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Aluminum Revitalized

By Ariel Pinchot, et. al. - Blue Green Alliance, June 2023

As one of the most important metals for modern life, aluminum is all around us. From our bridges and high-rise buildings to our smartphones and kitchen appliances, this highly durable, lightweight, and conductive material is essential. It’s also a key ingredient for achieving our climate, jobs, and national security goals. As a primary component of solar panels, power lines, electric vehicles (EVs), and other clean technologies, aluminum is a building block of our clean energy solutions. At the same time, producing aluminum requires a tremendous amount of energy, and globally, the sector is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the world produces increasing amounts of this material for the clean energy economy, we must simultaneously decrease the emissions from its production in order to achieve global climate targets.

In the United States, our growing need for aluminum already far surpasses the dwindling output from our domestic primary production. As a result, much of the aluminum we use comes from abroad, including from countries where aluminum production is much more emissions-intensive. Increasing our aluminum procurements from highly-polluting overseas producers will only push our climate justice goals further out of reach. What we need to advance these goals is a secure, domestically produced supply of clean aluminum made with high-road labor standards.

Revitalizing clean aluminum manufacturing in the U.S. will not only cut a major source of climate pollution, reduce worker and fenceline community exposure to airborne pollutants, and secure a reliable supply of an essential material for clean energy—it will also create good jobs for hard-hit workers and communities, while supporting the current workforce and retaining existing jobs. This report lays out a set of targeted recommendations for getting there. After assessing the state of the domestic industry, we outline the employment, climate, and community benefits of revitalizing clean aluminum manufacturing and present a set of policy solutions that can help create and sustain a strong, clean aluminum industry.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Battery Jobs Must Be Good-Paying Union Jobs, Says New UAW President

By Dan DiMaggio - Labor Notes, May 18, 2023

Contracts covering 150,000 auto workers at the Big 3 will expire on September 14, and the new leadership of the United Auto Workers is taking a more aggressive stance than in years past.

“We’re going to launch our biggest contract campaign ever in our history,” UAW President Shawn Fain told members in a Facebook live video.

Fain took office in March after winning the union’s first one member, one vote election. Running on the slogan, “No Corruption, No Concessions, No Tiers,” he and the Members United slate swept all the positions they ran for, giving reformers a majority on the international executive board.

While the union has vowed to take on tiered wages and benefits, job security, and plant closures, the transition to electric vehicles (EV) looms especially large.

Since President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act last August, companies have announced $120 billion in investments in domestic EV and battery manufacturing. The Act includes big tax credits and incentives for clean energy and EVs.

Ford alone is investing $11 billion in a new EV assembly plant and battery factories in Tennessee and Kentucky. The Biden administration wants EVs to make up half of all new vehicles sold by 2030.

Responsible Offshore Wind Development Starts with a Green Port

By Luis Neuner, Jennifer Kalt, Caroline Griffith, and Colin Fiske - Lost Coast Outpost (reposted at Wild California), May 10, 2023

Humboldt Bay Offshore Wind & Heavy Lift Multipurpose Marine Terminal Conceptual Master Plan. Image from Humboldt Bay Harbor Resource & Conservation District.

Humboldt County’s proposed offshore wind project would significantly reduce carbon emissions throughout California by providing upwards of 1.6 gigawatts of clean, renewable-sourced energy. But to ensure the success of offshore wind and to meet the promise of climate action, decision-makers must commit to a green port facility capable of building and servicing the turbines while not further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions or polluting Humboldt Bay.

A key component of a thriving offshore wind industry is a port capable of constructing, assembling, and maintaining wind turbines. The Humboldt Bay Harbor District has partnered with Crowley Wind Services, a multinational port development company, to build this heavy lift terminal on the Samoa Peninsula. There are various potential benefits: port development could create many family-wage jobs and substantially contribute to a growing local economy—all while making important strides towards a clean-energy future to address the climate crisis.

Unfortunately, these types of heavy-lift terminals have a mixed track record for communities. On land, port equipment such as terminal tractors, forklifts, yard trucks, cranes, and handlers commonly run on diesel. In the water, most heavy-duty cargo ships and tugboats also run on diesel or heavy fuel oil, polluting the air. Ships and tugs even burn fuel while docked at the terminal to maintain a base load of electricity. As a result, communities surrounding these ports often suffer from the effects of air pollution. In Los Angeles, for example, air quality studies revealed that these diesel fumes significantly raised cancer risk for people within fifteen miles of the terminals.

Our port doesn’t have to be this way. Recent technological developments have made major progress towards enabling the possibility of a ‘green port.’ Green ports seek to make all aspects of operation sustainable, from the heavy machinery on land to the ships docked at the harbor. This work requires moving away from fossil fuels and shifting towards electrification and other zero-carbon energy sources, such as green hydrogen.

Building a Democratic Energy Future: Lithium Extractivism and North-South Inequalities

The “Electrify Everything” Movement’s Consumption Problem

By Amy Westervelt - The Intercept, May 8, 2023

In 2019, Thea Riofrancos was splitting her time between researching the social and environmental impacts of lithium mining in Chile and organizing for a rapid energy transition away from fossil fuels in the United States. A political science professor at Providence College and member of the Climate and Community Project, Riofrancos was struck by the contrast: Lithium is essential to the batteries that make electric vehicles and renewable energy work, but mining inflicts its own environmental damage. “Here I am in Chile, in the Atacama Desert, seeing these mining-related harms, and then there I go in the U.S. advocating for a rapid transition. How do I align these two goals?” Riofrancos said. “And is there a way to have a less extractive energy transition?”

When she went looking for research that would help answer that question, she found none, at least not for the transportation sector, which was her area of focus. “I saw forecast after forecast that assumed basically a binary of the future,” she said. “Either we stay with the fossil fuel status quo and the existential crisis that that is causing for the planet and all of its people. Or we transition to an electrified, renewably powered future, but that doesn’t really change anything about how these sectors or economic activities are organized.”

Riofrancos wanted to look at multiple ways to design an electrified future and understand what the costs and impacts of different scenarios might be. So she linked up with other Climate and Community Project researchers and put together a report mapping out four potential pathways to electrification for the transportation sector. Titled “Achieving Zero Emissions With More Mobility and Less Mining,” the report concluded that even relatively small, easy-to-achieve shifts like reducing the size of cars and their batteries could deliver big returns: a 42 percent reduction in the amount of lithium needed in the U.S., even if the number of cars on the road and the frequency with which people drive stayed the same.

It’s the sort of thing politicians and electrification advocates need to think through now, when decisions can be made to guide the energy transition in one direction or another. It’s also critical to an underdiscussed component of climate action: demand for products and services and the role energy plays in fulfilling those demands. Which connects right up to another topic that American politicians don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole: consumption.

Biden’s CHIPS Act Isn’t Doing Enough For Labor, Despite Anti-Labor Liberal Critics

The Lithium Problem: An Interview with Thea Riofrancos

By Alyssa Battistoni and Thea Riofrancos - Dissent, Spring 2023

Can we rapidly reduce carbon emissions while minimizing the damage caused by resource extraction?

After years of outright climate denial and political intransigence, the development of renewable energy is finally underway. When it comes to transportation—the number one source of U.S. carbon emissions—the strategy for decarbonization has focused heavily on replacing gas-powered cars with rechargeable electric vehicles. The Inflation Reduction Act offers billions of dollars of subsidies for both producers and consumers of EVs, including a $7,500 tax credit for buying new EVs made in the United States. The infrastructure bill passed in late 2021 included $5 billion to help states build a network of EV recharging stations. New York and California have announced bans on the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines beginning in 2035. Half of this year’s Superbowl car ads touted electric vehicles. By 2030, it is estimated that electric vehicles will make up half of U.S. car sales.

For our reliance on privatized transportation to remain the same, everything else will have to change. We’re already seeing concerns about shortages of “critical minerals” necessary for batteries and other renewable technologies. Based on current consumption patterns, for example, U.S. demand for the lithium used in batteries would require three times the existing global supply—which comes primarily from Australia, Latin America, and China—by 2050. In anticipation of booming demand, a flurry of new mining operations has begun around the world—and so have protests by those worried that mines will disturb ecosystems, contaminate water supplies, generate toxic waste, and disrupt local livelihoods.

What does the current trajectory of the “green energy transition” mean for global environmental justice? What other options are there? Is it possible to rapidly reduce carbon emissions while also minimizing extraction and maintaining—or even increasing—people’s ability to move freely and safely?

A new report from the think tank Climate and Community Project presents the data behind different visions of the green future. A scenario in which the United States reduces car dependency by improving public transit options, density, and walkability could see a 66 percent decrease in lithium demand compared to a business-as-usual model. Even just reducing the size of U.S. vehicles and batteries could potentially reduce lithium use by as much as 42 percent in 2050. In other words, the choices Americans make about domestic transportation, housing, and development matter worldwide. In this interview, the report’s lead author, political scientist Thea Riofrancos, explains the implications of its findings for climate and environmental politics in the United States and around the planet.

Rooftop Solar Justice

By Howard Crystal, Roger Lin, and Jean Su - Center for Biolgical Diversity, March 2023

A war over the nation’s energy future is raging across the United States. On one side are everyday people who can benefit from clean, renewable energy through distributed-solar projects like rooftop and community solar. On the other side are for-profit electric utilities threatened by distributed solar’s impact on their lucrative, guaranteed profits. These companies are using their influence with regulators and legislators in a coordinated effort to undermine the expansion of distributed solar. They recently succeeded in California. This report addresses the environmental and economic justice of net energy metering, or NEM, and the utility industry’s false and self-serving claims against distributed-solar growth.

To combat the climate emergency and pervasive energy inequity, we need to maximize distributed solar development. NEM already exists in many states and is a key policy driver to expand distributed solar. Customers pay only for the net electricity they use each month, considering both the power going to the grid when rooftop-solar systems generate excess electricity and the power coming in from the grid (particularly at night). Net metering substantially reduces electricity bills, allowing people to recoup their distributed-solar investments.

For-profit utilities are fighting NEM on multiple fronts and in many states. In California, for example, they recently convinced regulators to gut net metering for new customers. In Florida a utility-backed bill to gut net metering passed the legislature. Utility companies fight NEM because it undermines their business model, which assumes that centralized utilities are the only legitimate makers and sellers of electricity.

As this report shows, anti-net-metering talking points are based on an outdated version of the grid, where for-profit utilities control everything. Utilities want to gut net metering to maintain control and use the proceeds to pay for rising utility costs, including the growing costs of addressing climate-fueled catastrophes and stranded assets in fossil fuel infrastructure.

Read the entire statement (PDF).

Debunking the Skeptics: Real Solutions For A Clean, Renewable Energy Future - EcoJustice Radio

Renewables industry should engage community colleges to address labor shortage: development official

By Diana DiGangi - Utility Dive, February 16, 2023

Renewable energy developers must meet registered apprenticeship requirements to qualify for certain Inflation Reduction Act tax credits, but they struggle to find workers, an attorney said.

The clean energy industry is booming, but the labor supply remains low. Partnering with community colleges to offer pathways to employment could help the industry meet its increasing demand for workers, said a workforce development official with the Foundation for California Community Colleges. He was speaking at a workforce development session at Intersolar North America on Tuesday.

Community colleges are a source of “untapped talent” and are “built to be nimble” in a way that other sources of higher education may not be, Tim Aldinger, executive director of workforce development for the FCCC, said at the event.

“For the last year and a half, we’ve had more jobs posted than people looking for them. And we are also in a decade-long process where people [nationwide] are opting out of the labor market,” Aldinger said. “And this is particularly prevalent, actually, among working-age men, particularly in jobs that were called ‘blue-collar’ work.”

Though the renewable energy sector has become a significant generator of new jobs, and the Inflation Reduction Act bolstered this growth with tax credits that incentivized new projects and registered apprenticeship programs, the wind energy industry reported difficulty finding qualified applicants in a November report.

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