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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Climate Change at Work

By NRDC - Grist, July 19, 2022

Last summer, the Pacific Northwest was hit by a once-in-a-millenium heat dome. While temperatures were higher than ever recorded, L.A.* was outside, working Washington’s blueberry harvest. (Fearing potential work repercussions, L.A. did not wish to be identified by her full name.) Soon, she was dehydrated, dizzy, and vomiting. Her minor son, who was also working in the field out in the heat, got a bloody nose and headache. When the harvest was moved to the middle of the night to avoid the most intense heat—”to protect the fruit, not the workers,” L.A. says—her friend cut herself badly laboring in the dark. 

Whether it’s heatwaves, wildfire smoke, or attempts to adapt that create new hazards, the climate crisis is exacerbating risks for America’s workers. From home health aides and school teachers to construction and farm workers, people across the country are now facing compounding challenges on the widening frontlines of the climate crisis. Yet federal protections for the workplace have not kept pace.

During California’s recent wildfires, shocking photos emerged of farmworkers harvesting grapes in California vineyards under an orange-tinged sky. That may be one of the most visible examples of people being forced to work in dangerous conditions, but it’s far from the only climate-related health risk employees regularly face. “The reality is that millions of workers—across our society—are being exposed to multiple environmental stressors all at once, including searing heat and toxic air pollution,” says Dr. Vijay Limaye, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 

For instance, Limaye explains that the formation of ground level ozone—air pollution formed in the atmosphere from building blocks including emissions from burning coal, oil, and gas—is intensified by hotter temperatures. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for setting exposure limits, but the agency’s models often don’t account for compounding circumstances or cumulative impacts. While the EPA sets some legal limits for ozone, for example, outdoor workers are frequently exposed to smog and extreme temperatures simultaneously. From a health risk perspective, “the sum is often greater than the parts,” Limaye says.

Extreme Judicial Activism in West Virginia v. EPA

By Kevin Bell - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, June 30, 2022

Ruling will restrict the federal government’s ability to address climate change

The Supreme Court issued a decision today in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency that will hamstring the federal government’s ability to issue a wide range of regulations covering the environment, public health, climate change and the economy.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court held that the Clean Air Act’s grant of authority for EPA to implement the “best system of emission reductions” does not allow a nationwide system capping total carbon emissions to force a transition away from the use of fossil fuels. Its reasoning is, essentially, that the EPA cannot use this kind of system because it has never done it before. The court explicitly declined to determine what “system of emissions reductions” it would allow, leaving EPA, and every other agency in government, to guess what a reviewing court will or will not allow.

The ruling, in effect, smothers any attempt to use EPA’s existing statutory authorities to control carbon emissions or meaningfully slow climate change.

Instead of applying the Constitution, the Court relied on a relatively new conservative judicial theory called the “major questions doctrine.” The “major questions doctrine” holds that courts should not defer to agency statutory interpretations that concern questions of “vast economic or political significance.” However, in reality, this nebulous doctrine allows the judicial branch of government to usurp the power of the legislative and executive branches of government by allowing judges to insert themselves into any issue they find important economically or politically. It also further undermines 40 –years of precedent known as “Chevron Deference” which calls on judges to accept reasonable interpretations of a statute by an administrative agency.

Green Workers Alliance Condemns WV v. EPA Ruling; Calls Out Big Utilities for Role in Climate Destruction

By staff - Green Workers Alliance, June 30, 2022

“We can’t rely on Washington to lead the way...Workers, consumers, and everyday citizens must lead the transition away from fossil fuels.”

Washington D.C. - In response to the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA, Green Workers Alliance, a worker-power organization made of current and aspiring renewable energy workers, released the following statement:

Today’s outrageous decision in West Virginia v. EPA is the culmination of a long-running campaign by the fossil fuel industry and investor-owned utilities to take away the government’s abilities to regulate their dangerous emissions. The utility industry wants to keep us hooked on fossil fuels so they can rake in huge profits while emitting harmful and deadly pollution at the expense of the people, the planet, and workers. But we won’t let the far-right majority of the Supreme Court dictate our future. We are taking the fight directly to utility companies to force them to use more renewable energy and help create millions of good, green jobs.

“The West Virginia v. EPA decision will increase pollution and utility costs, making people sicker while lining the pockets of greedy politicians and corporations. We can’t rely on Washington to save us from climate change and we are running out of time. Now more than ever, we need to organize the people who can lead the transition away from fossil fuels: renewable energy workers,” said Matthew Mayers, Executive Director of Green Workers Alliance. “This is a tragic day for our communities and for the environment, but we have a plan to hold Big Utilities accountable.”

“Right now, people are being laid off from solar and wind jobs because projects are delayed or canceled. Many are going back to oil and gas jobs. Instead of weakening our ability to clean up our energy production, we need utilities to step in and buy more renewable energy so these projects get back on track. But with this new case and similar ones to possibly come forward, renewable energy workers may be even more displaced,” said Crystal McCoy, a heavy equipment operator on renewable energy projects and Green Workers Alliance member.

This devastating decision from a far-right Supreme Court that is out of step with the majority of the American public makes clear Washington will not lead the way on the transition to a green economy. Workers, consumers, and everyday citizens must shift our attention to Big Utility companies and demand they dramatically increase their renewable energy use and set higher labor standards for their renewable energy contractors. Labor, community, and environmental groups must coordinate pressure and hold utilities accountable in the fight for climate justice. With power from the grassroots, we will fight corporate greed and build a power sector that is good for the environment, workers, and utility customers.

EPA Workers Demand Scientific Integrity in Their Union Contract

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

The American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, which represents 7,500 scientists, engineers, and other employees at the federal Environmental Protection Agency, is demanding a contract that insulates agency science from political interference.

According to Nicole Cantello, an EPA lawyer and union leader, “We are looking to be the first union in the nation to have a scientific integrity article in our contract.” The union plans to introduce its proposal at a bargaining session with management in June.

At the top of Council 238’s website is the banner “Protecting the Workers Who Protect the Planet.” Their mission statement:

EPA employees have committed our careers to protecting human health and the environment. Our fight for a fair workplace is a fight to continue our mission to protect all Americans and preserve the soul of the EPA. The health and future of our country and planet depend on it.

Protecting the health of our country and our planet depends on a fully functioning EPA, where all employees – from climate scientists to pollution analysts, lawyers, and enforcement personnel – are free from political interference to do their jobs.

EPA employees and their unions have a long history of fighting political interference with their duty to protect people and the planet. In 2007, leaders of 22 EPA unions petitioned Congress to “allow U.S. EPA’s scientists and engineers to speak frankly and directly with Congress and the public regarding climate change, without fear of reprisal.”

For more on this story: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zahrahirji/epa-unions-trump-science-protections

For more on AFGE Council 238: https://afge238.org

For the 2007 petition by EPA workers and unions: https://www.jeremybrecher.org/a-clarion-call/

Environmental Groups Call on Green Building Community to Stop Partnering With Kingspan Group, Global Manufacturer of Building Materials

By Lauren Burke and Meredith Schafer - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 3, 2022

Santa Ana, Calif. — Forty-five (45) local and national groups organizing against climate change and for environmental justice have signed a statement calling on the green building community to reconsider partnerships with Kingspan Group, an Ireland-based global manufacturer of insulation and other building materials that markets its products as “green.” Led by the Labor Network for Sustainability, local groups including Orange County Environmental Justice, Madison Park Neighborhood Association, The River Project and others were joined by national groups including Greenpeace USA, Friends of the Earth, Climate Justice Alliance, Sunrise Movement, the Climate Advocacy Lab and 36 others. The green building community includes architects, specifiers, the US Green Building Council, and trade associations such as the American Institute of Architects.

“We call on those who deal with Kingspan to reconsider rewarding it for behavior that weakens the credibility of the green building community, and that goes against the values of safe and sustainable buildings and communities,” reads the statement co-signed by the 45 organizations.

Read the full statement and list of signatory organizations here

The groups are calling on the green building community to stop allowing Kingspan representatives to sponsor or speak at trade shows and conferences, and to discontinue offering continuing education courses taught by Kingspan until the Grenfell Inquiry is finished and changes are made to its Santa Ana factory. The statement points to whistleblower complaints by Kingspan workers on health, safety and stormwater pollution issues at its Santa Ana, CA factory filed in October 2021, as well as the revelations from the Grenfell Tower Fire Inquiry regarding its UK insulation business that came out in 2020-2021.

Read the CalEPA and CalOSHA complaints, and the Indoor Air Quality study

The 2020-21 testimony and evidence from the UK Government Inquiry into the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire revealed how Kingspan’s UK insulation division misrepresented and mis-marketed Kooltherm K15’s fire safety testing and certifications from 2006-2020. (Kooltherm K15 made up five percent of the insulation in the tower, which is why Kingspan is a core participant of the Inquiry.) The company began marketing K15 in the US in 2018, after the fire.

“Kingspan is not an appropriate source for continuing education courses or sponsorships of events for the green building community, including those that touch on fire safety.” Read about Kingspan and the Grenfell Inquiry here

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The Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) engages workers and communities in building a transition to a society that is ecologically sustainable and economically just. We work to foster deep relationships that help the labor movement engage in the climate movement and the climate movement understand the economics of climate change and the importance of organized labor as a key partner in confronting the climate crisis.

The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), AFL-CIO, is an international union whose affiliates represent sheet metal workers throughout the United States and Canada, as well as workers in transportation industries. Our members manufacture and install heating, ventilation, and air handling systems (HVAC), as well as architectural components such as metal roofing, facades, and other building envelope products.

Protecting Workers Engaged In Protecting The Environment

What’s Missing from the New IEA Report on Mining and the Renewable Energy Transition?

By Raquel Dominguez - Earthworks, June 14, 2021

The International Energy Agency sends a mixed message in its recent reports, urging that we leave fossil fuels in the ground while simultaneously calling for more extraction of metals used in low-carbon technologies. This extractivist push is both problematic and unnecessary: the world can achieve a clean energy transition without the kind of human rights catastrophes and environmental devastation that the mining industry currently considers acceptable. 

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released two important reports in the past month. The first, Net Zero by 2050, notes that “there is no need for new investment in fossil fuel supply,” a conclusion that many in the climate movement, including Earthworks, have applauded. The second, The Role of Critical Minerals in Clean Energy Transitions, undermines the “keep it in the ground” message of the first report by calling for more extraction in the form of metals mining. 

With the ever-increasing damage and injustices exacerbated by the climate crisis, the renewable energy transition is more urgent than ever. Demand for the “transition” minerals used in renewable energy technologies is in turn projected to increase sharply: according to the IEA, to meet the Paris Agreement goals, demand will rise (over the next 20 years) by more than 40% for copper and rare earth elements (REEs), 60-70% for nickel and cobalt, and more than 89% for lithium. Lithium-ion batteries need lithium, nickel, and cobalt (among other elements), wind turbines use REEs, and copper is used in all electricity-based technologies, due to its high rate of conductivity. 

These aren’t new projections: our own 2019 publication on this issue based on research by the University of Technology, Sydney, pointed to similar trendlines. This steep upward trajectory in minerals demand could be devastating for communities and ecosystems in the regions where these minerals are extracted. Hardrock mining has a long, terrible history as a tool of colonization and imperialism; in the United States alone, mining has accompanied and driven western settlement, which killed untold numbers of Indigenous peoples, breaking multiple treaties with Indigenous peoples, contaminating more than 40% of western watersheds’ headwaters, and directly causing the deaths of many members of mining-affected communities from cancer. Mining is the country’s leading industrial toxic polluter, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, and responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, according to the UN Environment Programme.

But the social and environmental harm brought on by mining is not a thing of the past: in the Olaroz salt flat in Argentina, Indigenous peoples “that own the land struggle to pay for sewage systems, drinking water and heat for schools” even as Minera Exar anticipates making $250 million per year by mining lithium; in Australia, Rio Tinto blew up the Juukan Gorge, which is sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kuurama and Pinikura peoples and which had evidence of continuous habitation for more than 46,000 years, in pursuit of iron ore. There are hundreds of stories just like these, some of them which are detailed in our recent report, Recharge Responsibly, happening all over the world—and this environmental injustice will continue apace if recycling and reuse, alongside other demand reduction strategies and more responsible primary sourcing, are not prioritized as part of a clean energy transition.

It doesn’t have to be this way...

Read the rest here.

Get Fossil Fuels Out of Our Pension, Say Environmental Protection Workers

By Saurav Sarkar - Labor Notes, June 3, 2021

Not long ago, workers at the Environmental Protection Agency were battling the Trump Administration’s many attempts to interfere with both their agency’s mission and their rights on the job.

Under Trump, the EPA reduced union officials’ official time, restricted the ability to bring grievances, and took away office, meeting, and storage space. Now, with most of those changes undone and the Trump era behind them, EPA workers have begun to work towards a different goal: divesting their federal retirement investment program—the world’s largest defined-contribution plan—from fossil fuel stocks.

“For EPA employees, this is something that is near and dear to our hearts,” said Nicole Cantello, an EPA lawyer and president of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 704.

EPA workers issue and enforce regulations, make grants, conduct research and education, and provide technical assistance for environmental cleanup. They’re probably more aware than most workers of the urgency of the climate crisis, given that they collect greenhouse gas data, regulate vehicle emissions, and educate the public about the issue.

Even limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—the goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement—will result, according to a landmark 2018 U.N. report, in heat waves, more droughts, more intense hurricanes and flooding, a rise in sea levels, harm to ecosystems, lower food crop yields, deforestation, and other damaging consequences.

An increase of 2 degrees or more will have far more devastating effects.

So it’s no wonder EPA workers aren’t happy, about, as Cantello put it, “being forced to invest in instruments that have fossil fuels and [greenhouse gas] emissions that are attached them.”

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

Bailed Out and Propped Up: US Fossil Fuel Pandemic Bailouts Climb Towards $15 Billion

By Dan L. Wagner, Christopher Kuveke, Alan Zibel, and Lukas Ross - Bailout Watch, Public Service, Friends of the Earth, November 2022

The fossil fuel industry received between $10.4 billion and $15.2 billion in direct economic relief from federal efforts under President Donald Trump.

During a year of massive economic losses caused by climate change-driven wildfires and hurricanes, the U.S. government has sent billions in pandemic-related economic aid to the fossil fuel companies most responsible for catastrophic climate damage.

An analysis by BailoutWatch, Public Citizen, and Friends of the Earth reveals the fossil fuel industry received between $10.4 billion and $15.2 billion in direct economic relief from federal efforts under President Donald Trump to sustain the economy through the pandemic.

These direct benefits were magnified by indirect lifelines, most notably the implied seal of approval conferred on some companies’ debt when the Federal Reserve bought $432 million in oil and gas bonds from private investors on the secondary market. The Fed earlier signaled its support for the broader bond market, including junk-rated debt, by buying Exchange-Traded Funds that included $735.4 million of fossil fuel bonds.

By demonstrating its willingness to take on fossil fuel debt — and risky debt from any part of the economy — the Fed drew private investors back into a shaky market. This fueled a lending boom of more than $93 billion in new bond issuances by oil and gas companies since the Fed intervened in March — the fastest rate of energy bond issuance since at least 2010.

The Fed’s bond purchases, along with the new issuances they spurred, amounted to indirect benefits totaling $94.7 billion. Together with direct benefits worth up to $15.2 billion, likely more, the 2020 fossil fuel bailouts add up to $110 billion.

Read the text (PDF).

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