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Refinery Communities Speak Out on Just Transition Reports

By Ann Alexander - Natural Resources Defense Council, February 9, 2021

Governor Newsom’s executive order mandating all-electric passenger cars and trucks by 2035 got quite a bit of deserved nationwide buzz last fall. What got less notice was that, buried toward the end of the order, were several mandates for action on the supply side of our fossil fuel problem—that is, California’s oil extraction and refining industry. 

We noted at the time that these mandates were not, unlike the pretty well thought out electric vehicles mandate, given much attention in the order. We expressed concern that the Governor was basically throwing a bone to people concerned about the human and environmental damage being wrought on an ongoing basis by the state’s oil production industry.

Two of those mandates, however, stood out from the beginning as critically important—both having to do with the issue of just transition for workers and communities to new economic opportunities as California phases out its oil industry. The first mandate was a directive to two California agencies—the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) and the Labor and Workforce Development Agency—to develop and implement a “Just Transition Roadmap” for the state, consistent with recommendations developed pursuant to Assembly Bill 398 in 2017. The second is a directive to two other California agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency and the Natural Resources Agency—to “expedite regulatory processes to repurpose and transition . . . oil production facilities,” and produce an “action plan” reporting on their progress, in order “[t]o support the transition away from fossil fuels.” Both reports—the Roadmap and the action plan—are required to be completed by July of this year. 

Among the missing specifics is anything about how the public and key stakeholders are to be involved in the preparation of these reports; or any clear guidelines about the required scope and depth of the reports. But what we already know is that just transition is a critically important topic for the public as the oil industry continues its slide into eventual oblivion, and merits sustained and robust attention. Not only has oil extraction been in steady decline since the mid-1980s (plunging nearly 60 percent since 1985), but California’s oil refineries are now on the brink as well—two of them announced conversions to biofuel production over the summer, while refineries around the nation and the world are increasingly becoming unprofitable and shutting down

Over 400,000 Clean Energy jobs lost in the U.S. since the start of the pandemic

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 18, 2021

U.S. government employment figures for December 2020 show that the U.S. clean energy sector added 16,900 jobs in December. However, analysis released on January 13 reveals that the recovery is slow, and the industry now has its lowest number of workers since 2015, having suffered a loss of over 400,000 jobs (12%) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Clean Energy Employment Initial Impacts from the COVID-19 Economic Crisis, December 2020 was prepared by BW Research Partnership, commissioned by industry groups E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), E4TheFuture, and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) . The 17-page report provides data by state and by technology, with energy efficiency leading the losses with 302,164 total jobs lost nationally between February and December 2020. California was the hardest hit state. 

This is the latest in a monthly series of reports tracking the impact of Covid-19 on clean energy jobs – the series is available at the E2 website here. These reports document the dramatic shift in clean energy employment in the U.S; the E2 Clean Jobs America 2020 annual report outlines the industry’s policy recommendations for recovery as of April 2020.

Bay Area Transit Unions Join Forces to Win Safety Protections and Beat Back Layoffs

By Richard Marcantonio - Labor Notes, January 12, 2021

Transit workers have been hit hard by the pandemic. Last year at least 100 from the Amalgamated Transit Union and 131 from the Transport Workers lost their lives to Covid-19.

Before Covid, transit unions in the Bay Area—six ATU locals, and one local each of TWU and the Teamsters—often faced their individual struggles in isolation. But during the pandemic, these locals united across the region and came together with riders to demand protections for all.

That unity forced reluctant politicians to make Covid safety a priority. It also set the stage for the unions and riders to team up again to stave off layoffs. And there are more fights ahead.

PUBLIC TRANSIT STARVED

More than two dozen public transit agencies serve the Bay Area. They include MUNI in San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit, AC Transit in Oakland, Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, and Golden Gate Transit, which links San Francisco with counties to the north.

As a public service, transit depends on government funding. Yet federal support for operations—keeping the buses and trains running—was eliminated in 1998. Since then, federal funding has been restricted to capital projects, like buying buses or building light rail.

This austerity led many transit systems to cut service and raise fares. With each new round of cuts, union jobs were eliminated and vacancies left unfilled. A “death spiral” set in: cuts and fare hikes drove riders away; fewer riders meant less revenue.

With the onset of the pandemic, transit ridership plummeted, most dramatically on commuter systems that carry white-collar workers to downtown offices. But local service became more important than ever. Today over a third of transit riders are essential workers.

In March, the CARES Act earmarked $25 billion for emergency transit funding. Departing from past federal policy, this funding was eligible for operating expenses to keep workers on the payroll.

A new regional coalition called Voices for Public Transportation had been taking shape in 2019, bringing together unions and riders to push for more transit funding. When the pandemic hit, this coalition turned its attention to the urgent organizing for safety measures, and participation continued to grow.

Critics Say Newsom's Proposed 2022-23 Budget 'Falls Short' on Confronting Fossil Fuels

By Dan Bacher - Daily Kos, January 11, 2022

Governor Gavin Newsom on January 10 unveiled his 2022-23 state budget proposal including a $45.7 billion budget surplus, receiving both criticism and praise from environmental and climate advocates.

The budget proposal followed one of the most catastrophic years for fish and the ecosystem in California history during which the Delta smelt became virtually extinct in the wild, only 2.6 percent of winter-run Chinook juveniles on the Sacramento River below Keswick Dam survived warm water conditions and most spring-run Chinook salmon on Butte Creek perished before spawning.

The proposal also came after a year in which Consumer Watchdog and Fractracker Alliance revealed at www.NewsomWellWatch.org that Newsom’s oil and gas regulatory agency, CalGEM, had approved a total of 9,728 oil drilling permits from January 1, 2019 until October 1, 2021. In addition, the groups found that the Newsom Administration approved 150 offshore drilling permits in state waters since January 1, 2019. 

Newsom touted his “California Blueprint” budget proposal as a “bold plan building on the state’s ongoing work to confront California’s greatest existential threats, bolster our strong economic growth and make historic investments in California’s future.” 

“With major new investments to tackle the greatest threats to our state’s future, the California Blueprint lights the path forward to continue the historic progress we’ve made on our short-term and long-term challenges, including responding to the evolving pandemic, fighting the climate crisis, taking on persistent inequality and homelessness, keeping our streets safe and more,” claimed Governor Newsom. “As California’s robust recovery continues, we’re doubling down on our work to ensure all our communities can thrive.” 

Let's Own Chevron: Can the Just Transition of the Fossil Fuel Industry Start Here?

By Ted Franklin - System Change not Climate Change, December 2020

The Bay Area is home to one of the largest fossil fuel companies in the world. In October 2020 Chevron overtook ExxonMobil to become the largest U.S. oil company as measured by market cap. On October 7, the total value of shareholders’ stock in Chevron reached $142 billion, surpassing Exxon’s $141.6 billion.

Headquartered in Dublin and operating Northern California’s largest refinery in Richmond, Chevron has already found itself in the crosshairs of Bay Area activists for its routine pollution of working-class neighborhoods and its contributions to climate change. The Richmond Progressive Alliance’s radical struggle against Chevron’s domination of Richmond’s city government has been a central story in Bay Area left environmentalism in recent decades..

Much bigger contests over the power of Chevron and its ilk lie directly ahead. Increasingly, it has become clear that a direct government takeover of our fossil fuel industries is a necessary step for at least three reasons:

  • 1. Reductions in oil, coal, and gas production must begin immediately to avoid catastrophic degradation of the planet. Chevron and every other fossil fuel company must begin the process of downsizing at a rapid pace. As long as the fossil fuel companies are being run to maximize profits, any downsizing will be accidental and haphazard. Management which puts people and planet first must take over to ensure that the necessary reductions take place.
  • 2. Public ownership is the only way to break the back of the fossil fuel industries’ death grip over climate policy. The fossil fuel capitalists will not go quietly away. They have enormous sunk costs in their existing infrastructure. They intend to exert enormous political power to resist any reduction in their profits and any attempt to make them “keep it in the ground.”
  • 3. A just transition for workers and communities requires social control of the rapidly evolving energy commons. Even if the carbon tax championed by Joe Biden’s Treasury pick, Janet Yellen,1 could achieve sufficient reductions in carbon emissions to avert climate disaster, it would do nothing to ensure that reductions in carbon emissions are achieved without misery to workers and communities.

What is to be done?

Read the text (PDF).

Open Letter to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Just Transition

By Andreas Soto and Ann Alexander - Communities of a Better Environment and NRDC, November 20, 2020

Candace Anderson, Diane Burgis, John Gioia,
Karen Mitchoff, and Federal D. Glover
Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors
651 Pine Street, Room 107
Martinez, CA 94553

Dear Chair Anderson, Vice-Chair Burgis, and Supervisors Gioia, Mitchoff, and Glover, The undersigned organizations applaud your recent Declaration of a Climate Emergency in Contra Costa County, which underlines the need to "plan for a ' Just Transition' away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy." In furtherance of this goal, we seek your immediate action to ensure just transitions for workers and communities threatened with sudden abandonment by refineries located in the County. We believe climate protection must go hand in hand with environmental and economic justice. All of this is now at risk in the Contra Costa County oil belt.

As you know, Marathon abruptly announced in August the immediate permanent end to crude processing at its Martinez refinery. Phillips 66 followed suit with notice of the impending partial closure of its San Francisco Refinery Complex facilities in Rodeo, Franklin Canyon, and Arroyo Grande. Both companies proposed switching to significantly downsized production of non-petroleum fuels, which will involve fallowing of large portions of the refineries. Neither announcement identified any explicit commitment to full cleanups of the contaminated industrial sites. Of even more immediate concern, neither company committed to support the wages, health care, or pensions of all whose jobs these facility closures threaten.

These refinery downsizings—which may well be a harbinger of additional closures in the future—will jeopardize not just the livelihoods of the refinery employees, but those of thousands of families in the surrounding communities whose jobs are indirectly dependent upon the existence of the refineries. Refinery downsizing and shutdown also threaten a significant portion of the tax base upon which community government and essential services depend. Ultimately at risk are future prospects for environmentally healthy and economically sustainable development in communities hosting the decommissioned plant sites.

Letter to Contra Costa County, California on Just Transition from Fossil Fuels

By staff - Sunflower Alliance, November 20, 2020

Just weeks after Contra Costa County’s Board of Supervisors declared a climate emergency, a diverse group of environmental, labor, and public health advocates sent a letter to the Board calling for a planned and equitable transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy, in what many are calling a “just transition” that supports refinery workers and frontline communities.

“We applaud your recent Declaration of a Climate Emergency in Contra Costa County, which underlines the need to ‘plan for a ‘just transition’ away from a fossil-fuel dependent economy.’  In furtherance of this goal, we seek your immediate action to ensure just transitions for workers and communities threatened with sudden abandonment by refineries located in the County.  We believe climate protection must go hand in hand with environmental and economic justice,”  reads the letter’s opening paragraph.  See the full letter here.

The letter highlights concerns over recent news regarding changes to traditional refinery operations in Contra Costa County—including Marathon’s announcement of a permanent end to crude oil processing at its Martinez refinery, and Phillips 66’s notice of an impending partial closure of its San Francisco Refinery facilities in Rodeo, Franklin Canyon, and Arroyo Grande.

Both companies have proposed changes that would significantly decrease the production of non-petroleum fuels, which will involve shuttering large portions of the refinery.  Neither company has identified plans for full cleanups of their industrial sites, nor have they made adequate commitments to support the wages, health care, or pensions of workers whose jobs are threatened by these changes.

“The large oil companies who have for so long made their profits in Contra Costa County’s local communities ought to be the ones to pay the steep cost associated with their departure,”  the letter states.

The letter also identifies how the communities facing shuttered refinery operations are ultimately at risk for future prospects for environmentally healthy and economically sustainable development.

A Just Transition for Labor: What Will it Take?

By Carol Zabin, Shrayas Jatkar, and Mark Kyle - The Climate Center, November 19, 2020

The science is clear on climate change: we must rapidly phase out fossils fuels. But tens of thousands of workers have jobs in fossil fuel and related industries. How do we secure a just transition that guarantees good jobs with benefits for these workers in the new clean energy economy? Carol Zabin (Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley) is a labor economist who recently completed a comprehensive report for the California legislature called Putting California on the High Road to answer that question. We also heard from Shrayas Jatkar, a Policy Specialist at the California Workforce Development Board, the state agency charged with implementing the report’s findings, and labor attorney Mark Kyle.

Please read the executive summary of Zabin’s report and The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California platform before joining this deep-dive discussion and bring your questions.

Agroecology to Combat the Climate Crisis

States of Change: What the Green New Deal can learn from the New Deal In the states

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, November 2020

With the likelihood of a federal government sharply divided between Republicans and Democrats, states are likely to play an expanded role in shaping the American future. The aspirations for a Green New Deal may have support from the presidency and the House, but they are likely to be fiercely contested in the Senate and perhaps the Supreme Court. Bold action to address climate and inequality could emerge at the state level. Are there lessons we can learn from the original New Deal about the role of states in a highly conflicted era of reform?

The original New Deal of the 1930s was a national program led by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But states played a critical role in developing the New Deal. The same could be true of tomorrow’s Green New Deal.

There is organizing for a Green New Deal in every one of the fifty states. But our federal system is often ambiguous about what can and can’t be done at a state level and how action at a state level can affect national policy and vice versa. The purpose of this discussion paper is to explore what we can learn about the role of states in the original New Deal that may shed light on the strategies, opportunities, and pitfalls for the Green New Deal of today and tomorrow.

Read the text (PDF).

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