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Climate Jobs Illinois (CJI)

For a Living Wage and a Habitable Planet, We Need Climate Jobs Programs

By Paul Prescod - Jacobin, June 2, 2022

Climate and labor activists are coming together to hammer out ambitious but realistic plans for massively expanding the clean-energy sector in a way that also creates good union jobs. For both paychecks and the planet, it’s the only path forward.

The stalling of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda raises serious concerns for those looking to the federal government for strong action on climate change. Much of the more ambitious climate-related aspects of the legislation have already been gutted — and the fact that it still can’t pass a Congress with a Democratic majority is a worrying sign for the future.

But despite the dysfunction at the federal level, there are encouraging developments occurring at the state level. Increasingly, climate and labor activists are coming together to hammer out ambitious but realistic plans for massively expanding the clean-energy sector in a way that creates family-sustaining union jobs.

These state-based efforts are often facilitated by the Climate Jobs National Resource Center. States like New York, Connecticut and Maine have managed to get real buy-in from the building trades on a vision that defies the false jobs versus environment dichotomy. Recently, the Illinois legislature passed landmark climate legislation that puts the state on a path to reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2050, all with the full support of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

Rhode Island has now joined the party. Earlier this year Climate Jobs Rhode Island, a broad labor-environmental coalition, released a report titled “Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island.” The report, compiled in partnership with the Worker Institute at Cornell, takes a comprehensive approach to limiting carbon emissions — containing recommendations on retrofits, public transportation, renewable energy, and climate resilience.

The Rhode Island initiative is a good model for activists in other states to consider. In addition to meaningfully addressing climate change, there’s no doubt that this program would result in the creation of tens of thousands union jobs. It points the way forward for both the climate and labor movements, which must join together in order for the working class to have any hope of a sustainable future.

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:

As Illinois Coal Jobs Disappear, Some Are Looking to the Sun

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, May 26, 2022

While Illinois phases out coal, clean energy jobs hold promise—both for displaced coal workers, and those harmed by the fossil fuel economy.

Matt Reuscher was laid off a decade ago from Peabody Energy’s Gateway coal mine in Southern Illinois, in the midst of a drought that made the water needed to wash the coal too scarce and caused production to drop, as he remembers it.

Reuscher’s grandfather and two uncles had been miners, and his father — a machinist — did much work with the mines. Like many young men in Southern Illinois, it was a natural career choice for Reuscher. Still in his early 20s when he was laid off, Reuscher ​“spent that summer doing odds and ends, not really finding much of anything I enjoyed doing as much as being underground.”

By fall of 2012, he started working installing solar panels for StraightUp Solar, one of very few solar companies operating in the heart of Illinois coal country. He heard about the job through a family friend and figured he’d give it a try since he had a construction background. He immediately loved the work, and he’s become an evangelist for the clean energy shift happening nationwide, if more slowly in Southern Illinois. With colleagues, he fundraised to install solar panels in tiny villages on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, and he became a solar electrician and worked on StraightUp Solar installations powering the wastewater treatment center and civic center in Carbondale, Illinois — a town named for coal. 

Solar installation pays considerably less than coal mining, Reuscher acknowledges, but he feels it’s a safer and healthier way to support his family — including two young sons who love the outdoors as much as he does. 

“You work with people who are really conscious about the environment. That rubs off on me and then rubs off on them,” Reuscher notes, referring to his sons.

Illinois has more than a dozen coal mines and more than a dozen coal-fired power plants that are required to close or reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 (for privately-owned plants) or 2045 (for the state’s two publicly-owned plants), though most will close much sooner due to market forces. Reaching zero carbon emissions would entail complete carbon capture and sequestration, which has not been achieved at commercial scale anywhere in the United States. 

Coal mines also frequently lay off workers, as the industry is in financial duress, though Illinois coal is bolstered by a healthy export market. A ​“just transition” — which refers to providing jobs and opportunities for workers and communities impacted by the decline of fossil fuels — has been an increasing priority of environmental movements nation-wide, and was a major focus of Illinois’ 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). The idea is that people long burdened by fossil fuel pollution and dependent on fossil fuel economies should benefit from the growth of clean energy. Reuscher’s story is a perfect example. 

But in Illinois, as nationally, his transition is a rarity. Solar and other clean energy jobs have more often proven not to be an attractive or accessible option for former coal workers. And advocates and civic leaders have prioritized a broader and also difficult goal: striving to provide clean energy opportunities for not only displaced fossil fuel workers, but for those who have been harmed by fossil fuels or left out of the economic opportunities fossil fuels provided.

U.S. Labor Leaders Respond to IPCC Report; Urge Swift Action New IPCC report underscores urgency of equitable, pro-worker climate action and swift energy transition

By Sophia Reuss - Climate Jobs National Resource Center, February 28, 2022

Today, climate jobs leaders from across the United States responded to the latest IPCC report, which spells out the dire costs and consequences of the impacts of the climate crisis, arguing that the updated climate science underscores the urgency of taking bold, science-backed, and pro-worker climate action to build an equitable renewable energy economy.

The Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability report released today represents the second portion of the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report. The IPCC experts find that human-caused climate breakdown has already led to certain irreversible impacts and that the window for adapting to climate breakdown will close quickly over the next decade. The report’s core message is that we must take immediate transformative action to implement equitable climate adaptation measures and slash emissions in order to avoid climate catastrophe.

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!

How the US labor movement is getting to grips with the climate crisis

By Michael Sainato - The Guardian, September 20, 2021

In the beginning of this summer, the US state of Connecticut passed legislation to guarantee prevailing wage and benefits are provided to workers on clean energy projects.

The law was a product of labor unions and environmental groups working together to educate workers about the climate crisis and develop solutions, with a focus on creating good-paying, unionized jobs and opportunities to combat economic inequities.

Through organizing led in part by the Climate Jobs National Resource Center and the Workers Institute at Cornell University, this strategy has been adopted in other states around the US, such as New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Illinois and Texas. For the labor movement and environmentalists it seems a win-win: tackle the ever more urgent climate crisis while at the same time address inequality by strengthening America’s labor movement.

Aziz Dehkan, executive director of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, a coalition of local labor unions and environmental groups, explained the legislation in the state was built on efforts to ensure that a large solar project in East Windsor employed local, union workers rather than out of state or low-wage workers. The project also provided opportunities for individuals to enter apprenticeship programs and access jobs created through renewable energy projects.

“It came naturally to us that for every renewables project, we can’t keep going after individual projects,” said Dehkan. “If we don’t do it this way, we’re not going to be able to meet the standards in Connecticut to get close to zero carbon emissions by at least 2030.”

The coalition is also working on carbon-free schools and public transit equity campaigns.

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.

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