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Runaway Equality and COVID-19

By Les Leopold - Runaway Equality, August 2, 2020

Les Leopold looks at the runaway inequality roots of the pandemic response and police brutality.

ReImagine Appalachia: a (Green) New Deal That Works for Us

By staff - ReImagine Appalachia, August 2020

Appalachians have a long history of hard work, resilience, and coming together to face enormous challenges. Our region is a place of ingenuity. A place where families and neighbors look out for one another.

Now is the time to put our ingenuity to use and imagine a 21st century economy that works for the people in the Ohio River Valley of Appalachia. An economy that is good for working people, communities, our health and the health of our neighbors. One that is grounded in the land and centered on creating wealth locally. One that relies on working people, already skilled in service, industry, trades and farming. One that offers hope to the next generation’s workers—regardless of the color of their skin, ethnicity or gender. And one that does our region’s part to meet the nation’s climate challenge, just as we met the call to provide coal energy to fuel a growing nation a century ago.

Right now, our nation is in crisis. We face the COVID epidemic, a deep economic downturn, extreme inequality, racism, police brutality, and the consequences of a changing climate such as severe storms and flooding. These crises demand from us real, lasting and structural change. It is not a matter of if, but when. When the nation rises to the occasion, people in Appalachia need to be at the table and helping to lead the charge. Together, we can build a vision for the Appalachia we want to live in.

Read the text (PDF).

LNS Webinar Explores the Origins of ‘Just Transition’

By staff - Labor Network for Sustainabaility - July 22, 2020

“Just Transition” has become one of the most common—and most controversial—themes in the Labor-Climate movement. On July 22, the Labor Network for Sustainability helped illuminate the idea with a webinar on “Just Transition: Love It, Hate It – You’ve Heard the Term, Now Hear the Story.” It featured some of those who first originated and campaigned for a Just Transition for workers and communities. Watch and learn the backstory for this essential building block for a climate-safe, worker-friendly, socially-just future.

Toxic Relationship: How refineries affect climate change and racial and economic injustice

By Jean Tepperman - East Bay Express - July 22, 2020

California should begin gradually reducing output from its oil refineries in order to avoid climate catastrophe and to make the transition to clean energy as equitable as possible. That's the conclusion of a major new report released July 6 by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), endorsed by more than 40 environmental and social justice organizations.

While most people agree on the need to use less fossil fuel, many fear that requiring refineries to reduce production could lead to higher gasoline prices and a big economic hit for workers and communities that depend on refineries for income. Report-author Greg Karras responded, "If we start now, doing it gradually, it will give us the time to replace refinery-dependent economics." The report calls for cutting production 4 to 7 percent a year, starting in 2021.

California has set targets for cutting carbon emissions between now and 2050: the state's share of global cuts needed to keep temperature increases below catastrophic levels. Because the carbon that causes climate change builds up in the atmosphere, California has a carbon "budget"—the total amount it can emit from now until 2050. According to Decommissioning California Refineries, California will have to refine much less oil per year to avoid blowing through this carbon "budget" by about 2037.

"California is the biggest oil-refining center in Western North America," Karras said. "Oil refined here emits more carbon than all other activities in the state combined." Even if all other sources of carbon are reduced on schedule, Karras said, "we must refine much less oil if we hope to meet the state's carbon limit."

"We have to break free from our toxic relationship with oil before it takes us over a cliff," Karras said. "When you're in a car heading toward a cliff, it matters when you start putting on the brakes."

The sooner we start, the more likely we are to escape the worst impacts of climate change.

The issue is not just climate, said Andres Soto of CBE. He pointed out that refinery pollution is concentrated in communities like Richmond, centers of racial and economic injustice.

"Only 20 percent of Richmond is Euro-American," he said.

And the health consequences of having a refinery as a neighbor are severe.

Rodeo, another Contra Costa refinery town, "is in the 98th percentile for asthma," said resident Maureen Brennan, and it has high rates of skin disease, autoimmune disease and cancer—all linked to refinery-generated pollution.

Retired refinery worker Steve Garey, past president of a United Steelworkers local in Washington state, said starting now to plan for reduced refinery production could actually benefit refinery workers, since "the movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewables is going to accelerate. It's an economic reality. Renewables are cheaper than fossil fuel and getting cheaper all the time."

Recently when the pandemic cut demand for gasoline, Garey said, the Marathon refinery in Martinez shut down, leaving the workers and community stranded.

The current drop in oil use, Karras said, gives us a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to turn away from the cliff and build a cleaner and more equitable recovery.

Labor Helps Obama Energy Secretary Push and Profit from 'Net Zero' Fossil Fuels

By Steve Horn - DeSmog, May 24, 2020

Progressive activists have called for a Green New Deal, a linking of the U.S. climate and labor movements to create an equitable and decarbonized economy and move away from fossil fuels to address the climate crisis. But major labor unions and President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary have far different plans.

On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the AFL-CIO and the Energy Futures Initiative (EFI) — a nonprofit founded and run by former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz — launched the Labor Energy Partnership. Unlike those calling for a Green New Deal, though, this alliance supports increased fracking for oil and gas, as well as other controversial technologies that critics say prop up fossil fuels. It's also an agenda matching a number of the former Energy Secretary's personal financial investments.

One of those technologies which prop up fossil fuels is “clean coal,” or carbon capture and storage (CCS) at coal-fired power plants. CCS is a long-heralded technological fix that promises — but has failed to-date — to pump carbon dioxide emitted from coal plants into the ground at a meaningful commercial scale. In addition, the partnership touts the scaling up of nuclear energy, under the banner of an “all of the above” energy policy, and calls for creation of a “roadmap for implementing carbon dioxide removal,” a form of geoengineering, “at scale.”

Our Labor Energy Partnership will offer realistic pathways to accelerate the energy transition by meeting and then exceeding our Paris commitments while creating high quality jobs across all energy technologies,” Moniz said in a press release announcing the joint effort of the AFL-CIO and EFI.

Kezir served as CFO of the Energy Department under Moniz. Kenderine, formerly the energy counselor to Moniz and director of the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis, served as the Vice President of Washington Operations of the Gas Technology Institute from 2001 to 2007. The Gas Technology Institute is the central research and development nonprofit for the natural gas industry.

While working as the gas group’s political voice in Washington, Kenderine used it to act as the “principal architect” in creating an offshoot nonprofit called the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA). She served as its first acting president.

RPSEA is a de facto public-private partnership, securing a provision for a 10-year, $1.5 billion federal funding stream for the natural gas industry and university researchers. This provision was buried within the Energy Policy Act of 2005 after intense lobbying by the Gas Technology Institute. That’s the same energy bill which also baked the “Halliburton Loophole” exemptions for the fracking industry into U.S. Environmental Protection Agency enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act.

After her time heading up RPSEA, Kenderine departed to join Moniz at the MIT Energy Initiative, an outfit funded by the oil and gas industry. At the MIT Energy Initiative, Moniz, Kenderdine, and Kezir co-wrote the influential 2010 report “The Future of Natural Gas.” This report was instrumental in giving a scholarly boost to the fracking boom and rampant production and consumption of fracked gas during the early years under the Obama administration. “The Future of Natural Gas” received funding from the American Clean Skies Foundation, an oil and gas industry front group founded in 2007 by fracking pioneer Aubrey McClendon, as well as from Hess Corporation, Exelon, and the Gas Technology Institute.

EJM, for its part, has partnerships with entities tied to the fossil fuel industry. Those include McLarty Associates and the corporate law firm Dentons.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), an affiliated union of the AFL-CIO, also is participating in the Labor Energy Partnership. IBEW gave a nod to natural gas fracking and nuclear energy in a separate press release announcing the partnership.

As the vice-chair of the AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee, I’m thrilled to be a part of this new effort to find solutions to one of the greatest challenges of our time,” said IBEW President Lonnie R. Stephenson in the release. “At the IBEW, we represent tens of thousands of members who depend on low-carbon natural gas and zero-carbon nuclear energy, and Secretary Moniz understands that climate solutions that don’t take into account the jobs and communities that depend on those fuel sources are unrealistic and shortsighted.”

The Labor Energy Partnership says in a press release that it is guided by four core principles. One of those principles is “an ‘all-of-the above’ energy source strategy” that's flexible and “addresses the crisis of stranded workers.” Another key tenet is “the preservation of existing jobs, wherever possible, and the creation of new ones that are equal to or better than those that are displaced.”

Strike! Audio Commentary by Jeremy Brecher. Fighting the Great Depression from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network For Sustainability - July 14, 2020

The United States has entered the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. This commentary describes the grassroots movements of the early years of the Great Depression in order to learn something about the dynamics of popular response to depression conditions. These early unemployed, self-help, labor, and other movements helped lay the groundwork for the New Deal and the massive labor struggles of the later 1930s. The next commentaries in this series will portray the grassroots movements of the Coronavirus Depression and ask what they might contribute to the emergence of a Green New Deal and a new labor movement. Subsequent commentaries will compare local and state actions in the early years of the Great Depression to such activities today. These commentaries are part of a series on the Emergency Green New Deal.

Unions Standing Together: A World To Win

Decommissioning California Refineries: Climate and Health Paths in an Oil State

By Greg Karras - Communities for a Better Environment, July 2020

Machines that burn oil are going away. We will burn much less oil, either to prevent the increasing accumulation of pollution impacts that could cause the collapse of human societies as we know them, or as a footnote to the collapse of our societies and economies on which the petroleum fuel chain now feeds. Which path we take matters.

Sustainable energy technologies that are proven, available now, and obviously more economic than societal collapse could replace oil and other fossil fuels. But critical oil infrastructure, permitted mainly in working class communities and communities of color, is still growing. Environmental, economic, and racial injustice weaken societal capacity to break free of this toxic path. Societal capacity to organize—political feasibility—has emerged as the primary barrier to solving our existential pollution crisis.

California has this problem. It hosts the largest oil refining center in western North America. It has the worst air pollution in the nation, and yet it has allowed its oil sector’s critical infrastructure to grow in low-income communities of color, where this pollution is disparately severe compared with the state average. It uses pollution trading—the exchange of money for permits to pollute—leaving communities largely on our own to fight refinery and oil terminal expansion projects.

Communities rose up to stop tar sands projects in many inspiring efforts that for a decade have held to a trickle the flood of cheaper, dirtier oil that refiners sought. But some projects slipped through. The petroleum fuel chain emits more carbon from extracting, refining, and burning fuels made from the oil refined in California than all other activities in the state combined, and as other emissions have begun to decline, its emissions have not.

In fact its emissions increased from 2013–2017 as refiners here increased production for exports that sold for more money than the entire oil sector spent on permits to emit under the state’s carbon trading scheme. They could do that because no refiner faced any limit on carbon emissions from its plant. They still can because politicians caved in to their demand to make carbon trading the only curb on those emissions. Since 2017, state law has prohibited state air officials from setting a carbon-cutting limit on any oil refining plant under this carbon trading scheme.

Governor Brown argued this law was the best “compromise” that was politically feasible. Yet state climate policy has ignored the need, first voiced by the Oil, Chemical & Atomic Workers Union decades ago, for a mandate that assures workers a just transition. Equally important to political feasibility, communities must predict how fast to transition their job and tax bases from oil to sustainable alternatives. But by letting any polluter delay emission cuts at any time, pollution trading makes it harder to make this very prediction.

Read the report (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).

Green Stimulus for Oil and Gas Workers: Considering a Major Federal Effort to Plug Orphaned and Abandoned Wells

By Daniel Raimi, Neelesh Nerurkar, and Jason Bordoff - Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, School of International and Public Affairs, and Resources for the Future, July 2020

The global economic damages wrought by COVID-19 have dramatically magnified the suffering caused by the deadly virus. US lawmakers have already approved $3 trillion in aid to help offset the economic damage, and additional measures are under consideration. At the same time, the need to invest trillions in economic recovery has prompted calls to “build back better” by making the recovery a greener, less carbon-intensive one.

This paper, a joint effort between Resources for the Future and the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, examines the potential to boost US employment in the oil and gas workforce while also reducing pollution through a federal program to plug orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells. These wells can leak methane and other pollutants that contribute to climate change, poor air quality, and other health and environmental risks. This research included interviews with key regulatory and industry officials to present the most up-to-date information on this rapidly evolving issue.

While states and the federal government fund well plugging activities through bonding requirements, industry fees, and other sources, these funds have not historically been adequate to reduce the inventory of orphan unplugged wells. Many of these sites date back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, when regulations including bonding requirements were weak or, in many cases, nonexistent. Estimates for the total number of orphaned and abandoned wells range from several hundred thousand to 3 million, depending on the definition of such wells needing attention. At the same time the oil and gas industry, which has seen employment drop to levels not seen since 2006, appears able to scale up to carry out this work. Labor and equipment are readily available due to the low oil price environment created by the collapse in demand from the coronavirus.

The paper finds:

  • A significant federal program to plug orphan wells could create tens of thousands of jobs, potentially as many as 120,000 if 500,000 wells were plugged. Addressing 500,000 wells would require state, tribal, and federal agencies to identify and prioritize hundreds of thousands of additional wells, most of which are unaccounted for in current inventories of orphaned wells. These inventories indicate that the largest number of orphaned wells are in Pennsylvania.
  • A widespread federal effort to plug orphaned and abandoned oil and gas wells would reduce local air pollution, safety risks, and greenhouse gas emissions at a cost of roughly $67 to $170 per ton of CO2-equivalent, well within the range of other policy options.
  • A significant pool of labor from the oil and gas industry could be deployed toward and benefit from such a program. More than 76,000 direct industry jobs were lost from February to June of 2020, a number that is likely to rise in the months to come. The job losses have been especially acute in rural regions where domestic oil and gas production occurs and where economies are closely tied to industry fortunes, such as the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico, the Marcellus in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Bakken in North Dakota, and parts of California, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and other states. In these regions, this downturn not only affects workers but also funding for schools, infrastructure, public safety, and more, as a prior collaboration between RFF and CGEP found.
  • The costs of plugging and restoring well sites vary widely, and the total outlay of a well plugging program to address the known inventory of 56,600 orphaned wells could plausibly range from $1.4 billion to $2.7 billion. Expanding the program to identify and plug 500,000 wells could plausibly cost between $12 and $24 billion. States have different technical requirements for plugging wells and restoring surface locations, and some wells pose greater risks to groundwater, are harder to access, or are deeper than average. All these factors affect plugging and restoration costs.
  • One potential challenge of a very large program (i.e., addressing hundreds of thousands of wells) is that state regulatory offices would likely need to scale up administrative capacity to oversee such programs.
  • While states and the federal government require oil and gas companies to post bonds or other forms of financial assurance to pay for well plugging in case firms go bankrupt before plugging wells, these bonds often do not cover the full costs. Federal funding could exacerbate this problem if states and companies see it as alleviating their responsibility to plan for future remediation costs adequately. To avoid this, a federal program could prioritize plugging wells abandoned decades ago that were not subject to modern regulatory frameworks.

Read the text (PDF).

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