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The Promise and Perils of Biden’s Climate Policy

By staff - European Trade Union Institute, September 15, 2022

The recent Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is properly recognised as the largest climate policy in US history. In this short essay I will first summarise and comment on its provisions, then outline the reactions to it, with a focus on labour unions, and will close by providing my own thoughts.

The IRA allocates around $370 billion over a period of ten years. About 75% of that is in the form of incentives (rather than direct investments or regulatory mandates) to advance the transition to ‘clean energy’ that includes renewables but also nuclear power, biofuels, hydrogen, and carbon capture and sequestration. These incentives focus primarily on advancing the production of clean energy but also on stimulating its consumption. Smaller energy investments focus on tackling pollution in poorer communities and on conservation and rural development.

The IRA also authorises as much as $350 billion of loans to be disbursed by the Department of Energy. While such loans have been around since the Bush Administration, the amounts and the likelihood that they will be used during the Biden Administration are much higher. Finally, its main regulatory provision is the designation of carbon, methane and other heat-trapping emissions from power plants, automobiles, and oil and gas wells as air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, one of the bedrocks of US environmental legislation, which the Environmental Protection Agency implements. Overall, it is estimated that by 2030 the IRA will help reduce emissions by around 40% of 2005 levels, compared to the about 25% reduction projected without it. 

However, the policy mandates that renewable energy siting permits cannot be approved during any year unless accompanied by the opening up of 2 million acres of land or 60 million acres of ocean to oil and gas leasing bids, respectively, during the prior year (for more details see 50265 of Act). In either case, the amount of actual leasing and drilling is subject to market dynamics rather than regulatory limits, while the Act also streamlines the permitting process for pipelines. The growing transition to electric vehicles will lessen the market for oil but the strategic repositioning of natural gas in energy production (as well as plastics) suggests that it (along with nuclear power) will be a long-term source of energy, including in the production of hydrogen. Nevertheless, overall, it is the prevailing view that the IRA will decisively transition the US into renewable energy as part of a broader energy mix.

Democratising Work in the 21st Century

By Isabelle Ferreras - Green European Journal, September 14, 2022

With digitalisation and shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic and extreme weather, the world of work is changing rapidly. But this transformation should not become an inevitability that workers must passively endure. Rather, it should be a democratic process shaped and decided by workers themselves. On the sidelines of the European Trade Union Institute’s Blueprint for equality conference, we sat down with Isabelle Ferreras, who has co-authored a new book calling for a re-organisation of the economy, to discuss democratising work in the 21st century.

Green European Journal: Digitalisation and automation are transforming how we work. How do you see the new face of work?

Isabella Ferreras: What is most notable about digitalisation is the loss of work’s physicality. As soon as jobs adopt technological tools that allow remote or computer-assisted working, workers cease to come together in the same place. In Marx’s analysis of the first age of industrial capitalism, the concentration of workers in factories was an important factor in the development of class consciousness. It enabled the working class to shift from what he called a “class in itself” to a “class for itself”. The opportunity to come together in one place, at a frequency imposed by industrial capitalism, meant that workers could get to know one another, take their breaks together, talk to one another. They realised that they shared very similar lives and problems that needed shared solutions.

The digitalisation of the economy individualises the experience of work. You might find an engineer based in Delhi, another in Boston, and a third who is subcontracted to write some lines of code from South Africa or Ukraine all working on the same project. All these people interact via an online platform, without getting to know one another and without the opportunity to realise that they are all part of the same “work investment” necessary for a business. By work investment, I mean all the workers required to successfully produce something or provide a service.

So the fragmentation of work, brought about by digitalisation, leads to a less social experience of work and, in the end, a loss of power for workers?

As this fragmentation has taken root, workers have grown more aware. Workers aspire to something else. We can see this in two ways. First, since the pandemic, there is a massive rise in people changing careers because they aspire to more meaningful work. There was a real misery for “non-essential” workers slaving away in front of their computers, stuck at home with this interface. In the hope of keeping their workers, some British companies have embarked on a full-scale experiment: the biggest ever trial of a four-day working week has just begun in the UK. About 50 businesses are implementing it, offering a better work-life balance for the same salary. Workers are expected to be just as productive over four days and gain a better quality of life.

Second, businesses are going to great lengths to improve job satisfaction. This is essentially a retention strategy whereby companies work to increase job satisfaction so that employees remain loyal. Employers are giving workers more say in decisions that affect them, such as combining working from home and the office.

In France, a survey conducted by the Association Pour l’Emploi des Cadres (APEC) in January 2021 revealed that 9 out of 10 managers are listening much more, building bonds within teams, and empowering employees as a result of the pandemic. This is an opportunity to be seized. On 16 December 2021, the European Parliament passed a historic resolution demanding, among other things, a revision of the European Works Council Directive. In Democratize Work, we call for a collective veto right for workers so that they can influence decisions taken by company boards or works councils.

The opposite trend is the growing physicality of work in the care sector. What does the rising need for care, both for people and the planet, mean for the world of work?

Alongside the trend towards automation is a realisation that we’re going to need more human labour and, let’s hope, not more unrecognised and unpaid exploitation. Taking care of both the planet and other human beings, like through public services, requires more and more work but nobody is talking about paying for this work. Neglecting the remuneration side of care comes from misconceptions about the future of work.

The intrinsic content of all jobs has changed with each technological revolution. But the key issue we must grasp here is that there’s much more work for us to do so that we’re no longer dependent on our energy slaves [the quantity of energy required to replace human labour]. We must also formalise that part of the care sector which just exploits women’s labour. Equalising living standards and giving men and women the same number of opportunities means investing massively in childcare, for example.

The Inflation Reduction Act and the Labor-Climate Movement

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, September 2022

Passage of the Inflation Reduction Act reveals the power that can arise when the movements for worker protection, climate protection, and justice protection join forces.

The fossil fuel industry, the Republican Party, conservative fossil-fuel Democrats, and right-wing ideologues combined to block the climate, labor, and social justice programs of the Green New Deal and Build Back Better. They almost succeeded. But at the last minute, the combined power of climate protectors, worker advocates, and justice fighters was enough to force passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the most significant climate legislation in U.S. history.[1]

That power was enough to include important positive elements in the Inflation Reduction Act. It will provide the largest climate protection investment ever made. It will create an estimated 1 to 1.5 million jobs annually for a ten-year period.[2] It includes modest but significant funding to address pollution in frontline communities.[3]

But the power of the fossil fuel industry and its allies was still enough to gut important parts of a program for climate, jobs, and justice – and to add provisions that promote injustice and climate change. The legislation includes only one-quarter of the investment necessary to meet the Paris climate goals and prevent the worst consequences of global warming. It allows much of its funding to be squandered on unproven technologies that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but whose primary effect may simply be to permit the continued burning of fossil fuels – and enrich their promoters. It allows increased extraction of fossil fuels, especially on federal lands. It allows massive drilling and pipeline construction that will turn areas like the Gulf Coast and Appalachia into de facto “sacrifice zones” where expanded fossil fuel infrastructure will devastate the environment – and the people. It does not guarantee that the jobs it creates will be good jobs. It makes few “just transition” provisions for workers and communities whose livelihoods may be threatened by the changes it will fund.

Can Ravaged Economies be Healed With a Restoration Industry?

By Jonathan Thompson - High Country News, August 29, 2022

Cleaning up the West could prove to be as lucrative as the extractive industries that wrecked it.

On a blazingmid-June day, Don Schreiber stands on a plateau on the edge of northwestern New Mexico’s San Juan Basin. The landscape is spare and spectacular — like a giant cathedral, Schreiber says — offering views of Tse Bit’a’i (Shiprock) and the Carrizo Mountains.

Yet this hallowed place is blighted, invaded nearly seven decades ago by oil companies and drill rigs. Roads slice haphazardly across the khaki earth to motionless pumpjacks littered with tumbleweeds. PVC and steel pipes snake over sandstone, connecting to clusters of fittings and valves.

The Horseshoe Gallup oil field is home to several hundred oil and gas wells, many suffering from “orphaned/non-orphaned well syndrome”: They’re defunct and the owners are bankrupt, but regulators still consider them active, so cleanup can be delayed indefinitely.

“It’s like someone went into a church and vandalized it,” Schreiber, a local rancher and industry watchdog, said. Robyn Jackson (Diné) of Diné CARE agrees: “This place may not be pristine or lush. But for our people, it is sacred. It has significance. I’m disturbed by industry being allowed to do whatever it wants.”

But where there’s desecration, there’s also opportunity: Both land and economy could be restored by employing displaced fossil fuel workers to help clean up the mess.

To hit 82% renewables in 8 years, we need skilled workers – and labour markets are already overstretched

By Chris Briggs and Rusty Langdon - The Conversation, August 17, 2022

In just eight years time, the Labor government wants Australia to be 82% powered by renewable energy. That means a rapid, historic shift, given only 24% of our power was supplied by renewables as of last year.

To make this happen, we must rapidly scale up our renewable energy construction workforce. Last week’s energy ministers’ meeting calls for assessment of the “workforce, supply chain and community needs” for the energy transition. The government’s jobs and skills summit in early September will tackle the issue too. While it’s positive the government is focused on these challenges, the reality is we’re playing catch-up.

Why? Because Australia is already stretched for workers, and it takes time to give new ones the skills they will need. Our research estimates the renewable energy transition will need up to 30,000 workers in coming years to build enough solar farms, wind farms, batteries, transmission lines and pumped hydro storage to transform our energy system. Most of these jobs will be in regional areas.

In coming decades, Australia will invest around A$66 billion in large-scale renewables and $27 billion in rooftop solar and battery storage. This creates openings for industry development like the $7.4 billion market opportunity for an integrated battery supply chain and manufacturing which builds on our strengths, such as wind towers.

If we get this right, we can create new manufacturing and supply chain jobs and reverse the long drift of these jobs overseas. But if we get it wrong, skill shortages could derail the vision of a new energy system by 2030.

9 Million Jobs from Climate Action: The Inflation Reduction Act

By staff - Blue Green Alliance, August 2022

A new analysis commissioned by the BlueGreen Alliance from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst finds that the more than 100 climate, energy, and environmental investments in the Inflation Reduction Act will create more than 9 million good jobs over the next decade—an average of nearly 1 million jobs each year.1,2 That includes more than 6 million jobs created over the next 10 years by grants, loans, and tax credits and nearly 3 million jobs stimulated by new loan guarantee authority for the U.S. Department of Energy. The bill’s broad investments will also help sustain the millions of existing jobs in the clean economy. 

Few pieces of legislation this century have come close to such sweeping potential for good job creation. With robust application of the bill’s strong labor standards, many of these jobs in growing sectors like clean energy, clean manufacturing, and efficient buildings will offer workers good wages and benefits. To advance economic and racial justice, registered apprenticeship programs, targeted investments, and equitable hiring practices should be used to prioritize job access for low-income workers, workers of color, and workers in environmental justice, deindustrialized, and energy transition communities. 

In short, the bill’s unprecedented investments offer an unparalleled opportunity for workers and communities to capture the economic gains of the growing clean economy. Below is a synopsis of some of the jobs that the Inflation Reduction Act will create.

Divest from Fossil Fuels and Reinvest in Workers and Communities

By staff - American Federation of Teachers, July 16, 2022

WHEREAS, climate change represents an urgent and accelerating crisis, as extreme weather, forest and wildfires, infectious disease outbreaks, rising sea levels, and pollution wreak havoc on the ecosystems and societies in the U.S. (where the cost of climate disasters doubled in 2020) and across the globe; and

WHEREAS, the climate crisis exacerbates already existing systemic injustices along racial, regional, social and economic lines, concentrating harm in frontline communities (including Indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities and youth); and

WHEREAS, teachers, nurses, academic staff, public workers and higher education faculty have taken leadership in educating students on the climate emergency, in forging alliances with climate movements, and in promoting action to reduce carbon emissions, notably:

· In 2017, the American Federation of Teachers executive council resolved to “urge its locals, state federations and members’ retirement systems to … review strategies to mitigate the risk of climate change in their investment portfolios, including, … possible divestiture from other types of fossil fuel companies that contribute substantially to climate change. …”

· In 2017, the AFT executive council passed the “Resolution on a Just Transition to a Peaceful and Sustainable Society” (referred from the 2016 AFT national convention) and committed therein, “to a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy … [such that] most fossil fuels must be left in the ground.”

· In 2020, the AFT national convention resolved “that the American Federation of Teachers will fully participate in shaping the definition of ‘a just transition to a peaceful and sustainable economy,’ … in accord with the latest climate science regarding the need for very rapid reductions in greenhouse gas emissions;” and

WHEREAS, shareholder resolutions and even director votes at fossil fuel companies—as alternatives to divestment—have never resulted in significant change at coal, oil or gas companies nor led to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from those companies' products; and

WHEREAS, the fiduciary duty of retirement funds obligates them to consider divestment from declining assets or at high risk of being stranded, a category that Blackrock, Makeda and the World Bank now believe includes fossil fuels; and

WHEREAS, there are now more than 1,500 institutions with assets over $39 trillion that have committed to some form of fossil fuel divestment, including the following funds (many explicitly in order to reinvest in environmentally and socially responsible industries): 

· Teachers’ Retirement System of the City of New York; 

· New York State Common Retirement Fund and the Maine Public Employees’ Retirement System; 

· City of Boston’s and the City of Baltimore’s investment funds; 

· London Pensions Fund Authority;

· La Banque Postale of France;

· Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec;

· Norway Sovereign Wealth Fund and the Vatican;

· The endowments of Harvard, Oxford, Rutgers and the University of California, among other institutions of higher education; and

WHEREAS, according to the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, each $1 million reinvested from fossil fuels to green energy results in a net increase of five jobs—often unionized jobs in solar and wind farms or in other sectors suitable for organizing; and

WHEREAS, Illinois’ Climate and Equitable Jobs Act of 2021 and the federal Build Back Better bill provide models for reinvestment in local, green jobs; and

WHEREAS, AFT members participate in public and private pension plans totaling roughly $5.8 trillion (of which an estimated $255 billion is invested in fossil fuel corporations) and, therefore, possess significant financial means to address the climate crisis and promote a just transition for workers and communities:

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers will urge boards managing the retirement funds of its members to divest their assets—in consultation with all members and their local unions—from all corporations or other entities that extract, transport, trade or otherwise contribute to the production of coal, oil and gas—and to reinvest those funds in projects that benefit displaced workers and frontline communities in the state or region of the given AFT members; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will urge the board of TIAA to divest the retirement funds of higher education members—in consultation with their local unions—from all corporations or other entities that extract, transport, trade or otherwise contribute to the production of coal, oil and gas—and to reinvest those funds in socially responsible, climate-positive projects that benefit displaced workers and frontline communities; and

RESOLVED, that AFT’s Climate Justice Task Force members and chair(s) shall convene quarterly or more frequently (beginning with the third quarter of 2022) to (1) assist in the implementation of this resolution, (2) identify means by which AFT may divest its own assets from fossil fuel corporations and reinvest them in workers and communities, and (3) promote all of AFT’s other work toward climate justice.

Rhode Island Unions Help Win 100% Renewable Power by 2033

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

The Rhode Island legislature has just required that 100 percent of electricity sold in the state comes from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2033. That’s sooner than any other state in the country.

According to the Boston Globe, “Labor and environmental groups have joined together in the Climate Jobs Rhode Island coalition” which is advocating for a “just transition to a pro-worker and pro-climate green economy” in Rhode Island.

Patrick Crowley, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO and Co-Chair of Climate Jobs Rhode Island said,

 We’re hoping that by demonstrating that the labor movement and the environmental movement can work together, that other states—my sister and brother labor organizations across the country—can look at this as an example for how to get things done in a big way.

“If we continue down this path, we will show the labor and environmental communities across the country that this is how it’s done,” Crowley said. “If you want to get it done, you do it the Rhode Island way.”

Shifting America to Solar Power Is a Grueling, Low-Paid Job

By Lauren Kaori Gurley - Vice, June 27, 2022

Thomas Shade got his first job in a solar field at age 41. "I fell in love with it. I left a job where I didn't feel like a human," Shade told Motherboard. At 16, Shade worked in a cotton mill dyeing fabrics to support a newborn son. He then passed through a series of fiberglass factories. He spent a decade on the open road as a long haul trucker. In 2011, he was sick of working the graveyard shift in the oven room of a machine generator plant, so when a friend called him and said a temp firm was hiring laborers to install utility-scale solar power near his hometown in rural western North Carolina, Shade thought to himself “I wouldn’t mind doing that as a side gig.” Soon he had quit his other jobs to work full time in the solar fields. 

"Outside on the solar farm, I felt more free,” he said. “You didn't feel like you was trapped like you were inside of a plant.”

When the project ended, a few months later, Shade signed up with PeopleReady, the national temp labor agency, to work on another utility-scale solar farm two hours away in Rockingham, North Carolina. Since then, Shade has lived on the road chasing solar projects, from Texas to Virginia to South Carolina to Nevada to Florida to Maryland to Georgia. "It's a hard life to live," said Shade. "You're always away from friends and family. Sometimes you don't know anybody."

Temp agencies are as common in the solar industry as they are in construction. Many workers are needed to install a solar field, but much fewer are needed once it's up and running. Besides PeopleReady, there's companies like WorkRise, 360 Industrial Services, Aerotek, and Tradesmen. Shade has worked for lots of different temp companies.

For each project, Shade has had to negotiate with a recruiter on the phone over his hourly wages and a daily housing stipend, known as a per diem. In the solar industry, it's common to have two workers doing the same job for vastly different pay and living stipends, multiple solar workers and labor organizers told Motherboard. Nico Ries, an organizer at Green Workers Alliance who has engaged with hundreds of renewable energy workers, said getting paid a higher wage than other workers with the same experience often “boils down to nepotism.” “Workers often refer to it as the good ol’ boy system,” they said. Frequently, local hires and other newcomers to the industry who might commute an hour or two to get to a worksite do not receive per diem stipends.

170+ Organizations Sign Letter Opposing Subsidies to Delay Closure of Diablo Canyon Power Plant

By staff - Nuclear Information and Resource Service, June 21, 2022

Over 170 organizations, including Beyond Nuclear, North American Water Office, Food & Water Watch, Institute for Policy Studies Climate Policy Program, Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS), Center for Biological Diversity, International Marine Mammal Project of Earth Island Institute, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and more sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm opposing the misuse of the Department of Energy’s Civil Nuclear Credit program (CNC) to dismantle the fossil-free phaseout and just transition plan for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. 

The CNC was created by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to mitigate potential greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) increases due to the closure of unprofitable nuclear reactors that operate in competitive electricity markets. The letter explains how applying the CNC program to Diablo Canyon would violate the letter and intent of the law. The nuclear power plant is not eligible for funds under the CNC program because it does not meet the basic requirements of the IIJA, nor those of the CNC program guidance DOE published to implement the program. 

The letter highlights climate, economic, environmental justice, and power supply concerns with abandonment of the just transition agreement dictating the planned closure of Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactors in 2024 and 2025. 

Over 50 organizations from the State of California signed onto the letter, including San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, SoCal 350 Climate Action, Tri-Valley CAREs, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Sacramento, San Francisco Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility, Oceanic Preservation Society, Electric Vehicle Association of CA Central Coast, Californians for Energy Choice, Parents Against Santa Susana Field Lab and more. 

Tim Judson, NIRS executive director said, “Diablo Canyon’s planned phaseout and just transition accelerates California’s climate and renewable energy goals, supports Diablo workers and local communities, and promotes economic and environmental justice. Misusing the CNC program to unravel that progress would betray President Biden’s commitments to climate and environmental justice.” He added, “The Diablo Canyon phaseout plan which California is implementing is a just transition model DOE should promote instead of seeking to preempt it. The basis for the plan shows how phasing out nuclear power plants along with fossil fuel generation can help accelerate emissions reductions, the growth of the renewable energy economy, and a just and equitable transition for workers and communities. Is DOE afraid to let that happen while it is spending billions of dollars to promote the idea that we need to invest in overly expensive, failure-prone nuclear power plants?”

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