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The Quiet Culprit: Pension Funds Bankrolling the Climate Crisis

By staff - Climate Safe Pensions, December 2021

A first-of-its-kind report ... from Climate Safe Pensions Network and Stand.earth reveals that just 14 pension and permanent funds finance fossil fuels to the tune of $81.6 billion.The report shows a comprehensive accounting of the fossil fuel exposure of 14 pension funds in one report from Climate Safe Pensions Network and Stand.earth reveals that just 14 U.S. public pension funds are the quiet culprits of climate chaos: with $81.6 billion invested in coal, oil, and gas.

With over $46 trillion in assets worldwide, pension funds are among the largest institutional investors in fossil fuels. These investments have dangerously underperformed the rest of the market, making public pensions’ fossil fuels investments inherently risky.

Pension funds’ financial influence make them a force to reckon with in the battle to confront, slow and mitigate climate change. Pension fund decision-makers must take climate protection seriously — not only for their financial well-being, but also for the well-being of their millions members.

With 10 years of data, there’s hard evidence that divestment is a winning financial strategy. The fastest way for pensions to address climate change is to divest fossil fuel holdings and invest in just and equitable climate solutions.

Read the text (PDF).

12 Guilty Fogeys: Big Oil’s $86 billion offshore tax bonanza

By staff - Friends of the Earth, Bailout Watch, and Oxfam, September 2021

Few letter-soup acronyms in Washington bureaucratese are so aptly pronounced as GILTI and FOGEI, two esoteric provisions in the tax code worth tens of billions of dollars to Big Oil’s multinational majors.

Under the Trump Administration’s radical 2017 tax law, companies that extract oil and gas overseas enjoy special exemptions within the Global Intangible Low-Tax (GILTI) regime covering Foreign Oil and Gas Extraction Income (FOGEI).

It is a fitting accident of nomenclature: FOGEI’s GILTI carveout helps prop up the fossil firms most culpable for the climate crisis — to the tune of $84 billion. An additional international tax loophole enjoyed by Big Oil is worth at least another $1.4 billion, for a grand total of over $86 billion in offshore tax giveaways.

Read the text (PDF).

Our Oil Jobs Need Good Replacements: For a clean energy future, workers hear promises but not plans

By Norman Rogers - United Steelworkers Local 675, October 23, 2021

Just days after the latest oil spill off the Huntington Beach coast, Gov. Gavin Newsom came to Orange County. In response to renewed calls to ban offshore drilling after about 25,000 gallons of crude oil poured into the Pacific Ocean, the governor commented, “Banning new drilling is not complicated. The deeper question is how do you transition and still protect the workforce?”

I belong to the workforce Newsom speaks of. I’ve worked at a Los Angeles oil refinery for over 22 years as a member of United Steelworkers Local 675. USW represents thousands of workers across Los Angeles, Kern and Contra Costa counties who run refineries, oil wells, pipelines and terminals. Over the last 100-plus years, our workers have shown up and labored without fail through earthquakes, riots, world wars, fires and most recently the pandemic. We supply fuel for plane trips, backup generators for hospitals and materials for syringes that have been crucial as we contain the coronavirus crisis.

Even before the renewed calls to halt drilling, we have felt like our jobs are threatened. When we watch football, we see repeated ads for hybrid and electric cars and now electric trucks like the Ford F-150 Lightning. In California, every new car sold after 2035 is to be an electric vehicle.

The writing is on the wall. As California pursues our goal of cutting emissions 40% by 2030, the resulting closure of the oil and gas industry means about 37,000 fossil fuel workers will need reemployment, while an additional 20,000 workers or so will voluntarily retire in the next nine years.

My father always said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Though the energy transition is inevitable, a just version is not. Workers know what happens when whole industries go away: Companies maneuver behind our backs, squeeze every last drop of work out of a dying auto plant, steel mill or coal mine and shutter it overnight, devastating communities and stiffing workers out of jobs, pensions and healthcare. The fear is real of jobs lost with no plan for when operations begin to phase out.

We’re also concerned for our communities: The loss in tax revenue will cripple county and city budgets, hampering our schools, libraries and other services. The loss of our good-paying jobs will have a serious ripple effect, especially in Kern and Contra Costa counties.

Many speak of a “just transition,” but we’ve never seen one. No worker or community member will ever believe that an equitable transition is possible until we see detailed, fully funded state safety net and job creation programs.

To offer these safety nets, California needs to establish an Equitable Transition Fund for fossil fuel workers covering wage replacement, income and pension guarantees, healthcare benefits, relocation and peer counseling for professional and personal support. It should also provide access to education and training for existing and future jobs that are safe and healthy. California also needs to account for the funding gaps communities face when their tax bases shrink, so schools and libraries can stay open.

Longer term, transitioning the workforce should mean creating stable jobs with good pay and benefits. Right now, we earn well over minimum wage, meaning we can support our families. Many of us can own homes with fossil fuel jobs, and some of us earn six figures. If we start new work, we want to be able to continue supporting our loved ones.

We can create good new jobs for fossil fuel workers and others by investing in California’s climate goals. USW Local 675 was one of 20 unions, including three fossil fuel unions, that endorsed the California Climate Jobs Plan, a study published in June and led by economist Robert Pollin.

With money from California’s budget, federal funds, bonds and new revenue sources, the plan outlines $70 billion of public investments annually in safety net programs as well as renewable energy and energy efficiency projects, infrastructure upgrades and ecological agriculture. 

The goal is to reduce emissions and create 1 million new jobs in California by 2030. This will create opportunities for electricians, carpenters, bus drivers, teachers, engineers, planners and maintenance workers — including workers affected by the pandemic.

The best way to guarantee that these are good jobs and reduce disparity is to make sure they’re union jobs. Data showthat union representation means higher wages, better benefits and working conditions, and a better life for workers and the communities they support.

With a fully funded equitable transition plan — meeting the immediate need for a safety net for workers and communities, and offering a bold vision to restructure our economy — we can jump-start recovery and move California’s workers, communities and the planet toward a more secure future.

Norman Rogers is the second vice president of United Steelworkers Local 675.

As California Burns, Teacher Pension Postpones Divestment

By Marcy Winograd - Common Dreams, September 7, 2021

As the climate crisis sent thousands fleeing wildfires in Northern California, CalSTRS, the nation's second largest public pension fund, postponed full divestment from fossil fuels for nearly 30 years.

Over objections from CTADivest, organizers within the powerhouse California Teachers Association, the retirement fund's investment committee voted unanimously September 1, 2021,to support a staff recommendation to adopt a net-zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHG) portfolio by 2050 or sooner. This translates into continued "engagement" or investment in Big Oil until the date the Paris Agreement set for countries to reach net-zero carbon emissions.

What is net-zero anyway? It's the point at which GHG's released by humans are "counterbalanced," in CalSTRS' words, by removing GHG's from the atmosphere, though no one is clear on how to remove these earth-warming gases through carbon capture and storage (CCS) or if it's even possible to inject them back into the ground without burning more fuels, poisoning drinking water or triggering earthquakes.

The CalSTRS vote came two months ahead of the next UN climate conference in Scotland, where the COP26 Coalition, made up of 350.org, CODEPNK and others, is expected to turn out thousands of protesters to demand the world's nations run, not walk, toward divestment from fossil fuels, as well as militarism, a key driver of the climate crisis.

The CalSTRS Board vote to continue investing in fossil fuels also came days after the California Democratic Party reaffirmed a 2015 resolution calling on the state's pension funds to divest from fossil fuels.

Honest Government Ad: Carbon Capture & Storage

Utah Oil Slick: funding polluters instead of Rural Communities

By Deeda Seed and Adair Kovac - Center for Biological Diversity, et. al., August 2021

Every year Utah receives tens of millions of dollars in federal lease revenues and royalties from oil, gas and mineral extraction as a way to help mitigate the impacts of drilling and mining. Even before scientists linked fossil fuels to the climate crisis, Congress intended this money to be used to help rural communities experiencing rapid growth and infrastructure challenges. The influx of new workers and increased drilling and mining take a toll on communities.

This report from the Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition shows that, since 2009, the little-known board charged with distributing this public money has funneled more than $109 million to projects that promote or expand fossil fuel extraction in violation of the federal Mineral Leasing Act. That includes more than $2.2 million approved after a state audit found the board was using the public funds improperly.

We examined dozens of public records — including the 2020 audit of the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board by the Utah Legislative Auditor General, meeting minutes, audio tapes and project documents — and found that:

  • Since 2009 the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, or CIB, has issued $109 million in grants and low- or no-interest loans — all of it public money — to finance road construction, engineering studies, attorney fees and other costs to enable fossil fuel development on public and private land. Beneficiaries include well-connected private firms trying to get approval for the proposed $1.5 billion Uinta Basin Railway.
  • Over the past two years small towns, cities and special improvement districts in two counties have identified more than $60 million for community improvement projects that have not yet been funded. Unfunded projects include water and sewer services, recreation centers, road improvements and public safety equipment. Over this same period, the CIB gave more than $48 million in grants to fossil-fuel related projects.
  • The Utah Legislature failed to oversee the board’s activities. Even worse, in 2021 it changed state law to allow mineral lease revenues and royalties to finance fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, which is illegal under federal law. The new law followed the 2020 state audit criticizing the board’s spending and haphazard decision-making.
  • County governments and local agencies continue to seek public funding for projects that facilitate fossil fuel extraction and enrich private corporations over community needs. Since the audit, Uintah County commissioners approved seeking $39 million in public funds to help a private, Ogden-based oil company build a 640-acre oil refinery in eastern Utah.3 The proposed $1.4 billion Uintah Advantage refinery would have the capacity to refine 40,000 barrels of oil a day, and it may also include a rail yard for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway.

The CIB must stop funding fossil fuel development projects. The Utah Legislature should oversee the board’s grant and loan-making process to ensure it complies with the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires these public funds be used to mitigate harm inflicted on communities by oil, gas and mineral extraction and forbids using the money for economic development. Rural communities should call on legislators to ensure that infrastructure needs are met and public money is spent properly.

As Utah and the western United States experience the devastating consequences of climate change in the form of intense heat, drought and wildfires, it is even more critical that the CIB stop siphoning public funds away from much-needed community projects to finance dangerous fossil fuel extraction that worsens the climate crisis.

Read the text (PDF).

DOE Quietly Backs Plan for Carbon Capture Network Larger Than Entire Oil Pipeline System

By Sharon Kelly - DeSmog, July 18, 2021

Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and major labor group AFL-CIO are behind the “blueprint” for a multi-billion dollar system to transport captured CO2 — and offer a lifeline to fossil fuel plants.

An organization run by former Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, with the backing of the AFL-CIO, a federation of 56 labor unions, has created a policy “blueprint” to build a nationwide pipeline network capable of carrying a gigaton of captured carbon dioxide (CO2).

The “Building to Net-Zero” blueprint appears to be quietly gaining momentum within the Energy Department, where a top official has discussed ways to put elements into action using the agency’s existing powers.

The pipeline network would be twice the size of the current U.S. oil pipeline network by volume, according to the blueprint, released by a recently formed group calling itself the Labor Energy Partnership. Backers say the proposed pipeline network — including CO2 “hubs” in the Gulf Coast, the Ohio River Valley, and Wyoming — would help reduce climate-changing pollution by transporting captured carbon dioxide to either the oil industry, which would undo some of the climate benefits by using the CO2 to revive aging oilfields, or to as-yet unbuilt facilities for underground storage.

The blueprint, however, leaves open many questions about how the carbon would be captured at the source — a process that so far has proved difficult and expensive — and where it would be sent, focusing instead on suggesting policies the federal government can adopt to boost CO2 pipeline construction. 

Climate advocates fear that building such a large CO2 pipeline network could backfire, causing more greenhouse gas pollution by enabling aging coal-fired power plants to remain in service longer, produce pipes that could wind up carrying fossil fuels if carbon capture efforts fall through, and represent an expensive waste of federal funds intended to encourage a meaningful energy transition.

In March, over 300 climate and environmental justice advocacy groups sent a letter to Congress, arguing that subsidizing carbon capture “could entrench the fossil economy for decades to come.”

The AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative, which jointly produced the blueprint, did not respond to questions about concerns over their proposals.

Proponents of carbon capture, usage, and sequestration (CCUS) often highlight ways that it could be used for sectors like steel and cement whose carbon pollution is generally considered “hard to abate.” Yet, the pipeline network envisioned by Moniz would be capable of carrying over 10 times as much carbon dioxide as the steel and cement industries emit in total nationwide, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data from 2019. In fact, it could transport more CO2 than the entire industrial sector emits in the U.S., leaving the rest of the pipeline network’s capacity available for carbon from fossil fuel-fired power plants or from “direct air capture” technologies that would remove ambient CO2 but don’t currently exist at a commercial level

“Even the advocates of direct air capture technology acknowledge that they don’t anticipate that it would be at a scale to make any meaningful reduction in atmospheric CO2 levels until 2060, 2070 and beyond,” said Carroll Muffett, president of the environmental law nonprofit Center for International Environmental Law. “When we’re dealing with a world where we need to cut emissions in the next decade, direct air capture just has no meaningful place in that conversation.”

Instead, the proposed CO2 pipeline network would be used to offer a lifeline to existing fossil fuel power plants. In Appalachia, for example, 90 percent of the carbon emissions the plan seeks to capture would come from existing coal-fired power plants in the Ohio River Valley. Those plants, none of which are currently outfitted with the costly upgrades needed for capture carbon, are already facing difficult questions about their ability to compete economically with wind and solar energy.

Nonetheless, momentum behind the project appears to have been gathering behind the scenes in Washington, D.C., particularly inside the Department of Energy (DOE).

“It’s a great pleasure to have our first kind of public interaction with our good friend, Dave Turk,” Moniz said of Biden’s Deputy Secretary of Energy at the blueprint’s online launch on July 1.

“It’s incredible the volume and quality of the thought-leadership that you all are behind,” Turk, who is second in command to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, told Moniz. “And I think the report that you all have put together is incredibly helpful to show that we need to do more from the DOE side, other agencies, and Congress,” he added, describing the blueprint as “actionable.”

Power, Workers, and the Fight for Climate Justice

By Tara Olivetree (Ehrcke) - Midnight Sun, July 12, 2021

Power

Who has more power than Shell Oil? This is one of the first questions a climate activist should ask themselves, because without finding an answer, we can’t win.

The power of the fossil fuel industry is massive. Fossil fuel companies are worth at least $18 trillion in stock equity, which represents about a quarter of total global stock markets. These vast resources and their outsized share of the world economy allow the industry to continually assert their interests, no matter the destruction this entails. They do so through any means available, of which there are many.

The notorious work of Exxon in first understanding, and then deeply misrepresenting, the science on climate change is one example. After generously funding its own climate research, and being told explicitly in 1977 that global warming due to the burning of fossil fuels was likely to lead to a two- to three-degree increase in global temperatures, Exxon embarked on an industry-wide quest to promote doubt in the science. This lengthy “fake news” campaign cost millions of dollars, and arguably set back the climate movement by decades.

However, the power of the fossil fuel industry goes well beyond the manipulation of global public thought. From the time of the industrial revolution in the 19th century, the history of modern capitalism has been replete with wars fought over fossil fuels. These have served to maintain strategic interests and, just as importantly, the profits of fossil fuel companies. A map of twentieth-century imperial conquest would show the disproportionate number of wars waged in the Middle East, where the world’s largest and cheapest oil deposits lie. As Alan Greenspan, a former chair of the US Federal Reserve, stated about one of these wars: “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

How, then, do we go about exerting equivalent force, in order to dismantle the fossil fuel industry within the limited timeline outlined by scientists, while at the same time building an equitable, habitable, and just society?

There are a number of competing answers to this question. 

It’s time to nationalize Shell. Private oil companies are no longer fit for purpose

By Johanna Bozuwa and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò - The Guardian, June 7, 2021

It has been a bad month for big oil. A Dutch court just ruled that Shell must cut its carbon pollution by 45% by 2030. The court’s decision has rightly been celebrated: it is a much more stringent requirement than the ineffective regulations imposed to date. Meanwhile, shareholders are waging rebellions at various oil giants – ExxonMobil shareholders won two seats on the board to pressure the oil company towards a greener strategy, and shareholders at Chevron and ConocoPhillips passed nonbinding resolutions pressuring the companies to disclose their lobbying efforts and emissions amounts.

Private oil and gas companies are finally up against the wall. Shell has promised to appeal the Dutch court decision, but oil prices went negative last year and put companies on bankruptcy notice, and last week the International Energy Agency said to stop digging. Politicians have floated the idea of oil and gas magnates becoming “carbon management companies” as a way for those companies to have a “future in a low-carbon world” while retaining control over oil, gas, and profit in a planet increasingly aware of and hostile to their emissions-generating activity.

But as far as the Dutch court’s ruling or the new bout of shareholder activism goes, neither go far enough. Nor should Shell be turned into a “carbon management company”. Like all private oil companies, Shell should not exist.

Oil and gas companies are a political structure: they possess private, authoritarian dominion over the pace and volume of oil and gas production, and thus of important determinants of global emissions. These emissions and their consequences do not respect any sort of public/private distinction, nor borders, nor the rights to clean air or clean water. For decades, private oil companies have intentionally and recklessly obscured their role in the destruction of countless local environments as well as their role in the global climate crisis.

Private oil companies have propped up an ever-failing business on a complex system of national and international government subsidies, all of which function to privatize the benefits of oil and gas production while socializing its financial, environmental, and social costs – making the public pay in tax dollars, human rights abuses, and an unlivable climate. Now that these companies fear being left behind by a changing political context, their public relations strategy is to insist to a public increasingly aware of the dire need to stop carbon emissions that there is still a place for private oil companies in a “green” world.

There is a role for the workers, their skills and knowledge, and the equipment and infrastructure of oil and gas companies. But there is no longer a role for companies or profit-seeking as an organizing principle of this aspect of human society – not if we want to continue to have human society...

Read the rest here.

For Alberta oil workers facing a future of industry volatility- policy options include Just Transition, green tax reform

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, May 31, 2021

In Search of Prosperity: The role of oil in the future of Alberta and Canada was released on May 26, that cataclysmic day of bad news for the oil and gas industry when the Dutch courts ordered Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions immediately, and shareholders at Exxon and Chevron defied management to press for climate-friendly policies. The future of the oil and gas industry is also grim in Canada, according to In Search of Prosperity, published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD). Using economic models, it concludes that “the volatility of the industry poses a much greater threat than low prices to the Alberta economy – more than five times worse than the effect of just low prices.” And further: “….. unless there are innovations in the uses of oil for non-combustion, also known as “bitumen beyond combustion,” the oil sector will contribute less and less to Alberta’s prosperity.” According to the modelling, employment in the oil sector will potentially decrease byan average 24,300 full-time jobs per year toward 2050 ( accompanied by a potential 43% drop in royalties to the Alberta government). 

How to cope with those upcoming job losses? Another report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), also released on May 26, suggests the EU Just Transition Mechanism as one of its model strategies for the future. 10 Ways to Win the Global Race to Net-Zero: Global insights to inform Canadian climate competitiveness offers an overview of the global policy literature and describes successful case studies, including the innovation of green steel in Sweden; hydrogen policy in Germany; collaboration in the form of the European Battery Alliance and the European Transition Commission; the Biden “all of government” approach to governance in the U.S.; New Zealand’s consultation with and inclusion of the indigenous Maori; and the EU’s Just Transition Mechanism as part of the European Green New Deal. The report’s conclusion offers five strategies, including that the Canadian government must take action as a “top priority” on its promised Just Transition Act.

The discussion of Just Transition in 10 Ways to Win provides a brief, clear summary of the complexity of the EU Just Transition Mechanism, and states that the EU approach is consistent with the recent report, Employment Transitions and the Phase-Out of Fossil Fuels by Jim Stanford, published by the Centre for Future Work in January 2021. Stanford argues that a gradual transition from fossil fuels is possible without involuntary layoffs, given a “clear timetable for phase-out, combined with generous supports for retirement, redeployment, and regional diversification”.

The IISD also recently published Achieving a Fossil Free Recovery (May 17), an international policy discussion with a focus on ending subsidies and preferential tax treatments for the fossil fuel industry. The report concludes with a brief section on Just Transition as the predominant framework for the transition to a clean energy economy, and calls for a social dialogue approach. As in previous IISD reports (for example, Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform and the Just Transition in 2017), the authors argue that dollars spent to support and subsidize the fossil fuel industry could be better spent in encouraging clean energy industries. This argument also relates to an April 2021 IISD report, Nordic Environmental Fiscal Reform, which offers case studies of the success of environmental taxes – for example, in the use of tax revenue to support the Danish wind energy industry which now employs 33,000 workers.

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