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Just Transition

No plan for the Valley; No plan for the workers; No plan for the climate

By IWW Melbourne - Australia IWW, March 15, 2017

As the closure of the Hazelwood power plant looms closer, it is becoming increasingly clear that the government has no transition plan for the LaTrobe Valley. It's imperative that the workers in the valley develop a program of their own to transition away from coal.

The behemoth is shutting down. Completed in 1971, Hazelwood - the Soviet-era beast of a power plant that produces up to a quarter of the state's energy - is scheduled to shut in the next few weeks.

Following the privatisation of the energy industry and years of official neglect, this is just "Another kick in the guts for the Latrobe Valley," as the CFMEU's mining and energy president puts it. The Andrews State Government has, at the last minute, shown some interest in the almost 1000 workers set to lose employment, offering grants and funding amounting to $226 million. The federal government is still scrambling to respond. 

The remaining three plants in the valley remain in a precarious position. Brown coal is plentiful in the valley, but so dirty and so low in value that there's virtually no export market for the product. It's burnt there or it's not burnt at all. But the plants haven't been updated for years, and even basic maintenance is lax, allegedly contributing to the horrific fires that burnt through the Valley two years ago. In the face of climate change, coal - and brown coal especially - is rapidly becoming a "stranded investment" that can't turn a profit and which no one will buy.

This is a good thing for the planet's climate and - in the long run - for our communities. It's also been predicted for years. So why isn't there a transition plan for the LaTrobe Valley?

Successive governments have been in denial about the realities of a shifting energy market, pinning hopes on pipedreams like clean coal and carbon sequestration.

Investment that could have been directed at rebuilding grid infrastructure to better suit renewables has instead been sunk into the pockets of multinational companies without ties to the local communities, and who answer to no one but their shareholders. Even the comparitively progressive Andrews government has, until very recently, shown no interest in the Valley - but their response has been a piecemeal kneejerk reaction to pressure bought to bear by workers. There remains no plan for the Valley.

There is no escaping the realities of climate change. Coal is going out of business - and not before time! Nevertheless, unless a thoughtfully planned and executed transition to a coal-free economy is rapidly developed, the region which has underpinned Victoria's economic development throughout the 20th and 21st centuries will once again be burnt. This plan could take many forms, but the decision must be made by those wo work and live in the Valley. Groups like voices of the valley and the earthworker cooperative are the only hope for a democratic, truly just transition out of coal for the LaTrobe Valley. Workers can't rely on the government - state or federal - to do the job for them.

How we can turn railroads into a climate solution

By Patrick Mazza - Grist, March 7, 2017

Railroads have become a nexus of controversy in recent years due to their role in transporting climate-twisting fossil fuels. But they could become a locomotive driving the growth of clean energy. That is the aim of a new proposal to electrify railroads, run them on renewable energy, and use rail corridors as electricity superhighways to carry power from remote solar and wind installations to population centers.

The proposal, called Solutionary Rail, has been developed by a team of rail experts, economists, and public interest advocates assembled by the Washington state–based Backbone Campaign. Bill McKibben writes in the foreword to the recently released Solutionary Rail book that he has “been following the debate over energy, transportation, and climate change since the late 1980s … So it’s hard to come up with an idea I haven’t come across before. Rail electrification, as proposed in this remarkable book, is that rarest of things: a genuinely new idea, and one that makes immediate gut sense.”

An activist movement, sometimes known as the “thin green line,” has grown up in the Northwest in recent years to resist coal and oil shipments through the region, between the rich fossil resources east of the Rockies and the growing markets of Asia. The Backbone Campaign, a group that develops innovative strategies and tactics to build grassroots democratic movements, has been enmeshed in this movement.

The movement has been successful in stopping many fossil fuel export facilities from being built along the Pacific Coast. But it’s largely been a defensive campaign rather than a proactive one. In 2013, a rail labor leader challenged Backbone Executive Director Bill Moyer to green a labor concept for modernizing rail lines in the northern states, a “yes” to accompany the “no.” Moyer took up the challenge, and the result is Solutionary Rail.

Rail electrification is common in other parts of the world. Around the globe, electricity serves nearly a quarter of railroad track miles and supplies over one-third of the energy that powers trains. But in the U.S., under 1 percent of tracks are electrified. That’s due to high upfront capitalization costs, an obstacle that publicly owned railroads in other nations do not face. Railroads in other countries also do not have to pay property taxes on electrification infrastructure, which U.S. railroads do.

Few industries are as well positioned as railroads to lead a transition to a clean economy. Unlike other heavy, long-haul transportation vehicles such as ships, planes, and semitrucks, trains can be easily electrified, and electricity is increasingly coming from clean sources such as sun and wind. Rail is already the most efficient form of ground transportation, and it has an unparalleled capacity to provide clean freight and passenger mobility.

Under the Solutionary Rail plan, electrification would be accomplished in conjunction with track modernization. Together, these would allow express freight service running above 80 miles per hour and high-speed passenger service up to 125 mph. Very high-speed passenger rail operates above 180 mph in Europe and Asia, and is being developed in California and the U.S. Northeast, but it generally requires dedicated tracks. Solutionary Rail’s more modest increase in speed is the economically practical option for most U.S. lines. Existing tracks can be upgraded, and freight and passenger trains can be accommodated on the same lines.

The proposal also includes running power transmission lines through the rail corridors. It’s currently difficult to get the rights-of-way needed to build new long-distance, high-capacity transmission lines, which means that some renewable energy, like wind power produced in the Great Plains, is stranded and can’t get to where it’s needed. But rail corridors are already being put to industrial use, so they could easily accommodate new power infrastructure, connecting renewable-energy-rich rural areas to big metropolitan areas.

To pay for all this, the Solutionary Rail team developed the concept of Steel Interstate Development Authorities, public agencies that would be able to raise low-cost capital from financial markets and take advantage of federal transportation dollars. SIDAs for different rail corridors would be created by interstate compacts and work in public-private partnerships with railroads. The electrification would remain under public ownership, managed by the SIDA, alleviating the property tax issue. Backbone is initially pushing a SIDA in the Northern Corridor, which has rail lines stretching from Chicago to the Northwest, to demonstrate the feasibility of electrification on lines mostly owned by BNSF, a property of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

Rail in the U.S. is not a huge contributor to climate disruption — it’s responsible for only 2 percent of greenhouse gases from the nation’s transportation sector. But it could be a huge part of the climate solution. A cleaner, more robust railroad system could replace substantial amounts of truck traffic, while making intercity passenger service more reliable and competitive with highways and aviation. This could help railroads thrive without being reliant on transporting bulk shipments of fossil fuels. The Solutionary Rail strategy still relies on resistance movements to stop those shipments, but offers the “yes” to strengthen the “no.” That is why the proposal has drawn support from labor leaders: It would help railroad workers make a “just transition” away from fossil fuels.

The huge, public benefits of rail electrification justify a public expenditure. But electrification would also greatly benefit privately owned railroads, and so they must offer public benefits in return. One is labor justice. Solutionary Rail has adopted the justice agenda of Railroad Workers United, a group that unites rail labor across union lines. It includes good working and safety conditions. The Solutionary Rail plan also calls for right-of-way justice for native tribes, renegotiating easements where tribes have historic grievances.

With Solutionary Rail, the oldest form of mass mechanized transportation can create a track to 21st century clean transportation and become an engine for sustainably and broadly realized prosperity.

The World Needs Big Ideas — Here are 10 from the Far Left

By Mary Lorax - Medium, March 4, 2017

The world is in crisis — socially, economically, and environmentally. The world needs big ideas, people want big ideas, and the Democratic Party doesn’t have any. That’s why Hillary lost — she offered nothing.

Bernie offered some narrative, and some solutions, too — like free college — and that’s why he gained a following, and why he was polling ahead of Trump. But Trump offered explanations for our crises too. And not only that, he offered ideas, BIG IDEAS, as terrible as they may have been.

The radical left has a lot to offer. We have new, innovative, and necessary ideas. However instead of promoting them and developing them, we often get caught up in reacting to an increasingly far-right, neoliberal political landscape — always on the defensive. We need to be developing our own ideas, and creating and sharing visions. We can’t be afraid of presenting bold proposals for fear of them sounding too far-fetched in an extremely right-wing media and political climate. People want big, revolutionary ideas.

So here’s a list of some of the left’s coolest ideas.

Red state rural America is acting on climate change; without calling it climate change

By Rebecca J. Romsdahl - The Conversation, February 21, 2017

President Donald Trump has the environmental community understandably concerned. He and members of his Cabinet have questioned the established science of climate change, and his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA many times and regularly sided with the fossil fuel industry.

Even if the Trump administration withdraws from all international climate negotiations and reduces the EPA to bare bones, the effects of climate change are happening and will continue to build.

In response to real threats and public demand, cities across the United States and around the world are taking action to address climate change. We might think this is happening only in large, coastal cities that are threatened by sea-level rise or hurricanes, like Amsterdam or New York.

Research shows, however, that even in the fly-over red states of the U.S. Great Plains, local leaders in small- to medium-size communities are already grappling with the issue. Although their actions are not always couched in terms of addressing climate change, their strategies can provide insights into how to make progress on climate policy under a Trump administration.

TUED energy and climate retreat, Cutchogue, Long Island, April 3-4, 2017, hosted by Local 3, IBEW

By Staff - Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, February 25, 2017

A Discussion on Union Strategy and Policy in a Time of Resistance

April 3rd & 4th at Local 3 IBEW’s Education and Cultural Center in Cutchogue, Long Island, New York. Dinner and reception to follow (check out morning of April 5th).

See below for information about the purpose of the retreat and discussion topics.

Confirmed international participants:

Daniel Angelim (Trade Union Confederation of the Americas)
David Boys (Public Services International)
Daniel Chavez (Transnational Institute, Netherlands)
Hector de la Cueva (CILAC-Mexico)
Bruno Dobrusin (CTA, Argentina)
Simona Fabiani (CGIL, Italy)
Luz Gonzalez (CUT, Brazil)
Kate Lee (Union Aid Abroad /APHEDA, Australia)
Wol-san Liem (KPTU, Korea)
Maite Llanos (TUED, Geneva)
Sam Mason (PCS, UK)
Josua Mata (Sentro, Philippines)
Lance McCallum (Electrical Trades Union, Australia)
Philip Pearson (TUED, UK)
Allison Roche (UNISON, UK)
Ashim Roy (NTUI, India)
Asbjorn Wahl (NUMGE, Norway)

We are all energy unions now.

The retreat is being convened at a time when President Trump has made clear his enthusiastic support for more fracking of shale gas and shale oil, and his desire to remove regulations on fossil fuels. Executive Orders have indicated President Trump’s support for the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. A number of key US unions have endorsed these actions. Meanwhile, The White House has removed all references to climate change from its website, and the President has vowed to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement and reign in the EPA.

Jobs and Climate Justice

We share a common atmosphere and all rely on the ecosystems that sustain life. All over the world unions and social movements are being drawn into struggles over the future of energy. Therefore a clear, compelling, and effective strategy for a transformative transition for energy is needed in order to meet the political challenges in the US and elsewhere.

Likely discussion questions:

  • The Trump Agenda: How can progressive labor in the US respond to the “energy superpower” argument?
  • What is the record of “labor-environmental” alliances and coalitions in the US and internationally?
  • Should we defend the Paris climate agreement?
  • Centers of resistance: What role for cities and states?
  • What is happening in key “carbon battlegrounds” countries like Australia, India, South Africa and the UK?
  • How can unions champion public renewable power and build union strength in the renewables sector?

A recent TUED Working Paper, Energy Transition: Are We Winning?, explains what is going on in the global energy system and the need for progressive and forward-looking unions internationally to work together to develop a more coherent and compelling approach to energy transition.

Largest Healthcare Union in the Nation, 1199SEIU, Calls for Clean Energy Jobs Instead of Dirty Fuel Pipelines

By George Gresham - SEIU 1199, January 26, 2017

“As union members, we know that the #1 priority for working Americans is good jobs and economic progress. That is one of the major reasons why we strongly oppose the construction of any dirty fuel pipelines, including Dakota Access and Keystone XL. Oil, coal and gas are relics of the old economy that create few permanent jobs while costing Americans billions of dollars related to health problems from pollution and clean-ups from spills.

“On the other hand, clean energy from solar, wind and wave power would create millions of good jobs without toxic pollution. We need massive public and private investment in clean energy manufacturing, construction, and innovation to rebuild the American middle class. Right now, other countries are taking leadership in the global clean energy market, building solar panels and wind turbines and installing them around the world in the absence of American initiative. America should be leading the global clean energy economy, but instead we are giving away billions to oil, coal and gas companies and American workers are being left behind.

“Not only are pipelines the wrong direction for American workers, they are disastrous for human health, which we know firsthand as healthcare workers. Time and time again, spills from pipelines have contaminated drinking water and land. The process of digging up, transporting, refining and burning dirty fuel is toxic and increases rates of sickness and death from asthma, cancer and other diseases.

“The Dakota Access Pipeline threatens the drinking water of Native Americans, and also defiles sacred cultural lands. After all that indigenous people have been through, the Standing Rock Sioux deserve respect for their land, water and religious values.

“Finally, wasting resources on pipelines and dirty fuel infrastructure worsens climate change, which poses a severe threat to American security and human civilization. Climate change increases the spread of dangerous diseases like Zika, Chikungunya and West Nile; causes droughts, floods, extinctions, fires and superstorms; creates civil unrest, food shortages, war and climate refugees; and has a disproportionate impact on the health and safety of working people and people of color.

“It is a proven fact, not an alternative fact, that burning dirty fuels is causing dangerous, runaway climate change. We must make the transition to a clean energy economy now in order to create millions of good jobs, rebuild the American middle class, and avert catastrophe. We call on people of good conscience throughout our country and our world to join thousands of healthcare workers at the March for Climate, Jobs & Justice in Washington, D.C. on April 29th. Together we can stand up for our vision of a new, just economy for working people with clean water, air and energy.”

Even Trump Can’t Stop the Tide of Green Jobs

By Yana Kunichoff - In These Times, February 22, 2017

Donald Trump was elected in November on a platform that included both climate denial and the promise of jobs for Rust Belt communities still hurting from deindustrialization. In the months since, his strategy to create jobs has become increasingly clear: tax breaks and public shaming of companies planning to move their operations out of the country.

Take the case of Carrier, a manufacturing plant in Indianapolis that produces air conditioners. Trump first threatened to slap tariffs on Carrier’s imports after the company announced it would move a plant to Mexico. Then, he reportedly called Greg Hayes, CEO of the parent company United Technologies, who agreed to keep the plant in the United States in exchange for $7 million in tax breaks. (Carrier later admitted that only a portion of the plant’s jobs would remain in the country.)

The company’s decision to keep jobs in the United States was declared a victory for the Trump PR machine, but it’s unclear that it can create a major change in access to jobs in the long-term. Hayes, announcing that the tax breaks would allow additional investment into the plant, noted that the surge of money would go towards automation. And with automation, eventually, comes a loss of jobs.

“Automation means less people,” Hayes told CNN. “I think we’ll have a reduction of workforce at some point in time once they get all the automation in and up and running.”

Unlike traditional manufacturing jobs, green jobs in the clean energy industry have been on a steady upward swing. This past spring, for example, U.S. jobs in solar energy overtook those in oil and natural gas, and a Rockefeller Foundation-Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors study found that energy retrofitting buildings in the United States could create more than 3 million “job years” of employment.

That means green jobs remain one of the key hopes for revitalizing communities. But can they move forward under a climate-skeptic and coal-loving president?

A just transition to sustainable jobs

By Bill Onasch - Socialist Action, February 22, 2017

The Trump administration wasted no time before launching a veritable blitzkrieg on all fronts in pursuit of an “alt-right” America First agenda. But resistance has been swift and massive.

In addition to various movements mobilizing we also heard from scientists. Agence France Presse (AFP) reported: “Comments by U.S. President Donald Trump on nuclear weapons and climate change have helped make the world less safe, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warned … moving its symbolic ‘Doomsday Clock’ 30 seconds closer to midnight.”

This heightened warning by atomic scientists about two overarching crises closely followed an announcement by climate scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that, for the third consecutive year, 2016 had been the hottest since record keeping began in 1880.

Trump replaces an Obama administration that offered token gestures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which are the prime culprit in heating our planet, while at the same time also promoting fossil-fuel expansion through destructive fracking of gas and oil.

Now, the 45th president has dismissed global warming as a job-killing hoax perpetrated by China to sabotage the American economy. Rather than presenting any of his signature “alternative facts” to bolster this fantastic conspiracy theory, he has focused on the job-killing argument. Jobs are a big and legitimate concern of the working-class majority.

The Walking Dead in Washington

By Paul Gilding - Paul Gilding, February 23, 2017

We’re all focused on the drama and entertainment of Trump’s takeover of the world’s centre of military, security and economic power. For some it’s exciting and entertaining, for others terrifying and apocalyptic. I too have been glued to the news – at various times having each of those responses! But now I’ve come back to earth, recognising it all for what it is. Important, but a sideshow to a much bigger and more important game. And on reflection, I’m glad he got elected.

How can a Trump Presidency be positive? Surely this is a major setback – to action on climate change, to addressing inequality, to human rights and global security. Doesn’t it make the world a scarier and less stable place?  In isolation, all true, but in context, not so much. The context is the key.

Trump’s election is not a trend. It should not be seen as evidence of a swing to the right, to nationalism and xenophobia etc. It is simply a symptom of the volatility inherent in the accelerating breakdown of our current economic approach and model.

What we are seeing is the last hurrah of a dying approach. A desperate attempt by the incumbents to rescue the now failing economic model that did deliver great progress for humanity but has come to the end of its road – and that road finishes at a cliff.

A cliff is the right analogy for a range of reasons. Perhaps most starkly it’s climate change and resource scarcity but also inequality and the failure of the old model to deliver further progress for most people in Western countries. There are many other issues we face, but these two – climate change (and with it food supply and geopolitical security risks) and inequality within countries – are the systemic risks. They define the cliff because neither can continue to worsen without the system responding – either transforming or breaking down. So the old approach is finished, along with the fossil fuel industry, and the walking dead taking over Washington won’t bring it back to life.

This leads to why, on reflection, I’m surprisingly pleased Trump was elected, rather than Hillary Clinton. I know it is hard to imagine how someone as appalling as Trump is better than the alternative, so let me expand.

We are now accelerating towards the cliff and we don’t have much time left to change course. If Clinton had been elected, we would have continued to suffer the delusion that we were addressing the systemic risks we face in an inadequate but still worthwhile way. There would have been the same debates about fossil fuel companies having too much influence on politics, the conservative wealthy elites (yes there are liberal wealthy elites!) manipulating the system to their benefit etc. But we would have seen some progress.

Meanwhile business people would have argued the need for less regulation and “freeing up” the economy. They would have argued we needed to run the country like business people run companies, that if only we had strong (i.e. autocratic) leadership, we could get things done. And the Tea Party style extremists would have had their favourite enemy – another Clinton – to rail against and blame for it all, as they mobilized their base.

Now there’s no debate – it’s all there to see. The fossil fuel industry dominates the administration, gaining unfettered access to more coal, oil and gas. The iconic symbol and long term funder of climate change denial, Exxon has seen their CEO put in charge of US foreign policy and climate negotiations. Trump is “the businessman in charge” and can slash regulation, free up the financial markets to unleash more mayhem and wind back those pesky environmental protections.

He will attack the media, mobilise extremists and unleash all the autocratic and nationalistic tendencies that the system has – but normally suppresses. His solution to inequality will be to give tax breaks to the rich (you can’t make this stuff up!) when we know only government intervention – or catastrophe–  prevents inequality being the inevitable result of unfettered markets.

The critical result of all this? No change to the fundamental direction we are on. The rich will get richer, the middle class will stagnate, racism and conflict will worsen and we will be less secure – all while climate change destabilises civilisation.  How is this good?

Because three big things will change.

End Coal actions: from Wales to Westminster

By staff - Reclaim the Power, February 22, 2017

150 people gathered on the beach by Aberthaw power station to demand Green jobs now – Close Aberthaw, on Saturday 28th January. People gathered to demand that Aberthaw power station close and that jobs are found for the current highly skilled employees in the green economy. After a rousing rally with music and food on the beach, the gathered crowd walked to the main entrance of the power station.

RWE npower were expecting us, and as a result there were no works vehicle movements for at least 4 hours, at an entrance which normally has HGVs every few minutes. Gathering at the power station was effective in raising awareness of the issues as well as causing Aberthaw to cancelled all deliveries and the removal of coal ash.

Demo on the beach

Marianne Owens from the PCS union said, “It’s working class people who suffer from this dirty energy,” as she addressed the crowd from the sea wall. She demonstrated that moving to green energy would create more jobs than exist in the fossil fuel industry.

As Chris and Alyson Austin held hands and addressed the crowd, Alyson described how dust from Ffos-y-fran opencast coal mine pervades her house. Communities living near opencast coal mines now experience similar illnesses to deep miners when underground mines operated.

Anne Harris from the Coal Action Network said, “Saturday’s demonstration at Aberhaw power station sent a clear signal to its operators RWE npower and the government, that the public demand that this power station is promptly closed. Children, working people, pensioners, Welsh people and those from as far away as Machylleth and London gathered on the beach.”

There were a number of angry local residents at the demonstration who feel like they’ve been sacrificed to this power station, as highlighted by this comment on the Coal Action Network’s web page about the protest local resident. Roy Shropshire said, “We have lived in Rhoose for almost 40 years, complained many times to the EPA/NRW [Environment Agency and National Resources Wales] of what we considered to be unacceptable levels of pollution… Clearly, there has been a failure to inform us of the known dangers and a disregard to our health and well being. Clearly, those responsible should now be made accountable.”

RWE’s Aberthaw power station kills 400 people a year, 67 of them in Wales, as it pumps out huge quantities of toxic nitrogen oxide. The government lost a case at the European Court of Justice for allowing the power station to poison so many people. UK government had given RWE npower an exemption to EU air quality rules, which should never have been granted.

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