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United Steelworkers of America (USW)

U.S. Labour unions divided on carbon capture

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

A new Labor Network for Sustainability background paper asks Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate – and Our Jobs?. Author Jeremy Brecher treads carefully around this issue, acknowledging that it has been a divisive one within the labour movement for years. The report presents the history of carbon capture efforts; their objectives; their current effectiveness; and alternatives to CCS. It states: “LNS believe that the use of carbon capture should be determined by scientific evaluation of its effectiveness in meeting the targets and timetables necessary to protect the climate and of its full costs and benefits for workers and society. Those include health, safety, environmental, employment, waste disposal, and other social costs and benefits.”

Applying those principles to carbon capture, the paper takes a position:

“Priority for investment should go to methods of GHG reduction that can be implemented rapidly over the next decade” – for example, renewables and energy efficiency. … “Carbon capture technologies have little chance of making major reductions in GHG emissions over the next decade and the market cost and social cost of carbon capture is likely to be far higher. Therefore, the priority for climate protection investment should be for conversion to fossil-free renewable energy and energy efficiency, not for carbon capture.”

“Priority for research and development should go to those technological pathways that offer the best chance of reducing GHGs with the most social benefit and the least social cost. Based on the current low GHG-reduction effectiveness and high market cost of carbon capture, its high health, safety, environmental, waste disposal, and other social costs, and the uncertainty of future improvements, carbon capture is unlikely to receive high evaluation relative to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Research on carbon capture should only be funded if scientific evaluation shows that it provides a better pathway to climate safety than renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

“…..People threatened with job loss as a result of reduction in fossil fuel burning should not expect carbon capture to help protect their jobs any time in the next 10-20 years. There are strong reasons to doubt that it will be either effective or cost competitive in the short run. Those adversely affected by reduction in fossil fuel burning can best protect themselves through managed rather than unmanaged decline in fossil fuel burning combined with vigorous just transition policies.”

This evaluation by LNS stands in contrast to the Carbon Capture Coalition, a coalition of U.S. businesses, environmental groups and labour unions. In August, the Coalition sent an Open Letter to Congressional Leaders, proposing a suite of supports for “carbon management technologies” – including tax incentives and “Robust funding for commercial scale demonstration of carbon capture, direct air capture and carbon utilization technologies.” Signatories to the Open Letter include the AFL-CIO, Boilermakers Local 11, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Laborers International Union, United Mine Workers of America, United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers Union of America. Although the BlueGreen Alliance was not one of the signatories, it did issue a September 2 press release which “applauds” the appointment of the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management within the U.S. Department of Energy. The new appointee currently serves as the Vice President, Carbon Management for the Great Plains Institute – and The Great Plains Institute is the convenor of the Carbon Capture Coalition.

Fossil fuel unions in Texas sign on to a climate jobs plan

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 7, 2021

A July report from the Workers’ Institute at Cornell University Industrial Relations School examines the state of play in Texas and makes a series of recommendations “that can help Texas simultaneously combat climate change, create high-quality jobs, and build more equitable and resilient communities.” Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas identifies the current challenges : a COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which has brought weather disasters to the state.

Texas is an interesting case study: it is the state with the most greenhouse gas emissions and pollution in the U.S., with 42.4% of emissions from its well-established oil and gas industry. Oil and gas (including extraction, refining, petrochemical production) employs over 450,000 Texans, with a state-wide unionization rate of 4.8%. But Texas also leads the states in wind power installations and has wind power manufacturing facilities. Into this mix, the researchers crafted a series of concrete recommendations for jobs-driven strategies to achieve a low-carbon, more equitable economy. These include targets for the installation of wind, solar and geothermal energy, along with an upgraded electricity grid to handle renewables; a target of 2040 to electrify school buses and State and Local government vehicle fleets ; construction of a High-Speed Rail Network between the five largest cities in Texas; a target to reduce energy use in existing buildings by 30% by 2035, and a mandate for Net-Zero Emissions for new construction by 2050; and the creation of a multi-stakeholder Just Transition Commission. The report also applies many of these recommendations for the cities of Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.

Each of these state-wide recommendations is described in detail, with costing, GHG emissions reductions estimates, and job creation estimates by sector. Total direct jobs created over a range from 10 to 25 years is estimated at 1,140,186, with another 1,125,434 indirect and 913,981 induced jobs.

The report was written by Professors Lara Skinner and J. Mijin Cha, with research assistance from Hunter Moskowitz and Matt Phillips, in consultation with 27 Texas labour unions. It accompanies the launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project , an offshoot of the Texas AFL-CIO. Lara Skinner describes the report and the Climate Jobs Project in “Why Texas Fossil Fuel unions signed onto a climate plan” (Grist, July 30). A press release from Texas AFL-CIO includes a summary of recommendations and endorsements from various unions.

Alameda and Contra Costa Labor Climate Convergence 2021

Texas Unions Launch Major Effort to Combat Climate Change, Tackle Inequality in US Energy Capital

By Bo Delp - Texas AFL-CIO, July 27, 2021

A new and growing coalition of Texas labor unions Monday launched the Texas Climate Jobs Project (TCJP), a major joint effort to fight climate change and reverse income inequality in the energy capital of the country.

A new report by climate and labor experts at Cornell University, Northeastern University, and Occidental College, in consultation with 27 Texas labor unions, accompanied the launch and outlays out a comprehensive climate jobs action plan to put Texas on the path to building an equitable clean-energy economy. A provision of the plan includes the installation of 40 GW of solar energy and 100 GW of wind energy and the electrification of school bus and public vehicle fleets by 2040.

The launch of the Texas Climate Jobs Project comes a day before the Texas AFL-CIO convention, at which the state’s labor leaders are expected to pass a resolution backing the coalition’s mission and its foundational report.

“Texans are facing several converging crises: a changing climate that is hurting working people first and worst, skyrocketing income inequality, and deep racial injustice,” said Rick Levy, President of the Texas AFL-CIO. “Today, the Texas labor movement is coming together to endorse a historic proposal that would tackle these crises by creating good union jobs across our state and combating climate breakdown. As the unions that power the energy capital of America, we believe the Texas Climate Jobs Project can lead the way in transforming our economy in ways that lift up working families and communities while protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink. We must make sure that the workers who have powered this state for generations are not left behind.”

The Texas Climate Jobs Project will advocate for long-term solutions to these intertwined crises by pushing state and local lawmakers to tap the state’s massive renewable energy potential and create millions of new family-sustaining union jobs, as outlined in the report’s recommendations.

In addition to outlining targets for renewable energy development and vehicle electrification, the report calls for the retrofitting and installation of solar panels systems on all Texas public K-12 schools by 2035, the creation of a Just Transition Commission, and the construction of a high-speed rail network.

“Climate change is hurting every working person in Texas,” said Bo Delp, Executive Director of Texas Climate Jobs Project. “Today, unions from across our state are advancing their vision of a pro-worker, pro-climate agenda that gives everyone a fair shot to succeed in our clean energy transition.” 

Combatting Climate Change, Reversing Inequality: A Climate Jobs Program for Texas

By Lara R. Skinner, J. Mijin Cha, Hunter Moskowitz, and Matt Phillips - ILR Worker Institute, Cornell, July 26, 2021

Texas is currently confronted by three major, intersecting crises: the COVID-19 public health pandemic and ensuing economic crisis; a growing crisis of inequality of income, wealth, race and power; and the worsening climate crisis, which continues to take its toll on Texans through hurricanes, major flood events, wildfires, debilitating heat waves and the significant economic cost of these extreme weather events. These crises both expose and deepen existing inequalities, disproportionately impacting working families, women, Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities, immigrants, and the most vulnerable in our society.

A well-designed recovery from the COVID-19 global health pandemic, however, can simultaneously tackle these intersecting crises. We can put people to work in high-quality, family- and community-sustaining careers, and we can build the 21st century infrastructure we need to tackle the climate crisis and drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Indeed, in order to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis, it is essential that our economic recovery focus on developing a climate-friendly economy. Moreover, there are significant jobs and economic development opportunities related to building a clean energy economy. One study shows that 25 million jobs will be created in the U.S. over the next three decades by electrifying our building and transportation sectors, manufacturing electric vehicles and other low-carbon products, installing solar, wind and other renewables, making our homes and buildings highly-efficient, massively expanding and improving public transit, and much more.

Conversely, a clean, low-carbon economy built with low-wage, low-quality jobs will only exacerbate our current crisis of inequality. The new clean energy economy can support good jobs with good benefits and a pipeline for historically disadvantaged communities to high-quality, paid on-the-job training programs that lead to career advancement. Currently, the vast majority of energy efficiency, solar and wind work is non-union, and the work can be low-wage and low-quality, even as the safety requirements of solar electrical systems, for example, necesitate well-trained, highly-skilled workers.

Read the text (PDF).

California unions endorse a plan for Green Recovery and fossil fuel phase-out

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, July 21, 2021

A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, released in June, is the ninth in a series of reports titled Green Economy Transition Programs for U.S. States, published by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), and written by researchers led by Robert Pollin. In this latest report, the authors address the challenge of economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, and contend that it is possible to achieve California’s official CO2 emissions reduction targets—a 50 percent emissions cut by 2030 and zero emissions by 2045— and at the same time create over 1 million jobs. The investment programs they propose are based on the proposed national THRIVE Agenda, (introduced into the U.S. Congress in February 2021), and rely on private and public investment to energy efficiency, clean renewable energy, public infrastructure, land restoration and agriculture. The report discusses these sectors, as well as the manufacturing sector, and also includes a detailed just transition program for workers and communities in the fossil fuel industry.

In Chapter 6, “Contraction of California’s Fossil Fuel Industries and Just Transition for Fossil Fuel Workers”, the authors note that only 0.6% of California’s workforce was employed in fossil fuel-based industries in 2019 – approx.112,000 workers. They model two patterns for the industry contraction between 2021-2030: steady contraction, in which employment losses proceed evenly, by about 5,800 jobs per year; and episodic contraction, in which 12,500 job losses occur in just three separate years, 2021, 2026, and 2030. After developing transition programs for both scenarios, they estimate that the average annual costs of episodic contraction would be 80% higher ($830 million per year) than the costs of steady contraction ($470 million per year). As with previous PERI reports, the authors emphasize the importance of the quality of jobs to which workers relocate: “It is critical that all of these workers receive pension guarantees, health care coverage, re-employment guarantees along with wage subsidies to insure they will not experience income losses, along with retraining and relocation support, as needed. Enacting a generous just transition program for the displaced fossil fuel-based industry workers is especially important. At present, average compensation for these workers is around $130,000. This pay level is well above the roughly $85,000 received by workers in California’s current clean energy sectors.” Relief Programs for Displaced Oil & Gas Workers Elements of an Equitable Transition for California’s Fossil Fuel Workers is a 2-page Fact Sheet summarizing the chapter.

Build back Better begins with funding to green Algoma Steel

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

On July 5, the federal government announced that $420 million in federal funding will go to Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie Ontario, to enable the company to retrofit their operations and transform their coal-fired steelmaking processes to Electric-Arc Furnace production. The press release from the Prime Minister’s Office explains that Electric-Arc Furnace production is an electricity-based process, expected to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 3 million metric tonnes per year by 2030, making Algoma the “greenest” steelmaker in Canada. At the same time, the transformation will create an estimated 500 construction and subcontracting jobs, as well as over 600 new co-op placements for students, and approximately 75 high-tech STEM jobs.

The total cost of Algoma’s transformation is estimated at $703 million over four years – $220 million will come from the federal Infrastructure Bank, and up to $200 million from the Net Zero Accelerator program, under the Strategic Innovation Fund. A major expenditure, but small compared to the $23 billion worth of support the government has provided since 2018 to the Coastal GasLink, Trans Mountain, and Keystone XL pipelines, according to a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development .

Algoma’s press release and its Environmental policies offer information about the company. A CBC summary of the funding announcement is here, and the Toronto Star offers an Opinion piece, “Justin Trudeau just gave one of Canada’s biggest polluters hundreds of millions of dollars – why won’t he show us the deal?” (July 5) . In that essay, author Heather Scofield states: “Algoma was first in line to get the federal funding because it was meant to set the tone for building back better. Let’s make sure it sets more than a tone, and actually sets standards of transparency, accountability and weaning our economy off fossil fuels too. ”

Workers at Algoma are represented by United Steelworkers Local 2251. From the national office, an article, “Canada’s Steel Industry Has A Secret Weapon That Could Soon Beat China’s Cheaper Bid” discusses the union’s hope that government green procurement policies will favour Canadian-made, low-carbon steel in future infrastructure projects. A February 2021 report from BlueGreen Canada made the same point about steel, aluminum and lumber products in Buy Clean: How Public Construction Dollars can create jobs and cut pollution . The Work and Climate Change Report previously reviewed some of the Canadian and international reports about greening steel in 2020, here . In summer 2021, European developments have been profiled “Green steel is picking up steam in Europefrom Canary Media, and “From Sweden, a Potential Breakthrough for Clean Steel” in Inside Climate News (June 24).

Just Transition Strategies: Workers and the Green Revolution

Labor-Backed Report on Path to Equitable Green California

By Staff - Sunflower Alliance, June 10, 2021

Nineteen labor organizations—including unions representing refinery workers in Northern and Southern California and the Alameda Labor Council— have endorsed a detailed plan for an equitable transition to a clean-energy economy in California.

This major new report, A Program for Economic Recovery and Clean Energy Transition in California, details programs for meeting California’s 2030 climate goal (40 percent economy-wide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s 1990 level) by creating roughly 418,000 jobs. It argues that state policy should ensure that the jobs created are good-paying jobs with full labor rights and access by historically excluded people.

The same strategies, the report says, could be continued to meet California’s longer-term goal of being carbon-neutral by 2045.

The report was commissioned by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, the California Federation of Teachers, and the United Steelworkers Local 675. Its authors are faculty members of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, including Robert Pollin, a leading expert on just transition.

The report provides detailed calculations for strategies outlined in an earlier report, Putting California on the High Road, from the UC Labor Center. Both reports emphasize the need for measures to protect fossil fuel industry workers including:

  • Pension guarantee for all workers.
  • Re-employment and income-level guarantees for all displaced workers.
  • Retraining and relocation support as needed.
  • “Glide-path income support” for workers 60 – 64.

The report comes as the Newsom administration is developing a report on Just Transition in California.

Just Transition in California: Robert Pollin in Conversation with Robert Kuttner

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