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Colorado Office of Just Transition defers actions for worker protection in new Final Action Plan

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, January 7, 2021

In 2019, the State of Colorado established the first state-level Office of Just Transition (OJT) through House Bill 19-1314 . As required by that legislation, the OJT submitted its final Just Transition Action Plan on December 31, 2020, based largely on the Draft Plan submitted by its Just Transition Advisory Committee (JTAC) in August 2020. (The structure, mandate, and documentation from the consultation process are accessible here; an excellent summary is provided by the State press release here .

The December Just Transition Action Plan offers discussion and strategy recommendations organized in three sections: communities; workers; and financing. The estimated cost is $100 million, and the time frame calls for actual closures to finish in 2030. (Perhaps the leisurely schedule will be reviewed in light of events: the Denver Post reported on January 4 that Xcel- Energy announced it will close its Hayden coal plant significantly earlier than planned – beginning in 2027). The December Action Plan strategies are dominated by concerns for communities, with six detailed strategies outlined. Recognizing that some communities are more dependent on coal than others, and that average wages are also different across communities, the plan designates four communities as priority Tier One communities, and others as Tier Two communities, as defined in an Appendix. The Hayden plant is located in a Tier One community.

Economic Development Policies to Enable Fairness for Workers and Communities in Transition

By Daniel Raimi, Wesley Look, Molly Robertson, and Jake Higdon - Resources for the Future, August 11, 2020

Communities that are heavily dependent on fossil fuel–related economic activity—including the production of coal, oil, and natural gas and the transformation and consumption of these fuels—would experience substantial effects of a societal shift away from such fuels. This report reviews a range of federal economic development policies and programs that may help affected workers and communities thrive in a low-emissions future. Future reports in this series will examine other tools (e.g., workforce development policy, energy and environmental policy, infrastructure policy) that can play a role in supporting affected workers and communities.

Here, we focus on programs and policies that explicitly seek to support local economic development. In particular, we examine programs led by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, the Department of Interior’s Secure Rural Schools, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, and the Small Business Administration, plus emerging efforts in Colorado and New Mexico.

For ease of analysis, we group economic development programs into two broad categories: those that target local or regional economies historically driven by natural resource development (e.g., coal, agriculture, timber) and programs with a broader geographic and/or economic scope.

We identify three major mechanisms through which the federal government delivers support:

  • Capacity building involves programs that provide technical assistance, planning, or research to support local economic development efforts. Such programs can be effective tools to reduce knowledge gaps and increase human capital and productivity. In a concise summary, Wharton (1958) describes this approach as “helping people help themselves.”
  • Financial support to public and community organizations helps public or quasi-public organizations deliver local economic development programming. This support may be direct (e.g., grants or loans) or indirect (e.g., loan guarantees) and can enhance the human and physical capital stock (including infrastructure) in a community.
  • Financial support to private, for-profit firms may similarly be direct or indirect; the federal government may also offer tax credits, which are not applicable to public entities because they do not pay taxes. These programs are often intended to support small businesses that may struggle to access affordable borrowing, or to jump-start local businesses in sectors that policymakers believe hold promise for future prosperity.

Read the text (PDF).

Draft Colorado Just Transition Plan

By Dennis Dougherty, Ray Beck, et, al. - Colorado Just Transition Advisory Committee, August 1, 2020

Coal has played an important role in Colorado’s economy since before statehood, from heating homes and powering industry to fueling railroads and generating electricity. Today, coal is mostly used for electricity in Colorado.

Increasing price competition from natural gas and renewables, along with environmental concerns, has led to a significant decline in the use of coal over the last dozen years. In 2019, Colorado set aggressive goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that will require major changes in how we fuel our cars, heat our homes, and generate electricity. As a result of these combined factors, the era of coal appears to be coming to an end in Colorado.

The decline of coal has serious implications for the Coloradans who work in the coal industry (mostly in mines and power plants) and the communities where they do this work. Approximately 2,000 coal workers stand to lose their mostly high-paying jobs by 2030, and many communities will lose significant percentages of their local job base and of property tax revenues when mines and power plants close.

Colorado has the opportunity to lead the nation in achieving more constructive outcomes. In 2019, the Colorado General Assembly passed and the Governor signed House Bill 19-1314, which makes a “moral commitment” to a “just transition” for these workers and communities. It established the nation’s first state Office of Just Transition (OJT), and it created a Just Transition Advisory Committee (JTAC) to develop a draft plan for how the state will fulfill this commitment.

Read the text (PDF).

Coal Mine Cleanup Works: A Look at the Potential Employment Needs for Mine Reclamation in the West

By Kate French - Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), July 2020

The collapse of the coal industry is devastating small communities across the Western United States, but reclaiming these mined lands quickly could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two to three year period after mine closure according to our new report, Coal Mine Cleanup Works. The report estimates potential reclamation job creation for four Western coal states (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming) and provides recommendations for decision makers to ensure cleanup is fully funded and employs the local workforce. 

These findings offer a rare bright light of opportunity for coal communities that are facing massive lay-offs and lost revenue as the coal industry crumbles. Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shuts down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.

Coal Mine Cleanup Works key findings include:

  • Surface coal mine reclamation could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two to three year period after mine closure. These potential yearly jobs represent up to 65% of the current surface mining workforce in the four-state region. 
  • Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shut down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.
  • An important component of a just economic transition is having some immediate job creation solutions, like cleanup jobs, paired with longer-term job solutions.
  • Delayed and underfunded reclamation are the biggest hurdles to getting laid-off miners back on the job doing cleanup work.

Read the text (PDF).

Taking the High Road: Strategies for a Fair EV Future

By staff - UAW Research Department, January 2020

The American automotive industry is constantly evolving and, throughout the union’s history, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has fought to ensure industry changes result in quality jobs that benefit workers and the economy.

The auto industry is facing a new shift in technology with the proliferation of electric vehicles (EVs). This shift is an opportunity to re-invest in U.S. manufacturing. But this opportunity will be lost if EVs or their components are imported or made by low-road suppliers who underpay workers. In order to preserve American jobs and work standards, what is needed is a proactive industrial policy that creates high-quality manufacturing jobs making EVs and their components.

Read the text (PDF).

Colorado’s Just A Transition Away from Coal Energy

By Benjamin Stemer - Global Green, August 20, 2019

Over the past few decades, global concern surrounding the rapid change in our Earth’s climate has consistently risen, to the point that many U.S. states are taking independent and decisive action for the welfare of the environment, their citizens, and the global population as a whole. Colorado is just one example of this trend which favors a reduction on energy produced from coal, and an increased emphasis on renewable alternatives. On May 28th 2019, Colorado signed into law the “Just Transition from Coal-based Energy” which incentivizes the early termination of coal plants, while simultaneously providing financial support for any citizens who may be negatively impacted by the early closing of these coal plants. 

With an issue as complicated and misunderstood as climate change, finding and implementing realistic and timely solutions for our climate crisis has proven to be extremely difficult. However, Colorado is not intimidated by the scope and seriousness of this subject and, as a result, they have moved beyond simply discussing this issue through the passing of their decisive policy titled the “Just Transition from Coal- based Energy”. According to the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, with the introduction of this bill, Colorado is setting a strong example for other states to follow (1). This new law creates a Just Transition Advisory Committee, which consists of directors from the Department of Labor and Employment, the Colorado Energy Office, The Department of Local Affairs, representatives from the Governor’s office and the State Senate, as well as 12 local representatives, including three coal workers, three coal community representatives, two members from disproportionately impacted communities, and two experts on economic development and/or workforce retraining. The purpose of the Just Transition Advisory Committee is to create a plan that will provide benefits for impacted workers, make grants available for communities heavily reliant on the coal industry, and offer additional support for anyone impacted by the early closing of coal plants all across Colorado. One highlight of this bill is that any costs associated with supporting impacted workers and communities will be paid for through a process of voluntary securitization of investor-owned coal plants (2). If you’re like most people, you might not have any idea what the process of securitization entails, so let me explain.

The Just Transition for Coal Workers Can Start Now. Colorado Is Showing How

By Rachel M. Cohen - In These Times, July 24, 2019

This past May, Colorado’s Democratic governor Jared Polis signed a series of new environmental bills into law, with the enthusiastic backing of the state’s labor movement. Legislation ranged from expanding community solar gardens to establishing a “Just Transition” office for coal-dependent communities.

Organized labor in Colorado hasn’t always been an ally in the fight against climate change, but beginning in 2018, a Democratic messaging bill that called for 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 forced local unions to start having some tough conversations.

“Republicans controlled the Senate, so the bill had no chance of passing, but it forced the conversation on our end as to what do we need to do to get behind these bills in the future, instead of just blocking them or delaying,” explained Dennis Dougherty, the executive director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, which represents approximately 165 unions representing more than 130,000 workers. “It was really the first time we asked ourselves, well what’s our game plan?”

In February 2018, Colorado activists launched a state-based affiliate of the Peoples Climate Movement, a coalition of community, faith, youth and environmental groups focused on promoting an equitable response to climate change. Dougherty, who worked for years as a federal mediator before joining the labor movement, soon became co-chair of the Colorado coalition. “This was the first time labor has really stepped out in leadership on climate,” he told In These Times.

What followed were a series of organized talks between unions and environmental groups. With resources from its parent organization, the Peoples Climate Movement Colorado even hired a skilled facilitator from the Institute for the Built Environment at Colorado State University to help guide its conversations. The work culminated in a Climate, Jobs and Justice Summit last September.

Democrats won a majority of seats in the state Senate after the 2018 midterms, giving them trifecta control over Colorado politics, and the ability to pass many climate-related bills this year. Those bills included two pieces of legislation advocates hope can serve as a model for climate, jobs and justice organizing in other states.

One is HB-1314, which establishes a Just Transition Office in the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. The first-of-its-kind office, which will have both a dedicated staff and an advisory committee of diverse stakeholders, is charged with creating a equitable plan for coal-dependent communities and workers as the state transitions away from fossil fuels. The goal is to mitigate the economic hardship that will accompany this energy transition. A draft plan is due by July 2020, and by 2025, the state will start administering benefits to displaced coal workers, and provide workforce retraining grants to coal-transitioning communities like Pueblo, Larimer, Delta, Morgan and others.

Colorado: Support a Just and Equitable Transition via Securitization

By Julia Prochnik - Natural Resources Defense Council, April 24, 2019

Utility securitization can be a prescription for lowering energy costs and reallocating funds previously committed to expensive fuels and reinvesting them in lower cost clean energy infrastructure. Securitization is also a useful financing tool to help fund a Just and Equitable Transition to clean energy infrastructure.

Securitization is a financing tool that has existed in the financial sector for decades and is a special type of utility bond offering that gets funds from private investors at a very low interest rate. It can be used to replace more expensive capital and costs that utilities pass on to customers.  Securitization provides a lower cost to customers. 

Legislation is needed, in Colorado and elsewhere, to guarantee a regulated dedicated rate and an unavoidable charge with Public Utility Commission oversight to ensure that the bonds are paid in full.  This dedicated rate along with other conditions allow for high credit score on the bonds to get the lowest interest rate from investors and therefore the lowest costs for customers. 

For example, when a utility says they need to securitize something, they are looking into refinancing their costs of raising capital at a secured lower bond rate, just as you would with decreasing interest charged on a credit card. The regulated utility can then repurpose the money raised into a variety of cleaner operations and transition funds. 

A Just and Equitable Transition builds from the indigenous and labor movement to create a just transition.  Adding equity expands the policymaking to include diverse community voices and help make change livable for all impacted.  

A Green Growth Program for Colorado: Climate Stabilization, Good Jobs, and Just Transition

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, and Tyler Hansen - Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), April 2019

This study examines the prospects for a transformative green growth program for Colorado. The centerpiece of the program is clean energy investments—i.e. investments to raise energy efficiency levels and expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources. These investments should be undertaken in combination by the public and private sectors throughout the state. This program can advance two fundamental goals: 1) promoting global climate stabilization by reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in Colorado without increasing emissions outside of the state; and 2) expanding good job opportunities throughout the state while the state’s economy continues to grow. The program is specifically designed to reduce Colorado’s CO2 emissions by 50 percent as of 2030 and by 90 percent as of 2050 relative to the state’s 2005 emissions level while the economy grows at an average annual rate of 2.4 percent. The consumption of oil, natural gas and coal to generate energy will need to fall sharply in Colorado, since CO2 emissions result through the combustion of fossil fuels.

We estimate that total investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy will need to average about $14.5 billion per year between 2021 – 2030, equal to about 3.5 percent of Colorado’s average annual GDP over those years. These investments will generate about 100,000 jobs per year in the state. New job opportunities will be created in a wide range of areas, including construction, sales, management, production, engineering and office support. At the same time, the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel related industries will generate about 700 job losses per year, of which about 600 will be non-managerial jobs. We develop a Just Transition program for workers impacted by the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel industries. The program includes: pension guarantees for retired workers who are covered by employer-financed pensions; retraining to assist displaced workers to obtain the skills needed for a new job and 100 percent wage replacement while training; re-employment for displaced workers through an employment guarantee, with 100 percent wage insurance; and relocation support as needed. We also propose a broader set of policies to meet the state’s emissions reduction goals. These include a carbon tax; strengthening the state’s existing energy efficiency and renewable portfolio standards; strengthening existing procurement programs for clean energy public investments; increasing financial subsidies for clean energy investments; expanding the state’s worker training programs for clean energy employment opportunities; and channeling a disproportionate share of new clean energy investments into communities that will be significantly impacted by the contraction of the state’s fossil fuel related industries.

Read the text (PDF).

“I’m Very Scared and I’m a Sad Mom”: Commerce City Residents Testify at Suncor Refinery Expansion Hearing

By staff - Unicorn Riot, August 9, 2017

Commerce City, CO – On Wednesday evening, August 2, 2017, over 100 residents of Commerce City, Colorado, filled the Suncor Energy refinery public hearing for Suncor’s request for modifying their permits (PDF) to allow for more emissions. Unicorn Riot livestreamed the hearing (full video embedded below).

According to the ‘Notice of Public Comment Hearing’ (PDF) published on June 20, 2017, on the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission website, there was already a “preliminary determination of approval for modifications to the Title V Permit for the Suncor Energy Refinery Plants 1 and 3.”

This public hearing was not initiated by Commerce City’s government, the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE), nor Suncor, it only happened because the Cross Community Coalition, with and through its counsel Earthjustice, submitted a request for a public comment hearing (PDF) before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission.

According to the request for the public hearing,

The Suncor Refinery (previously under other ownership) has been found to have repeatedly violated its air pollution permits, and has been subject to numerous enforcement actions as a result.

 

Frequent accidents have raised significant concerns in neighboring communities, with alarming orange clouds of smoke often seen rising above the refinery from miles away.”

Briana Bradley testified against Suncor at the hearing and explained that she had just recently bought her first house with her husband, which happens to be less than a mile from the refinery.

I’m very scared and I’m a sad mom. I started raising my stepson seven years ago, and his mom took off on him, so my husband and I have tried to give him the absolute best life that we can. . . and I just found out that I’m pregnant. . . and now I’m scared to death.”

Bradley went on to say:

So, I get this sheet tonight with 18 ozone alert days, and I have let my son play in the backyard every single one of those days because I didn’t know. . . Also babies born within a 10-mile radius of one of these plants can suffer upper respiratory problems — which we have heard plenty of stories about tonight — rashes, increased hospitalization — which we’ve also heard about tonight — fatigue, dizziness, vomiting, nose bleeds, and heart defects.”

Another mother, Dina Fuente, testified against the permit modifications because her two children already suffer from asthma, allergies, and other respiratory problems.

We moved to this area five years ago, and in the last two and a half years, it seems like the clinics and the hospitals have been our second home. My youngest was out of school 17 days last year because of asthma.”

During the hearing, which lasted over two hours, about fifty people testified against Suncor’s request, and two people testified in favor.

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