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Transforming Transportation–from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, July 2022

People are acting at the local and state level to create jobs, reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and equalize transportation by expanding and electrifying public transit, electrifying cars and trucks, and making it safe to walk and bike. It’s a crucial part of building the Green New Deal from Below.

More than a quarter of greenhouse gases [GHGs) emitted in the US come from transportation – more than from electricity or any other source.[1] Pollution from vehicles causes a significant excess in disease and death in poor communities. Lack of transportation helps keep people in poor communities poor.

Proposals for a Green New Deal include many ways to reduce the climate, health, and inequality effects of a GHG-intensive transportation system. “Transit Oriented Development” (TOD), “smart growth,” and other forms of metropolitan planning reduce climate-and-health threatening emissions while providing more equal access to transportation. Switching from private vehicles to public transit reduces GHG emissions by more than half and substantially reduces the pollution that causes asthma and other devastating health effects in poor communities. Changing from fossil fuel to electric vehicles also greatly reduces emissions. Expanded public transit fights poverty and inequality by providing improved access to good jobs. And expansion of transit itself almost always creates a substantial number of good, often union jobs. Every $1 billion invested in public transit creates more than 50,000 jobs.[2]

Plans for a Green New Deal generally include substantial federal resources to help transform our transportation system.[3] The 2021 “bipartisan” Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $20 billion over the next five years for transit projects. But meanwhile, efforts at the community, local, and state level have already started creating jobs reducing transportation pollution – models of what we have called a Green New Deal from Below.[4]

These Green New Deal from Below programs are often characterized by multiple objectives – for example, protecting the global climate, improving local health, providing jobs, and countering inequality. And they often pursue concrete ways to realize multiple goals, such as “transit-oriented development” that builds housing near transit to simultaneously shift travel from cars to public transit and to expand access to jobs and urban amenities for people in low-income communities.

The Fossil Fuel Industry Is a Jobs-Killer

By Wenonah Hauter - In These Times, February 14, 2022

For years now, any discussion about climate action or the need to move off fossil fuels has run headlong into a familiar quandary: The industries fueling the climate crisis create good jobs, often in areas of the country where finding work that can support a family is incredibly difficult. 

This leaves activists gesturing towards well-intentioned goals like a ​“just transition,” a promise that likely rings hollow for workers and many labor unions because it’s hard to see where this has actually happened — even though, by every measure, we need to create some real policies that turn this vision into reality. While there are encouraging examples of labor unions throwing their support behind robust climate plans, it has proven difficult for the climate movement to find its way out of the jobs versus environment framing. 

But that is especially true when we refuse to question the original premise. The truth is that the fossil fuel industry wildly inflates its employment record, and the recent data show they are producing more fuel with fewer workers. Instead of avoiding this reality, perhaps it is time to tackle it head on. Dirty energy corporations are not creating jobs as much as they are cutting them these days, and that provides an opening to envision the kinds of employment — in areas like orphaned well clean up and energy efficiency — that will provide employment for the thousands of workers the industry is no longer employing. 

Some of the most common jobs estimates are produced by the American Petroleum Institute (API), the powerful oil and gas trade association. Over the years, API has released reports claiming that the domestic fracking industry creates somewhere between 2.5 million to 11 million jobs, both directly and indirectly. These numbers — or versions of them — are floated in political debates and in the media, but they are significantly out of step with other estimates, including the federal government’s labor reports. Food & Water Watch, an organization I founded, created a more accurate model that relies on direct jobs and relevant support activities, including pipeline construction and product transportation. The total comes to just over 500,000 in 2020, or about 0.4 percent of all jobs in the country. 

How to explain the massive gap between industry propaganda and reality? The API figures include a range of employment categories; in addition to direct industry employment, they add indirect jobs (those within a supply chain) and induced jobs (those that are supposedly ​‘supported’ by direct and indirect jobs). These categories make up the vast majority of their total. Convenience store workers, for example — working where gas happens to be sold — make up almost 35 percent of the industry’s supposed employment record.

Shuler: Good Union Jobs Are Key to a Clean Energy Future

By Liz Shuler - AFL-CIO, September 17, 2021

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks virtually at the Long Island Offshore Wind Supply Chain Conference:

Thank you so much for that wonderful introduction, Congressman [Tom] Suozzi. Thank you for your strong voice for working families in your district but for all working families, and for chairing the House labor caucus.

Good morning to all of you! Even though I’m Zooming in, I’m so happy to be joining you today—sounds like you have a great crowd in person and online. Hello to my labor friends—John Durso, Roger Clayman. I heard Chris Erickson is there and everyone from all walks of life who care about our climate.

I got fired up hearing your intro Congressman. I’m inspired because I see the future: that win-win-win is right there for us to grab it, and a modern, resilient and inclusive labor movement is what will help us meet the challenges of the climate crisis.

New York, I don’t need to tell you that working people are seeing and feeling the impacts of climate change. Ida recently flooded the New York transit systems and parts of Long Island saw record rainfall. 

It’s happening all across the country. Wildfires. Heat waves. Climate change is already here, happening in every community and every ZIP code. From your local news reports to the recent IPCC report, you’re hearing the alarm: we have to transition to a clean energy future. The question is how? 

The answer: with good, union jobs. It’s why we are building a labor movement that will meet the moment.

Just look at how our movement, government, industry leaders and environmental groups have worked together to bring offshore wind to the Atlantic Coast. Our progress working together shows that the way to respond and adapt to the climate crisis is through a high-road strategy with good, union jobs. 

That’s the only way we can meet the urgency in front of us. 

A Just Transition Now or Climate Disaster is Inevitable

Can green locomotives get rail industry back on track? Wabtec, union leaders in Erie say yes

By Jim Martin - GoErie, July 26, 2021

Wabtec, which purchased the former GE Transportation in 2019, agrees with the union leadership at the Erie plant on a couple of important points.

Developing low- and zero-emission locomotives can help address worries about climate change. And it can also be good for business.

Wabtec CEO Rafael Santana announced the establishment of a research institute in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and Genesee & Wyoming Railroad during a House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing in March.

Santana told the committee the company was committed within the next nine years to developing the technology to accelerate the reduction of greenhouses gas emissions by using battery- and hydrogen-powered locomotives.

Santana predicted those initiatives would lead to the creation of “250,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs."

Two Years After a Huge Refinery Fire in Philadelphia, a New Day Has Come for its Long-Suffering Neighbors

By Daelin Brown - Inside Climate News, July 5, 2021

The petroleum smell is gone, the benzene emissions are being monitored and residents in nearby neighborhoods of color feel they’re finally being heard.

Dorthia Pebbles inhaled harmful pollutants and smelled noxious odors from the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery for years when she would leave her rowhome on Hoffman Street to walk to the corner store.

After losing family members to cancer, she and her neighbors who lived across the street from the massive South Philadelphia refinery, once the largest on the East Coast, couldn’t help but conclude that its emissions were giving them asthma and threatening their health in even more serious ways. But no one from the refinery or the city ever gave them any information, or seemed to care.

Then one night in June 2019, the refinery exploded, creating a whole new set of hazards and issues for the neighbors to wrestle with.

“The most recent explosion woke us up out of our sleep,” said Pebbles. “But hearing that it will not be a refinery anymore is good. A lot of people ended up with cancer from the neighborhood.”

Two years after the explosion, Pebbles and other nearby residents said in interviews that relations with the site’s new owner, Hilco Redevelopment Partners, which bought the 1,300-acre property in bankruptcy court last year, have improved and led to talks involving cleanup of the site and jobs.

“What’s the alternative?”: Answering the hardest question asked by workers and communities that feel threatened by energy transition

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, May 18, 2021

At ORVI, we’ve documented the inability of the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries to serve as engines for job growth and prosperity in Appalachia. Although these findings may be greeted with doubt, disbelief, and sometimes anger, we find that, once the numbers sink in and people in the mining and fracking regions of Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley look around at their communities — the struggling downtowns, declining populations, and the departures of their sons and daughters to places far away in search of opportunity — reality usually takes hold.

It can be a profoundly sad moment. But, for local leaders who may have invested years promoting these industries as economic saviors, the realization can be bitter and give rise to a question that is equal parts a challenge and a plea — What’s the alternative?

When you’re on the receiving end of that question, you feel its weight. And, if you don’t have an answer, you can feel that you’re stealing someone’s — maybe an entire community’s — hope and you’re leaving them with nothing.

Does Shale Gas Extraction Grow Jobs?

Biden’s Climate Pitch Could Hit Turbulence From Some Fossil Fuel-Friendly Unions

By Reid Frazer - Allegheny Front, April 16, 2021

President Biden is selling the climate-friendly aspects of his $2 trillion infrastructure plan as a chance to create good-paying union jobs. But at a local branch of one of the country’s oldest unions, there are doubts that dealing with climate change will be good for workers here, in the oil-and-gas state of Pennsylvania. 

Boilermakers Local 154 in Pittsburgh builds and maintains coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants. During a recent training session, a handful of members practiced welding behind a thick blue safety curtain, part of preparations to repair and rebuild the boiler in a coal-fired power plant.

“That boiler is 100-some feet high,” said Shawn Steffee, the local’s business agent. “And they go up, way up in that boiler, perform that weld, and then come back down.”

It’s highly skilled work that can pay well, sometimes six figures — the “pinnacle” of blue-collar craftwork, Steffee said. And it’s exactly the kind of job he worries will disappear if Biden’s climate policies speed up the decline of fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy.

If he were to go work in the solar industry, for example, Steffee said he’d be essentially starting over in a new trade and risk losing some of his pension and other benefits.

“I’m going to throw everything away to go over here, and maybe start as an electrician?” he said. “I don’t know nothing about electrical. I know how to weld. I know how to build power plants.”

For a decade, Pennsylvania and other states have seen jobs in coal disappear as utilities have turned to cheaper natural gas. Now some in these states worry that ambitious climate goals — and cheaper wind and solar — mean oil and gas jobs will be the next to go. 

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels Is Possible. These State-Level Plans Show How

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, March 15, 2021

When it comes to climate change, state governments across the United States have been way ahead of the federal government in providing leadership toward reducing carbon pollution and building a clean energy economy. For example, when Trump announced in 2017 his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the governors of California, Washington and New York pledged to support the international agreement, and by 2019, more than 20 other states ended up joining this alliance to combat global warming.

Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of Economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has been a driving force behind several U.S. states’ efforts to curb carbon emissions and make a transition to a green economy. In this exclusive Truthout interview, Pollin talks about how states can take crucial, proactive steps to build a clean energy future.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, you are the lead author of commissioned studies, produced with some of your colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, to fight climate change for scores of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Colorado, Washington, New York and California. The purpose of those studies is to show the way for states to attain critical reductions in carbon emissions while also embarking on a path of economy recovery and a just transition toward an environmentally sustainable environment. In general terms, how is this to be done, and is there a common strategy that all states can follow?

Robert Pollin: The basic framework that we have developed is the same for all states. For all states, we develop a path through which the state can reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by roughly half as of 2030 and to transform into a zero emissions economy by 2050. These are the emissions reduction targets set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) that are meant to apply to the entire global economy. The IPCC — which is a UN agency that serves as a clearinghouse for climate change research — has concluded that these CO2 emissions reduction targets have to be met in order for we, the human race, to have a reasonable chance to stabilize the global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level, [the level of] about the year 1800.

The IPCC has concluded that stabilizing the global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels provides the only realistic chance for avoiding the most severe destructive impacts of climate change in terms of heat extremes, heavy precipitation, droughts, floods, sea level rise, biodiversity losses, and the corresponding impacts on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply and human security. Given that these emissions reduction targets must be met on a global scale, it follows that they also must be met in every state of the United States, with no exceptions, just like they must be met in every other country or region of the world with no exceptions.

By far the most important source of CO2 emissions entering the atmosphere is fossil fuel consumption — i.e., burning oil, coal and natural gas to produce energy. As such, the program we develop in all of the U.S. states centers on the state’s economy phasing out its entire fossil fuel industry — i.e., anything to do with producing or consuming oil, coal or natural gas — at a rate that will enable the state to hit the two IPCC emissions reduction targets: the 50 percent reduction by 2030 and zero emissions within the state by 2050.

Of course, meeting these emissions reduction targets raises a massive question right away: How can you phase out fossil fuels and still enable people to heat, light and cool their homes and workplaces; for cars, buses, trains and planes to keep running; and for industrial machinery of all types to keep operating?

It turns out that, in its basics, the answer is simple and achievable, in all the states we have studied (and everywhere else for that matter): to build a whole new clean energy infrastructure that will supplant the existing fossil fuel dominant infrastructure in each state. So the next major feature of our approach is to develop investment programs to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in buildings, transportation systems and industrial equipment, and equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources, i.e. primarily solar and wind energy, but also geothermal, small-scale hydro, as well as low-emissions bioenergy.

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