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Union-Made Offshore Wind: AFL-CIO 2022 Convention

As Illinois Coal Jobs Disappear, Some Are Looking to the Sun

By Kari Lydersen - In These Times, May 26, 2022

While Illinois phases out coal, clean energy jobs hold promise—both for displaced coal workers, and those harmed by the fossil fuel economy.

Matt Reuscher was laid off a decade ago from Peabody Energy’s Gateway coal mine in Southern Illinois, in the midst of a drought that made the water needed to wash the coal too scarce and caused production to drop, as he remembers it.

Reuscher’s grandfather and two uncles had been miners, and his father — a machinist — did much work with the mines. Like many young men in Southern Illinois, it was a natural career choice for Reuscher. Still in his early 20s when he was laid off, Reuscher ​“spent that summer doing odds and ends, not really finding much of anything I enjoyed doing as much as being underground.”

By fall of 2012, he started working installing solar panels for StraightUp Solar, one of very few solar companies operating in the heart of Illinois coal country. He heard about the job through a family friend and figured he’d give it a try since he had a construction background. He immediately loved the work, and he’s become an evangelist for the clean energy shift happening nationwide, if more slowly in Southern Illinois. With colleagues, he fundraised to install solar panels in tiny villages on the Miskito Coast of Nicaragua, and he became a solar electrician and worked on StraightUp Solar installations powering the wastewater treatment center and civic center in Carbondale, Illinois — a town named for coal. 

Solar installation pays considerably less than coal mining, Reuscher acknowledges, but he feels it’s a safer and healthier way to support his family — including two young sons who love the outdoors as much as he does. 

“You work with people who are really conscious about the environment. That rubs off on me and then rubs off on them,” Reuscher notes, referring to his sons.

Illinois has more than a dozen coal mines and more than a dozen coal-fired power plants that are required to close or reach zero carbon emissions by 2030 (for privately-owned plants) or 2045 (for the state’s two publicly-owned plants), though most will close much sooner due to market forces. Reaching zero carbon emissions would entail complete carbon capture and sequestration, which has not been achieved at commercial scale anywhere in the United States. 

Coal mines also frequently lay off workers, as the industry is in financial duress, though Illinois coal is bolstered by a healthy export market. A ​“just transition” — which refers to providing jobs and opportunities for workers and communities impacted by the decline of fossil fuels — has been an increasing priority of environmental movements nation-wide, and was a major focus of Illinois’ 2021 Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). The idea is that people long burdened by fossil fuel pollution and dependent on fossil fuel economies should benefit from the growth of clean energy. Reuscher’s story is a perfect example. 

But in Illinois, as nationally, his transition is a rarity. Solar and other clean energy jobs have more often proven not to be an attractive or accessible option for former coal workers. And advocates and civic leaders have prioritized a broader and also difficult goal: striving to provide clean energy opportunities for not only displaced fossil fuel workers, but for those who have been harmed by fossil fuels or left out of the economic opportunities fossil fuels provided.

Germany going fossil-free – and Protecting Fossil Fuel Workers

By Staff - Labor Network for Sustainability, May 2022

Germany, which imports around two-thirds of its gas from Russia and other former Soviet Union states and which aims for net-zero carbon emissions by 2045, is planning to require nearly 100% renewable electricity by 2035. Robert Habeck, German’s economic affairs and climate minister, said Germany needs to triple its rate of emissions reductions.

In response to the Russian attack on Ukraine, Germany has denied a license to the recently constructed Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was to be a major conduit for gas from Russia to Germany. It is also scheduled to close its three nuclear plants by the end of this year.

Germany adopted a plan two years ago to close all coal-fired power plants by 2038. It includes compensation for coal regions, coal companies, and their workers. The total government investment to diversify the regions’ economies and create new jobs over the coming two decades as coal is phased out is $47.3 billion.

For the new German policy: Germany’s New Government Had Big Plans on Climate, Then Russia Invaded Ukraine. What Happens Now? – Inside Climate News

For more on Germany’s just transition program for coal regions and workers: What should coal communities do when power plants shut down? Ask Germany. – Vox

Can a Just Energy Transition Occur Under Capitalism?

Working-class environmentalism and just transition struggles in the Americas

Richmond Progressive Alliance Listening Project, Episode 8: Union Proud

What Germany’s Effort to Leave Coal Behind Can Teach the U.S.

By Alec MacGillis - ProPublica, January 31, 2022

In late September, just before the German parliamentary elections, the Alternative für Deutschland held a large campaign rally in Görlitz, a picturesque city of about 56,000 people across the Neisse River from Poland. I was making my way down a narrow street toward the rally when I entered a square that had been dressed up as Berlin circa 1930, complete with wooden carts, street urchins and a large poster of Hitler.

Görlitz, which was barely damaged in the Second World War, often stands in for prewar Europe in movies and TV shows. (“Babylon Berlin,” “Inglourious Basterds” and other productions have filmed scenes there.) It was a startling sight nonetheless, especially since, a few hundred yards away, a crowd was gathering for the AfD, the far-right party whose incendiary rhetoric about foreign migrants invading Germany has raised alarms in a country vigilant about the resurgence of the radical right.

In fact, at the rally, the rhetoric about foreigners from the AfD’s top national candidate, Tino Chrupalla, was relatively mild. Germany’s general success with handling the wave of more than a million refugees and migrants who arrived in the country starting in 2015 has helped undermine the party’s central platform. Chrupalla moved on from migrants to other topics: the threat of coronavirus-vaccination mandates for schoolchildren, the plight of small businesses and the country’s desire to stop burning coal, which provides more than a quarter of its electricity, a greater share even than in the United States.

Coal has particular resonance in the area around Görlitz, one of the country’s two large remaining mining regions. Germany’s coal-exit plan, which was passed in 2020, includes billions of euros in compensation for the coal regions, to help transform their economies, but there are reports that some of the money has been allocated to frivolous-sounding projects far from the towns most dependent on mining. Chrupalla, who is from the area, listed some of these in a mocking tone and told the crowd that the region was being betrayed by the government, just as it had been after German reuni­fication, when millions in the former East Germany lost their jobs, leading many to abandon home for the West. “We are being deceived again, like after 1990,” he said.

Such language was eerily familiar. For years, I had been reporting on American coal country, where the industry’s decadeslong decline has spurred economic hardship and political resentment. In West Virginia, fewer than 15,000 people now work in coal mining, down from more than a 100,000 in the 1950s. The state is the only one that has fewer residents than it did 70 years ago, when the U.S. had a population less than half its current size — a statistic that is unlikely to surprise anyone who has visited half-abandoned towns such as Logan, Oceana and Pine­ville. Accompanying the decline has been a dramatic political shift: A longtime Democratic stronghold, West Virginia was one of only 10 states to vote for Michael Dukakis in 1988; in 2020, it provided Donald Trump with his second-­largest margin of victory, after Wyoming, which also happens to be the country’s largest coal producer, ahead of West Virginia.

A Green New Deal for all: The centrality of a worker and community-led just transition in the US

By J. Mijin Cha, Dimitris Stevis, Todd E. Vachon, Vivian Price, and Maria Brescia-Weiler - Labor Network for Sustainability, January 2022

This paper argues that labour and community-led advocacy efforts towards a just transition are fundamental to delivering the promises of a Green New Deal (GND) and a just post-carbon world. To this end, an ambitious, far-reaching project was launched by the Labor Network for Sustainability, a non-governmental organization dedicated to bridging the labor and climate movements, in Spring 2020 called the “Just Transition Listening Project’’ (JTLP).

Over the course of several months, the JTLP interviewed over 100 individuals, including rank-and-file union members, union officials, environmental and climate justice advocates, and Indigenous and community advocates to understand what makes transition “just,” what opportunities exist for a broad coalition to advance a GND-style proposal, and to document the struggles facing working people and communities across the U.S. In doing so, we utilize the tools of political geography to examine the politics of spatiality, networks, and scale as well as the geographical and spatial dimensions of policy and political-economic institutions. We are particularly mindful of two spatial dynamics.

First, that transition policies, particularly in a hegemonic country like the USA, have global implications. The industrial transition that took place from the 1970s to the 1990s, for example, bred nativism because it cast other countries as the cause of the problem.

Second, critical geographers have pointed out that environmental justice (EJ) has been neoliberalized in the U.S. as a result of its operationalization, spatialization, and administration, starting with the Clinton Administration. Because JT is rising on the national and global agendas, we pay close attention to whether these dynamics that affected EJ are also operating with respect to JT, as well as how they can be contained.

This research is particularly timely given the ongoing federal governmental efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 and provide basic economic and social supports. The process of the JTLP parallels the goals of the GND–intersectional efforts rooted in community knowledge for the development of a people-led GND. This paper details the process of the JTLP and the prospects for intersectional, broad-based movements that are the only way a GND can be realized.

Read the text (Link).

Building a Just Transition for a Resilient Future: A Climate Jobs Program for Rhode Island

By Lara Skinner, J. Mijin Cha, Avalon Hoek Spaans, Hunter Moskowitz, and Anita Raman - The Worker Institute and The ILR School, January 2022

A new report released today by climate and labor experts at Cornell University in collaboration with the Climate Jobs Rhode Island Coalition outlines a comprehensive climate jobs action plan to put Rhode Island on the path to building an equitable and resilient clean-energy economy.

The report lays out a series of wide-ranging policy recommendations to transition the Ocean State’s building, school, energy, transportation, and adaptation sectors to renewable energy with the strongest labor and equity standards. Core provisions of the plan include decarbonizing the state’s K-12 public school buildings, installing 900 MW of solar energy statewide, 1,300 MW of offshore wind energy, and modernizing the state’s electrical grid by 2030. 

“Rhode Island is in a unique position as a state, in 2019 it had the lowest energy consumption per capita across all the United States. Rhode Island can use climate change as an opportunity to eliminate carbon emissions, increase equity, and create high-quality jobs that support working families and frontline communities,” says Avalon Hoek Spaans, Research and Policy Development Extension Associate for the Labor Leading on Climate Initiative at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

The Worker Institute’s Labor Leading on Climate Initiative in partnership with the Climate Jobs National Resource Center, and Climate Jobs Rhode Island, began a comprehensive research, educational, and policy process in early 2021 to develop an implementation framework to drastically reduce emissions in the state while creating high-quality union family sustaining jobs.

Over the past year, the Labor Leading on Climate team has conducted outreach to numerous leaders of the labor and environmental movements as well as policymakers and experts in the climate, energy, and labor fields to better understand the challenges and opportunities that climate change and climate mitigation and adaptation presents to Rhode Island workers and unions.

“With Rhode Island on the frontlines of the climate crisis, it will take bold, ambitious action to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution to the levels that science demands. Fortunately, tackling climate change is also an opportunity to address the other crises Rhode Island is facing: inequality and pandemic recovery,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

“As a small state with one of the lowest emissions in the country, Rhode Island can be innovative and efficient, employing cutting-edge approaches to reverse climate change and inequality. Rhode Island has the potential to be the first state in the country to fully decarbonize and build out a net zero economy with high-quality union jobs. This would make Rhode Island's economy stronger, fairer, and more inclusive,” says Lara Skinner, Director, Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, at the Worker Institute, Cornell ILR School and one of the authors of the report.

Read the text (PDF).

Surveys of oil and gas workers show their willingness to retrain and move to clean energy jobs

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, December 9, 2021

International recruitment firm Brunel International and Oilandgasjobsearch.com released the latest version of their annual survey on November 30, showing key employment trends such as recruitment challenges, compensation, energy transition, job engagement, and retention in the global energy sector. Energy Outlook Report 2021-2022 is summarized with key highlights here , including that more than half of the oil and gas workers surveyed want to work in the renewable energy sector – a sentiment stronger amongst workers ages 25 – 29 years old. The survey also highlights a high degree of “job volatility” in the wider energy and extraction sector, with 44% of workers in oil and gas, 42% each in mining, power, and renewables, and 39% in nuclear saying they were looking for a career change in the next five years. The full survey is available for download here.

Although not as widely reported, a Canadian survey in the summer of 2021 showed a similar appetite for career change. Iron and Earth, the Canadian organization of fossil fuel workers whose mission is “to empower fossil fuel industry and Indigenous workers to build and implement climate solutions” , commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a survey of 300 Canadians working in the oil, gas or coal industry. The survey report probed general attitudes to a net zero economy, but more particularly asked about attitudes and motivations to skills training and retraining, with breakdowns by age, gender, Indigenous/minority status, and region. The top level finding: 69% of all the workers surveyed were very interested or somewhat interested in “making a career switch to, or expanding your work involvement in, a job in the net-zero economy”. These findings are consistent with an anecdotal report “Workers Pick Job Stability Over Higher Wages as Oil Rig Operator Scrambles for Crews” (The Energy Mix, Sept. 14), which reports on the recruitment difficulties of the oil and gas industry. The article quotes the head of the Canadian Association of Energy Contractors, who speaks of shift in the industry, “citing the premium many younger workers place on work-life balance, along with the federal government’s talk about just transition legislation.”

That same Canadian Association of Energy Contractors released their industry forecast for 2022 in November. It reports that drilling activity for oil and gas wells has “bounced back” from an all-time low in June 2020, and “total jobs in 2021 were up 54 per cent year-over-year from 2020, with an increase of 9,734 jobs. In 2022, CAOEC expects another increase of approximately 7,280 total jobs to 34,925, a 26 per cent increase year-over-year.” However, clearly oil and gas workers are right to be concerned about job stability, as the CAOEC continues: “In comparison to 2014, we anticipate total jobs will still be a loss of 56 per cent from the peak of 78,793 total jobs in 2014.”

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