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Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS)

A Debate Over Carbon Capture in the Infrastructure Bill Could Test the Labor-Climate Alliance

By Rachel M Cohen - In These Times, April 15, 2021

President Biden wants to include carbon capture technology in his push for infrastructure investment. While unions are on board, some climate groups are keeping quiet for now.

In late March, President Joe Biden unveiled a $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan, that his administration hopes to move forward this year. The plan would make major investments in improving physical infrastructure such as roads, schools and bridges while also creating good-paying jobs, expanding collective bargaining rights and funding long-term care services under Medicaid. 

The president’s plan also endorsed another proposal that a group of bipartisan lawmakers hope makes it into a final bill: expanding carbon-capture utilization and storage (CCUS) in the United States. The SCALE Act, introduced in mid-March by eleven senators and six House representatives, represents the country’s first comprehensive CO2 infrastructure and jobs bill. In describing the president’s infrastructure plan, the White House said it ​“will support large-scale sequestration efforts” that are ​“in line with the bipartisan SCALE Act.” 

The legislation, which would authorize $4.9 billion in spending over five years, would create programs to transport and store carbon underground. Its provisions include establishing low-interest loan programs modeled off of federal highway development programs, increasing EPA funding for permitting carbon storage wells, and providing grants to states to create their own permitting programs. Advocates point to countries such as Canada, Norway and Australia where elected officials have made similar investments in carbon storage infrastructure. 

The SCALE Act is notable both for the support it has, and hasn’t, received. Its early endorsers include a half-dozen industrial labor unions, centrist climate groups like the National Wildlife Federation, and energy companies like GE Gas Power and Calpine. Fossil fuel industry support for carbon-capture has historically been a top reason why progressive climate groups, meanwhile, remain skeptical of the idea, wary of subsidizing anything that amounts to corporate giveaways to some of the world’s worst polluters. While carbon-capture has long been a flashpoint in Democratic climate politics, most critics of the policy have stayed quiet on the SCALE Act for now.

Modeling released in December by the Princeton Net-Zero America Project found that construction of nearly 12,000 miles of pipelines capable of storing 65 million tons of CO2 per year would be needed by 2030 for the United States to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — a stated goal of the Biden administration. The Clean Air Task Force, a climate advocacy group, says the SCALE Act programs are ​“consistent” with the quantity and timeline of infrastructure deployment needed to meet those goals.

To date, nearly all U.S. carbon-capture projects are situated near existing CO2 pipelines and Lee Beck, the CCUS policy innovation director at the Clean Air Task Force, says the SCALE Act’s goal would be to capture emissions from multiple sources and then transport the CO2 for storage elsewhere, as is currently being carried out through Canada’s Alberta Carbon Trunk Line System and Norway’s Northern Lights Project.

Supporters point to a number of recent scientific analyses that make the case for greater investment in carbon-capture. In February, the National Academies of Sciences released a report on decarbonizing the U.S. energy system which recommends that, over next decade, officials should focus on increasing deployment of carbon-capture technologies by a factor of ten while investing in permanent CO2 storage infrastructure. In 2020, the International Energy Agency warned that it would be ​“virtually impossible” to reach net-zero emissions without carbon capture technology, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said carbon capture is likely necessary to meet global climate targets. Supporters note that renewable energy sources like wind and solar are not viable alternatives for reducing carbon emissions in the industrial sector, which account for 32 percent of the United States’ energy use and nearly a quarter of its direct greenhouse gas emissions. 

Community Hearing on Transit Equity 2021: Findings and Recommendations

By Robert Pollin, Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Shouvik Chakraborty, Caitlin Kline and Gregor Semieniuk - Labor Network for Sustainability, April 2021

In February 2018, the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) partnered with the Labor Network for Sustainability to launch Transit Equity Day in honor of Rosa Parks’ birthday, which is on February 4. We chose to honor Rosa Parks for the role she played in the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat at the front of the bus and, in doing so, lift up transit as a workers’ rights, civil rights, and climate-justice issue.

Since its launch, Transit Equity Day has grown each year. In 2020, there were events in 50 cities and a social media explosion that brought attention to transit equity beyond just the participating locations. Just as important, a Transit Equity Network emerged through the process. Consisting largely of grassroots advocates, the network has grown and relationships have deepened both locally and nationally.

After the success of Transit Equity Day 2020, participants were ready to work together on a national initiative. We wanted to develop a stronger sense of unity and shared values. We sought to shape a broad vision of what we wanted from our transit systems across the nation. But rather than creating a vision document ourselves, the Transit Equity Network leaders wanted first to hear directly and collectively from transit stakeholders—riders, workers, families reliant on transit, and community activists—about their needs, frustrations, and hopes.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and, with it, a transit crisis. With ridership plummeting and state and local budgets imperiled, it became clear that transit was facing an existential threat. The pandemic laid bare the crisis of inequality and highlighted the essential need for transit. While thousands of workers in sectors not considered essential stopped using transit, millions of essential workers continued to need to get to their jobs: workers in healthcare, public service, food and agriculture and others continued to work to keep us safe and healthy. Many of these workers were in low-wage jobs and dependent on transit, but transit services were being cut and health and safety was not adequately addressed in many systems that remained in service. The dangers associated with the pandemic were exacerbated for unemployed and low-income riders who rely on transit to get to healthcare appointments, grocery stores, pharmacies, and other necessary retail establishments. The idea of holding a (virtual) community hearing on transit was born in this context. The crisis caused by the pandemic made it even more apparent that we needed to hear directly from transit riders and workers about how to address the crisis in the short-term and improve the system in the long-term. For Transit Equity Day 2021 we convened two days of live testimony–as well as pre-recorded testimony–over Zoom with hearing facilitators who came from the policy and social justice world, with Spanish interpretation and to the extent we were able, accommodations for the physically challenged.

This report is a summary of those hearings–rooted in the experience of workers and riders. We have tried to highlight recurring themes, distill the most salient points and remain faithful to the intent of the testimony. Transit riders and workers were very clear about the important role transit plays in their lives and in their community. At the same time, they identified problems with the current system and offered constructive solutions to address them. We structured each key theme of these findings in a similar fashion: 1) recognize the critical benefit of public transit to those who are most vulnerable; 2) identify the existing problems and inequities in public transit; 3) propose policy solutions to both fix and improve public transit. 

Read the text (PDF).

The Future of People Power in the Coronavirus Depression

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 25, 2021

What can we learn from the role of people power in the Great Depression and in the first year of the Coronavirus Depression? Based on the seven preceding commentaries on the New Deal and the popular movements of 2020, this commentary maintains that popular direct action can play a significant role in shaping the Biden era. It examines the emerging political context and suggests guidelines for navigating the complex landscape that lies ahead. To read this commentary, please visit this page.

“Just” Transitions Are Possible, But They Require State Investment

By Leanna First-Arai - Truthout, March 17, 2021

In spite of overt efforts by some energy executives to convince consumers otherwise, the global economy is already in the throes of a transition away from the drilling, refining and burning of fossil fuels. For certain communities — such as the estimated one-quarter of counties in the U.S. with the greatest potential for wind and solar that are existing fossil fuel employment hubs — a reasonably smooth economic transition to a fossil-free economy may be well within reach.

But for many workers, the idea that an “energy transition” is upon us still sounds the alarm. The “zero emissions” of climate policy proposals bring with it the electrification of everything: ditching combustion engines for electric ones in cars, trucks and busses; and equipping houses with heat pumps to replace natural gas furnaces, for instance. And while an aggressive commitment to electrifying all aspects of the economy could create an estimated 25 million jobs in the U.S. by some estimates, it’s a process often understood as “automation,” the repercussions of which those working in industry are no stranger. In the past, automation in workplaces from oil rigs to rubber plants has meant layoffs, school and municipal budget deficits, and in many cases, the devastation of entire towns.

A new report released today by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) details how working people in the United States have been abandoned by their employers and their elected officials during countless prior economic transitions, and suggests that failing to learn from past catastrophes in the shift away from fossil fuels could lead to significant further social unrest.

“We have rarely done a good job of supporting workers and their communities through these transitions,” Michael Leon Guerrero, executive director of LNS, said in a statement. “If we are to move forward on the climate policies we need — we have to assure to the greatest extent possible that workers and their communities will not get left hanging.”

The report, called the Just Transition Listening Project, draws on qualitative data from 100 “listening sessions” with union and non-union manufacturing and industrial workers, including those in the fossil fuel industry, but also public sector workers, educators and other community members living in areas that have already experienced or anticipate some form of economic transition, like a factory sent overseas or the decommissioning of a power plant.

The research is the most comprehensive to date to gauge U.S. labor and community sentiment around the current energy transition, and offers labor, activist and broader community perspectives on how hyper-local challenges and community-envisioned solutions might be balanced with and supported by federal funds and a big picture policy blueprint.

In addition to labor groups, participants include members of environmental justice and other community organizations and span the U.S. geographically, though the West Coast is slightly overrepresented and the South underrepresented. Across each of these groups, 63 percent of participants identified as white, 19 percent as Latinx, 10 percent as Black and 5 percent as Indigenous. The co-authors identify the underrepresentation of Black participants as a “major weakness” in their data and encourage more research centering the experiences of Black workers and communities.

At its core, the report recognizes that current conversations about our energy transition are still rife with misconceptions. “The idea of the working class that we conjure up is the big burly white guy with a hard hat on who’s whistling at you when you’re 25,” one participant told the researchers. But the identities and commitments of those impacted by the transition from fossil fuels to renewables are much more complex. “To have a just transition in this country, to have it after we come out of the pandemic, to have it when we get off of fossil fuels, people who do all that work, caring for children, teaching children, caring for sick people, delivering food” — many who are women of color, the same participant noted — “those people need to be paid a living wage.”

To bring about a truly “just transition,” the report suggests, policy makers must consider innovating in ways that reach far beyond offering a 60-year-old refinery worker a spot in a coding bootcamp when his most pressing concern might be doing whatever it takes to stay on the job so he can keep his health insurance, for instance.

On the contrary, our responses must consider immediate and long-term needs, be holistic, ambitious and participatory.

Workers and Communities in Transition: Report of the Just Transition Listening Project

By J. Mijin Cha, Vivian Price, Dimitris Stevis, and Todd E. Vachon, et. al. - Labor Network for Sustainability, March 17, 2021

The idea of “just transition” has recently become more mainstream in climate discourse. More environmental and climate justice advocates are recognizing the need to protect fossil-fuel workers and communities as we transition away from fossil-fuel use. Yet, as detailed in our report, transition is hardly new or limited to the energy industry. Throughout the decades, workers and communities have experienced near constant economic transitions as industries have risen and declined. And, more often than not, transition has meant loss of jobs, identities, and communities with little to no support.

While transition has been constant, the scale of the transition away from fossil fuels will be on a level not yet experienced. Fossil fuels are deeply embedded in our economy and society. Transition will not only affect the energy sector, but transportation (including passenger and freight), agriculture and others. Adding to the challenges of the energy transition, we are also transitioning to a post-COVID-19-pandemic world. As such, we cannot afford, economically or societally, to repeat the mistakes of the past that left so many workers and communities behind.

To better understand how transition impacts people, what lessons can be learned, and what practices and policies must be in place for a just transition, in the Spring of 2020 we launched the Just Transition Listening Project (JTLP). The JTLP has captured the voices of workers and community members who have experienced, are currently experiencing, or anticipate experiencing some form of economic transition.

Those who have suffered from transitions are rarely the ones whose voices are heard. Yet, no one is more able to fully understand what workers and communities need than those who have lived that experience. The JTLP is the first major effort to center these voices. In turn, the recommendations provided can make communities and workers whole. In many ways, these recommendations are common sense and fundamental to creating a just society, regardless of transition. Yet, the failure of elected officials to deliver just transition policies points to the need for wide scale movement building and organizing.

This report summarizes lessons learned and policy recommendations in three overall concepts for decision-makers: Go Big, Go Wide, and Go Far.

Read the text (PDF).

Lessons learned from unjust transitions; and a call for cooperation amongst unions and climate activists

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, March 17, 2021

On March 17, Labor Network for Sustainability released an important new report: Workers and Communities in Transition, which summarizes the results of their Just Transition Listening Project across the U.S. in 2020 . The Listening Project comprised over 100 in-depth interviews with workers and Indigenous and community leaders – 65% of whom were union members, 12% of whom were environmental justice and climate justice activists, and 23% of whom were members of other community groups. Their demographic characteristics were diverse, but all had first-hand experience of economic transition, not only from the current transition in the fossil fuel industry, but also from automation, globalization, and other causes, as well as a variety of industries. Their thoughts and experiences are summarized, along with seven case studies, to describe the problems of unjust transitions and to arrive at the lessons learned. The report concludes with specific recommendations for action by policy-makers, recommendations for future research, and uniquely, recommendations for labour and movement organizations.

In general, the recommendations are summarized as: “Go Big, Go Wide, Go Far.” Under the category of “Go Big”, the authors state: “We will need a comprehensive approach that addresses the impacts on workers and communities across geographies, demographics and industries. The federal government will need to play a lead role. There are promising state and local just transition models, but none have access to the resources to fully fund their efforts. Strengthening the social safety net, workers’ rights, and labor standards will also be critical to supporting workers and communities equitably.” About “Go Wide”: “…A common theme throughout the interviews … was the trauma individuals and families experienced as their economies were devastated. Several people referenced suicides, drug addiction, and depression among friends and co-workers who struggled with a loss of identity and relationships ….”. And about “Go Far”: “Just transitions require a longer-term commitment of support and investment in workers and communities. Just transitions also require attention to generational differences: a younger, more diverse workforce has been growing into energy industries that will likely not offer long-term careers. It is essential to create good career alternatives for this generation.”

The specific recommendations for Labour and Movement Organizations are:

  • “Labor unions, workers’ rights organizations, and advocacy organizations should build cross-movement relationships by forming labor-climate-community roundtables, networks and/or committees at the state and/or local levels to build and sustain genuine personal and political relationships over time.
  • Labor unions should establish or expand any pre-existing environmental and climate committees, task forces, or other entities that can develop and deploy educational programs for members on issues of climate change; social, economic, and environmental justice; and just transition.
  • Environmental and other advocacy organizations should create labor committees to develop and deploy educational programs on issues of labor, job quality standards, and just transition.
  • Labor unions should adopt environmental and climate policy concerns as part of their advocacy agendas, and community organizations should adopt the right to organize and the promotion of strong labor standards as part of their advocacy agendas.
  • All organizations should create more mentorship and leadership development opportunities, especially for women, people of color, Indigenous people, and immigrants.”

The Great Depression and the Coronavirus Depression

Why the PRO Act Is Part of a Green New Deal

By Dharna Noor - Gizmodo, March 10, 2021

On Tuesday night, the U.S. House passed an essential piece of climate policy. But the legislation makes no mention of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, or extreme weather. Instead, it’s all about labor protections.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2021, known as the PRO Act, is the most comprehensive piece of labor legislation the U.S. has seen in decades. It would make it easier for workers to organize and could move us a step closer to ensure the future clean energy economy is one that works for everyone.

“When we push for a Green New Deal, we’re pushing for a reimagining and a redesign of the economy overall with a focus on care jobs which do not contribute to our carbon footprint and jobs that are not a part of the fossil fuel industry,” Rep. Jamaal Bowman said just hours after delivering an impassioned speech in support of the bill on the House floor. “We’re talking about millions of union jobs where workers are earning a family-sustaining wage and they have a right to organize and unionize without being threatened or bullied or intimidated by employers…so this is a huge step.”

Among the PRO Act’s provisions are fines for managers who retaliate against workers who organize and requirements for employers to bargain their workers’ first union contracts in good faith. It would also effectively end so-called right-to-work laws in the nearly 30 states that have passed them and stop employers from permanently replacing workers who go on strike.

All told, the bill would make it much easier for American workers to unionize and bargain for protections. A more organized workforce means workers will have better benefits on the job and more protection when they leave a position. That would be great news for the fight for a livable planet, because it would secure crucial rights for those leaving jobs in the waning fossil fuel industry and for those in the new clean economy, too. Boosting union density could bring many new people into the fold to push for that just transition. Joining unions could also help workers in job training programs or green industries to advocate for themselves.

This Is What the Beginning of a Climate-Labor Alliance Looks Like: The PRO Act is emerging as the left’s answer to a classic political tension

By Kate Aronoff - New Republic, March 10, 2021

Tuesday night, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act passed the House by 225–205 votes. If it passes the Senate and becomes law, it will peel back over half a century of anti-union policies, including core provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947. It would override state-level right-to-work protections—the darlings of the Koch brothers machine—and create harsher penalties for employers who interfere with employees’ organizing efforts. But in myriad ways, the act might also do something unexpected: set the stage for sweeping climate policy.

A coalition led by the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, or IUPAT, and the Communication Workers of America is mobilizing to push the PRO Act over the finish line in the Senate. The youth climate group Sunrise Movement was an early recruit, and the Democratic Socialists of America—including its ecosocialist working group, which is also pushing for a Green New Deal—will be deploying its members in key districts around the country to ensure it’s passed. After a kick-off call over the weekend featuring Congressman Jamaal Bowman, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA head Sara Nelson, and Naomi Klein, DSA is holding trainings for its members throughout March as well as events around the country pushing key senators to back the bill in the lead-up to May Day. Sunrise last week launched a Good Jobs for All campaign, which is urging on a federal job guarantee introduced recently by Representative Ayanna Pressley. Over the next several weeks, Sunrise hubs will be working alongside progressive legislators and holding in-district protests to advance five priorities for upcoming infrastructure legislation, including the PRO Act. After its passage through the House last night, a press release from the groups praised the measure as a “core pillar of the Green New Deal.”

The alliances forming around the PRO Act buck long-held wisdom in Washington about what it would take to get labor unions and environmentalists to work together. James Williams Jr., IUPAT’s vice president at large, has been frustrated by years of seeing the two talk past one another. Construction unions, in particular, have come to loggerheads with climate hawks over infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. “I would blame labor a lot of the time for this,” he says, “but there have to be deeper conversations about the fact that labor is going to lose jobs that have been really good jobs for a really long time.” 

1100 Groups Call on Biden to Build Back Fossil Free

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability - March 2022

The Labor Network for Sustainability joined more than 1,100 organizations in a letter asking President Joe Biden to declare a climate emergency and to use his executive authority to fight climate change. It called for Biden to keep his promise that “environmental justice will be at the center of all we do addressing the disproportionate health and environmental and economic impacts on communities of color.” Specifically it asked Biden to:

  • Follow through on your promise to ban all new oil and gas leasing, drilling, and fracking on federal lands and waters.
  • Direct federal agencies to stop approving fossil fuel projects, including pipelines, import and export terminals, storage facilities, refineries, and petrochemical plants. Direct the Department of Energy to halt gas exports to the full extent authorized by law.
  • Declare a climate emergency under the National Emergencies Act, unlocking special powers to reinstate the crude oil export ban, redirect disaster relief funds toward distributed renewable energy construction in frontline communities, and marshal companies to fast-track renewable transportation and clean power generation, creating millions of high-quality union jobs.

Read the letter: https://buildbackfossilfree.org/letter/

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