice Community Is Waiting to See the Benefits

By Nicholas Kusnetz - Inside Climate News, May 22, 2024

On a pair of aging piers jutting into New York Harbor, contractors in hard hats and neon yellow safety vests have begun work on one of the region’s most anticipated industrial projects. Within a few years, this expanse of broken blacktop should be replaced by a smooth surface and covered with neat stacks of giant wind turbine blades and towers ready for assembly.

The site will be home to one of the nation’s first ports dedicated to supporting the growing offshore wind industry. It is the culmination of years of work by an unlikely alliance including community advocates, unions, oil companies and politicians, who hope the operations can help New York meet its climate goals while creating thousands of high-quality jobs and helping improve conditions in Sunset Park, a polluted neighborhood that is 40 percent Hispanic.

With construction finally underway, it seems that some of those hopes are coming true. Last month, Equinor, the Norwegian oil company that is building the port, signed an agreement with New York labor unions covering wages and conditions for what should be more than 1,000 construction jobs.

The Biden administration has been promoting offshore wind development as a key piece of its climate agenda, with a goal of reaching 30,000 megawatts of capacity by 2030, enough to power more than 10 million homes, according to the White House. New York has positioned itself as a leader, setting its own goal of 9,000 megawatts installed by 2035.

Officials at the state and federal levels have seized on the industry as a chance to create a new industrial supply chain and thousands of blue-collar, high-paying jobs. In 2021, New York lawmakers required all large renewable energy projects to pay workers prevailing wages and to meet other labor standards. The Biden administration has included similar requirements in some leases for offshore wind in federal waters to encourage developers to hire union labor.

While the last year has brought a series of setbacks to the offshore wind industry, including the cancellation of several projects off New Jersey and New York that faced rising interest rates and supply chain problems, many of the pieces for offshore wind are falling into place. New York’s first utility-scale project began delivering power in March, while two much larger efforts, including one that Equinor will build out of the new port, are moving toward construction. Together, they will bring the state about 20 percent of the way to its 2035 target.

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Big Oil’s Hydrogen Hustle Exposed

By staff - Sunflower Alliance, March 27, 2024

The federal government is providing big bucks to projects that produce hydrogen as a “climate solution.” Most hydrogen produced today is fueled by fossil gas (methane) — so not really a solution at all.

Climate advocates have been advocating for “guardrails” on the program to make sure the hydrogen projects that receive federal money are really produced by new renewable energy.

But this report from Friends of the Earth reveals ways that Big Oil and other polluters are scheming to make the federal rules as lax as possible. They’re campaigning to add loopholes to the guardrails.

Under pressure from environmental groups, the Biden administration drafted guidelines for the federal subsidies that said qualifying hydrogen projects had to meet the requirements of the three guardrails. They had to be:

  • powered by renewable capacity built within three years of the hydrogen facility (additionality/incrementality)
  • connected to the same regional grid as the hydrogen production
    (regionality/deliverability)
  • able to match renewable energy usage on an hourly basis with hydrogen production, albeit starting in 2028 (time-matching).

Fossil interests are calling for the three guardrails to be removed, weakened to the point of irrelevance, or failing that, waived for ‘first mover’ projects. They’re hoping to grab federal money intended for green energy,

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, Shouts Down Pennsylvania Gov. Shapiro Over a Proposed ‘Hydrogen Hub’

By Kiley Bense - Inside Climate News, March 12, 2024

Activists want more public participation in a proposal to produce hydrogen in southeastern Pennsylvania. Touted by the Biden administration as “crucial” to the nation’s climate goals, advocates fear the federally-funded project will create more pollution and further burden environmental justice communities.

Protestors disrupted a public meeting on Monday about a federally-funded “hydrogen hub” to be located in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey and Delaware that would produce, transport and store the controversial fuel at sites across the region.

While the Biden administration considers these hubs a key part of its climate agenda that would decarbonize greenhouse-gas intensive sectors of the economy like heavy industry and trucking, climate activists consider hydrogen a false solution based on unproven technology that will only lead to more fossil fuel extraction and further pollute the environment.

Minutes after Governor Josh Shapiro took the stage at a union hall in northeast Philadelphia to speak in support of the project, which will be funded with $750 million from the Department of Energy as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Delaware Riverkeeper, Maya van Rossum, stood up from her seat and demanded his attention.

“The Department of Energy said that community engagement is supposed to be a highest priority. You have yet to have a meeting with the impacted community members to hear what they have to say,” she shouted, interrupting Shapiro as he was speaking about the buy-in for hydrogen hubs at all levels of government in Pennsylvania. “When are you going to have a meeting with those community members?” she asked.

Why the Environmental Justice Movement Should Support the UAW Organizing Drive

By Bill Gallegos and Manuel Pastor - The Nation, March 11, 2024

A progressive version of the right’s Southern strategy could remake our politics—and ensure that the cars of the future, and the batteries they run on, are built by union labor.

While analysts have pointed to a recent slowing in demand for electric vehicles (EVs), the long-term picture remains clear: Annual global EV sales are projected to nearly triple between now and 2030. That trend represents some potential good news for the climate. But it’s also raised concerns—most sharply reflected in last year’s strike by the United Auto Workers (UAW)—about what will happen to both existing and prospective workers.

One big problem: The new “Battery Belt”—prompted by federal policies to move to zero emission vehicles and build an adequate charging infrastructure—is being developed in many Southern states where manufacturers seek to take advantage of low wages, few regulations, and a divided working class.

While we can’t stop the flow of federal climate dollars to those states—a fiscal largesse that seems particularly ironic since so many of their Republican leaders deny climate change—we can and should change the conditions that make them a lure for multinationals seeking to exploit low costs. That, in turn, requires widening the circle of support for a truly transformative move to a clean energy economy.

The combination of worker vulnerability and political division in the South has deep historic roots. The field of exploitative corporate dreams was made possible by a US labor movement that has never been able to follow through on its post–World War II promise to organize the South—a region whose anti-union politics stem in part from a legacy of slavery and racism.

But change may be coming. Even as presidential candidate Donald Trump was trolling autoworkers to persuade them that electrical vehicles would be the end of their jobs, the UAW’s 2023 strike led to contracts that raised wages, did away with two-tier labor systems, and opened the way to unionization up and down the supply chain for electric vehicles.

Ford’s Battery Flagship Socked by Mold Sickness, Workers Say

By Schuyler Mitchell and Keith Brower Brown - Labor Notes, February 22, 2024

The smell of mold hit James “Lucky” Dugan the moment he walked into the plant.

Last fall, Dugan was one of thousands of union construction workers to arrive in small-town Glendale, Kentucky, to build a vast factory for Ford and SK On, a South Korean company. The plant, when completed, will make batteries for nearly a million electric pickup trucks each year.

When Dugan walked in, huge wooden boxes containing battery-making machines, largely shipped from overseas, were laid across the mile-long factory floor. Black streaks on those wooden boxes, plus the smell, immediately raised alarm bells for workers. But for months, those concerns were met with little remedy from the contractors hired by BlueOval to oversee construction.

Dugan and scores of others now believe they are in the midst of a health crisis at the site. “We don’t get sick pay,” Dugan said. “You’re sick, you’re out of luck.”

The BlueOval SK Battery Park, billed to open in 2025, is a banner project for President Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, a program of public subsidies and financing to companies moving away from fossil fuels. The Department of Energy has pledged to support the construction of three BlueOval plants in Tennessee and Kentucky with a $9.2 billion low-cost loan.

But under all the high-tech green fanfare, several construction workers, including some who wished to be anonymous, say the site has been gripped by mold and respiratory illness—medieval hazards that workers feel managers neglected in the pressure to quickly open the plant.

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