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labor and environment

A national coalition demands transit justice

By Kacie Harlan - Socialist Worker, February 14, 2018

JUST OVER 62 years ago, Rosa Parks defied Jim Crow segregation that consigned Black passengers to sit in the back of the bus. Her act of resistance spurred the African American community to organize the 381-day-long Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the most important events of the civil rights movement.

Half a century later, Park's civil disobedience has inspired a national coalition of labor, civil rights and environmental groups to organize Transit Equity Day.

According to the Labor Network for Sustainability, Transit Equity Day "is a collaborative effort of several organizations and unions to promote public transit as a civil right and a strategy to combat climate change." The coalition chose Parks' birthday of February 4 for the day of action, but observed it on February 5 this year since it was a weekday.

While the coalition is small and the day of action made few headlines, Transit Equity Day is a good first step toward a badly needed public transit movement in the U.S.

Alberta is Losing Out on Millions in Natural Gas Revenue. Here's Why

By James Wilt - DeSmog Canada, January 25, 2018

Alberta oil and gas companies are wasting so much natural gas each year that Albertans are losing out on up to $21 million a year in provincial natural gas royalties.

Oil and gas companies let an estimated $253 million worth of natural gas escape through undetected leaks and the practice of venting annually.

According to Progress Alberta, a progressive advocacy group, the lost royalties could pay for five new schools, 84 new playgrounds or 36 new nurses.

This is a valuable resource that Albertans own and it’s money that should be going to things Albertans want and need that’s just being lost to the atmosphere forever,” said Duncan Kinney, executive director of Progress Alberta, in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

In addition to the lost royalties, the potent greenhouse house is leaked into the atmosphere without paying the province’s $30/tonne carbon levy, which results in a further loss of up to $1.4 billion in revenue, according to a new analysis by the Pembina Institute. When that carbon price increases to $50/tonne, as Premier Rachel Notley has indicated it will, those lost revenues rocket to $2.25 billion.

So why is this valuable resource disappearing into thin air?

Alberta underestimating methane leakage by 25 to 50 per cent

Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is considered to be one of the easiest ways to quickly reduce emissions. Methane has 34 times the “global warming potential” as carbon dioxide over a century.

And Alberta’s oil and sector emits a lot of it, with 31.4 megatonnes of methane entering the atmosphere in 2014 — although a recent study by Carleton University suggestedthe province is underestimating pollution by between 25 and 50 per cent, meaning annual emissions are more likely around the 45 megatonnes per year mark (which is about how much we thought all of Canada was emitting in 2016).

Fouty-five megatonnes a year is the greenhouse gas equivalent to 240,899 vehicles on the road.

Oil and gas companies have resisted changes that would require them to limit the leaking and venting of natural gas, arguing that it would result in job losses.

However, the federal government has committed to reducing methane emissions by 45 per cent below 2012 levels by 2025. Those reductions can be achieved through things like limiting the intentional “venting” of methane, using optical gas imaging cameras to detect unintentional leaks and installing flares to combust methane into carbon dioxide.

Federal draft regulations were released in May 2017, and proposed delaying full implementation of new rules by three years to 2023, instead of 2020. It was expected that Alberta would release its own version of regulations in November.

Industry  won a major concession from government in not having to pay any carbon tax on fuel used in the production of conventional oil and gas until 2023, including vented and flared gas.

The delay of action on reducing methane emissions ultimately impacts the entire country.

What Alberta does will really make or break the ability to meet that [methane] target at the end of the day,” said Andrew Read, senior analyst with the Pembina Institute and report author.

How to Achieve Zero Emissions, Even if the Federal Government Won't Help

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, January 17, 2018

With Donald Trump in the White House, the prospects for fighting climate change have never been any bleaker in the US. Yet there are options available to state governments to move forward with the greening of the economy even without federal support. This point is made crystal clear in two studies produced recently by economist Robert Pollin and some of his colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst for the states of Washington and New York. In this exclusive interview for Truthout, Pollin explains the significance of Green New Deal programs.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, two new studies on fighting climate change have been produced by you and two PERI researchers for the states of New York and Washington. How did these studies come about?

Robert Pollin: These were both commissioned studies. For the New York study, the commissioning group was New York Renews, which is a coalition of over 130 organizations in New York State, including labor unions, environmental groups and social justice organizations. For the Washington State study, three important groups within the US labor movement commissioned the study -- the United Steelworkers, Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO and the Tony Mazzocchi Center for Health, Safety and Environmental Education (TMC). Tony Mazzocchi was a great visionary labor leader with the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union (OCAW -- [which] has since merged into the United Steelworkers), who fought to link the aims of working people with those of environmentalists.

It is not an accident that my co-workers and I were asked to do these similar studies at basically the same time. In both cases, the groups supporting the studies are advancing ambitious green economy programs within their respective states. It is obvious that nothing good on climate change is going to be coming out of the federal government under Trump. It is equally obvious that we can't wait around on climate issues (and many other matters) until somebody less awful gets into the White House. We therefore have to take the most forceful possible actions at the level of state politics. This is what the coalitions are doing in both New York and Washington States.

It is also significant that, with both studies, our priority was to show how a viable climate change project can be completely compatible with -- indeed, supportive of -- a pro-labor agenda. Trump and others on the right have feasted on the divides between labor and environmentalists, claiming that if you are for the environment, then you have to be against working people and their communities. These studies show in great detail (some might even say excruciating detail) that these Trump claims are flat-out wrong.

California’s progressive policies yield better job growth and wage growth than Republican comparators

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 15, 2018

A November 2017 report from the Labor Center at University of California Berkeley  examined the “California Policy Model” –  defined as a collection of 51 pieces of legislation and policy implementations enacted in California between 2011 and 2016 – and found that with progressive policies such as minimum wage increases, increased access to health insurance, reduction of carbon emissions and higher taxes on the wealthy, the state showed  superior economic  performance  in comparison to Republican-controlled states and to a simulated version of California without such policies.  According to  “California is Working: The Effects of California’s Public Policy on Jobs and the Economy since 2011,  the suite of progressive policies resulted in superior total employment growth , superior private sector employment growth, and higher wage growth for low-wage workers from 2014 to 2016. All the while, keeping the state on track to meet its 2020 GHG emissions targets.  The  environmental policies included in the analysis were: starting in 2006, AB 32, which committed the state to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020;  regulations under AB 32 in 2012 and 2013, which introduced the state cap and trade program;  SB 350 in 2015 and 2016,  committing the state to greater use of renewable energy and further improvements in energy efficiency ; and SB 32, which raised the emissions reduction goal to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.  The report warns that  enforcement of labour standards and a lack of affordable housing remain as challenges facing the state, and also admits to possible weakness  regarding the second of its two methods of analysis, the synthetic control statistical method.

Fighting for Green Solutions to Pittsburgh’s “Sewage in the Rivers Problem”

By Thomas Hoffman - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 4, 2018

Almost 7 years ago, six Pittsburgh based organizations realized that our region was going to spend $2-4 billion dollars of area residents’ money to stop 9+ billion gallons of untreated sewage from flowing into our iconic three rivers. The overflows occur when stormwater runs off roads roofs and parking lots into the storm sewers which are the same as the waste sewers.

Pittsburgh is not unusual – many older industrial cities have the same problem. If you combine all the money that will be spent by these cities fixing this problem it totals to roughly half a trillion dollars.

The groups formed the Clean Rivers Campaign to win a “maximum green first followed by right sized gray” solution to cleaning our rivers. They felt that in addition to cleaning our rivers such a solution would bring maximum community benefits back to area residents. These benefits include long term local family sustaining Union jobs, cleaner air and water, and revitalized communities.

The six organizations are Pittsburgh United, a PWF affiliate composed of labor, faith and community groups, Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, a faith based organization, three enviro groups -Sierra Club, Clean Water Action and Nine Mile Run Watershed Association and Action United, a low income neighborhood organizing group. The Unions in Pittsburgh United (SEIU, UFCW and USWA) have been very supportive of the campaign because the neighborhoods where much of the green investments would happen are where their members live.

The alternative solution being promoted by our regional sewer authority, ALCOSAN, is the construction of miles of massive tunnels to collect all the stormwater runoff and sewage overflow. The sewage would then be pumped out of the tunnels using pumps powered by fossil fuels and then treated  before being released into the river again. While this would solve the sewage in the rivers problems it would have none of the community benefits listed above. It would also do nothing to reduce the flooding that may low income and minority communities are experiencing.

When Companies Deny Climate Science, Their Workers Pay

By Carla Santos Skandier - Common Dreams, December 28, 2017

After decades spreading misinformation about greenhouse gas emissions’ role as a driver of climate change, the deceptive tactics of the fossil fuel industry are slowly beginning to backfire.

In December, for instance, General Electric announced major cuts to its fossil-fuel-heavy power department — and the pain of this unplanned transition is already being felt by the people least responsible for the company’s decisions: its workers.

In the last two years, many stories have surfaced on the knowledge major fossil fuel companies like Exxon-Mobil had about the climate impacts of their activities, and the many tactics these same companies employed to deceive the public about these impacts. But they may have also managed to deceive themselves.

Cheered on by a president who’s gone above and beyond to prop up the fossil fuel industry — from announcing his intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement to pushing for approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline — dirty energy companies are deluding themselves that business as usual is a possible path forward.

This self-delusion may be beginning to reach its limits. The latest sign arrived on December 7 at General Electric — a global player in electricity for the past 125 years — with the announcement of an 18 percent cut to the power department, the biggest and one of the oldest departments of the company.

CEO Russell Stokes pulled no punches explaining the cuts: The decision aims to right-size the business amid a decline in fossil fuel usage — particularly coal and natural gas. The announcement came a mere two years after GE’s decision to double its fleet of large coal turbines — a clear misjudgment.

This would be good news if it not for one detail: jobs. GE’s decision alone will cost 12,000 jobs worldwide.

If companies continue to resist transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables, these massive jobs losses will be just the beginning.

The Department of Labor estimates that roughly 200,000 people are currently employed in the oil and gas extraction and coal mining sectors. But the number could be in the millions if supportive work, construction, and indirect services of fossil fuel dependent communities are also considered.

Fortunately, the renewable industry is booming. The Department of Energy recently reported that almost twice as many people were employed in solar energy last year than coal, gas, and oil electricity combined.

But matching displaced fossil fuel workers to new jobs won’t be simple. It matters where those jobs are being created, and someone will have to make sure fossil fuel workers get a chance to qualify for new positions.

As if this weren’t hard enough, companies’ continuous denial and misrepresentation makes things worse. Their decision to “right-size” usually comes as last minute massive lay-offs, without giving workers a chance to plan ahead.

In the last few weeks alone, major institutions like Johns Hopkins University, ING bank, and the French insurance giant AXA have pulled their investments from coal, and the World Bank has announced it will no longer invest in any fossil fuel projects. The writing is on the wall, and the decline of fossil fuel production is both necessary and increasingly inevitable.

This is all good news for the climate. But we also need a plan to support those employees on the front lines of the energy sector. We need to stop letting workers’ lives be collateral damage of misguided corporate decisions.

U.S. unions fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, November 7, 2017

Labour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.

The Meaning of Work in a Sustainable Society

By John Bellamy Foster - Monthly Review, September 2017

Fie upon this quiet life. I want work.

William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part I, Act II, Scene IV

International action on Just Transition: what’s been accomplished, and proposals for the future

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, September 27, 2017

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? A Guide to National Policies and International Climate Governance  was released on September 19 by the International Trade Union Confederation, summarizing what has been done to date by the ITUC and through  international agencies such as the  ILO, UNFCCC, and the  Paris Agreement.  It also provides short summaries of some transition situations, including the Ruhr Valley in Germany, Hazelwood workers in the LaTrobe Valley, Australia, U.S. Appalachian coal miners and the coal mining pension plan, Argentinian construction workers, and Chinese coal workers.  Finally, the report calls for concrete steps to advance Just Transition and workers’ interests.

The report defines Just Transition on a national or regional scale, as  “an economy-wide process that produces the plans, policies and investments that lead to a future where all jobs are green and decent, emissions are at net zero, poverty is eradicated, and communities are thriving and resilient.” But the report also argues that Just Transition is important for companies, with social dialogue and collective bargaining as key tools to manage the necessary industrial transformation at the organizational level.  To that end, the ITUC is launching “A Workers Right To Know” as an ITUC campaign priority for 2018, stating, “Workers have a right to know what their governments are planning to meet the climate challenge and what the Just Transition measures are. Equally, workers have a right to know what their employers are planning, what the impact of the transition is and what the Just Transition guarantees will be. And workers have a right to know where their pension funds are invested with the demand that they are not funding climate or job destruction.”

The ITUC report makes new proposals. It calls on the ILO to take a more ambitious role and to negotiate a Standard for Just Transition by 2021, carrying on from the Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies forAll  (2015).   The ITUC also states “expectations” of how Just Transition should be given greater priority in the international negotiation process of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), so that:  Just Transition commitments are incorporated into the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) of countries; Just Transition for workers becomes a permanent theme within the forum on response measures under the Paris Agreement, and Just Transition is included in the 2018 UNFCCC Facilitative Dialogue. It also calls for the launch of a “Katowice initiative for a Just Transition” at the COP23 meetings to take place in Katowice, Poland in 2018, “to provide a high-level political space”.  Finally, the ITUC calls for expansion of the eligibility criteria of the Green Climate Fund to allow  the funding of Just Transition projects.

Just Transition – Where are we now and what’s next? is a Climate Justice Frontline Briefing from the International Trade Union Confederation, with support from the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and is based upon Strengthening Just Transition Policies in International Climate Governance by Anabella Rosemberg, published as a Policy Analysis Brief by the Stanley Foundation in 2017.

The Net Economic Impacts of California’s Major Climate Programs in the Inland Empire

By Betony Jones, Kevin Duncan, Ethan N. Elkind and Marilee Hanson - UC Labor Center, August 3, 2017

As the metropolis of Los Angeles spread east and Southern California industry shifted after World War II from manufacturing war supplies to a consumer economy, the sweeping groves of the Orange Empire gave way to the sprawling housing developments of the Inland Empire. Located in the valleys and foothills east of Los Angeles and north of San Diego, the Inland Empire is defined here as Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Situated in a strategically important area inland from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the Inland Empire has been a hub for the transportation of goods and people since its initial development. After the economic downturn of 2008-09, the region emerged as a powerhouse in the blossoming logistics and warehousing industry;1 transportation and warehousing employ 7 percent of the region’s workers (compared with 5 percent statewide).2 In addition, the Inland Empire has always included many “bedroom communities” for the Los Angeles area: about 44 percent of Inland Empire workers travel 30 or more minutes each way to work.3

But this economic shift has come with an environmental cost. Industrial air pollution has directly affected the lives of Inland Empire residents since World War II, when a steel plant was built in the San Bernardino County town of Fontana. The air quality challenges have become more pressing with the growth in automobile traffic in the Los Angeles area, as prevailing winds bring smog into the region.4 The Empire’s valleys also trap the area’s own air pollution from the truck, automobile, and train traffic running through the region, connecting the ports to the west with the major throughways to the east.5

In addition to the environment, the economy of the region is also fragile. The Inland Empire makes up over 11 percent of California’s population,6 but incomes and employment lag behind much of the state. Per capita income is about $23,000 compared with a state average of over $30,000, placing it among the lowest earning metropolitan areas in California. More than 17.5 percent of the population was living below the federal poverty line in 2015 ($24,250 for a family of four), compared to 14.7 percent of California’s entire population.7 The environmental and economic challenges facing the Inland Empire make it an important region in which to study the economic impacts of the state’s climate programs.

This report offers a quantitative assessment of the net economic impacts between 2010 and 2016 in the Inland Empire of four of California’s major climate programs and policies: cap and trade, the renewables portfolio standard (RPS), distributed solar programs (including the California Solar Initiative), and investor-owned utility (IOU) ratepayer-funded energy efficiency programs, overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). It also includes projections and factors affecting the impacts of these programs on the region through 2030.

Results for the four programs and policies investigated are summarized below. The findings indicate that California’s major climate policies have had net economic benefits in the Inland Empire.

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