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labor and environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the text (PDF).

The Prospects for Revolutionary Green Union Led Transformation

By x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, August 8, 2020

The evidence becomes more and more clear with each passing day: in order to avoid climate catastrophe and the irreparable destruction of our planet's biosphere, we need nothing less than a revolutionary green transformation of our civilization from stem to stern. These are sobering truths. The reassuring news is that the number of people that realize this, and are prepared to act, is growing day-by- day, throughout our world, in spite of the threats of resurgent fascism, capitalism's perpetual melt downs, and pandemics caused by the likes COVID-19.

The evidence can be seen by the following:

  • A growing number of people willing to take direct action to protect the earth from ecological destruction, climate catastrophe, and capitalist extractivist projects;
  • Increased awareness of the inseparability of ecocidal capitalism, colonialism, racism, and misogyny; this has corresponded with the growth of intersectionality.
  • The decline of climate change denialism;
  • The cancellation of numerous pipeline and other fossil fuel mega projects;
  • Persistently high levels of support for transformative frameworks, like the Green New Deal, limited and reformist though it may ultimately prove to be;
  • And, notable among these trends are growing levels of class consciousness among the climate justice and ecological movements, as shown by the rapid growth and widespread calls for just transition for workers affected by the transitions and transformations the current crises demand.

These developments are welcome, and they point to both the broadening and deepening of an anti-capitalist green transformational movement. However, no transformation can occur without the active support of the working class, and such support is but the beginning of what is needed to motivate the transformation. No revolutionary green transformation can occur without the participation of workers organized at the points of production and/or destruction, because it is precisely there where the capitalist class maintains its economic stranglehold of power over our civilization.

Is achieving such organized power even remotely possible?

The good news is the answer is "yes"; the not so good news is that getting to "yes" will be challenging.

Equitable Access to Clean Energy Resilience

By various - The Climate Center, August 5, 2020

Featuring Janea Scott, California Energy Commission; Genevieve Shiroma, California Public Utilities Commission; Carmen Ramirez, Mayor Pro Tem of Oxnard; Ellie Cohen, The Climate Center and others about policies to support climate justice and community energy resilience in lower-income communities who suffer disproportionately from pollution and power outages.

This summit gave overview of what California is doing now for clean energy resilience and what new policies are needed to provide access to clean and reliable power for all. Mari Rose Taruc, Reclaim Our Power Utility Justice Campaign; Gabriela Orantes, North Bay Organizing Project; and Nayamin Martinez, Central California Environmental Justice Network discussed the issue of equitable access from an Environmental Justice perspective.

Mark Kyle, former Director of Government Affairs & Public Relations, Operating Engineers Local 3 and currently a North Bay attorney representing labor unions, nonprofits, and individuals; Jennifer Kropke, Workforce and Environmental Engagement for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 11, and Vivian Price, CSU Dominguez Hills & Labor Network for Sustainability talked about the Labor perspective.

Carolyn Glanton, Sonoma Clean Power; Sage Lang, Monterey Bay Community Power; Stephanie Chen, Senior Policy Counsel, MCE, and JP Ross, East Bay Community Energy discussed the work that Community Choice Agencies are doing to bring more energy resilience to lower-income communities.

Letter from USW Local 675 on Orphan Wells

By Philip Baker and David Campbell - United Steelworkers Local 675, August 5, 2020

We write to support an important economic recovery opportunity that will create jobs, provide tremendous health and environmental benefits to frontline communities, and advance a just transition away from fossil fuels: the accelerated remediation of oil and gas wells in California.

California law already requires that oil and gas operators fully fund the cost of oil and gas well remediation in California.

The job creation from this work is substantial. A recent national study estimated a total of 15.9 total jobs (direct, indirect, and induced) per million dollars spent.

Remediation of Oil and Gas Wells Must be Accelerated in Tandem with a Halt on Permitting New Wells and a Managed Phaseout of Oil and Gas Extraction.

Read the text (PDF).

Transition from Crisis

By staff - Victorian Trades Hall Council, August 2020

With workers and unions leading the transformation of the economy, we will not only help to avoid the worst effects of climate change, it will lead to a more just society in which workers have a much greater share of the wealth they create. This is a moment in time in which we can reduce inequality, increase control over our own working lives, and have our economy work in the interests of everyday people. Without workers and unions playing this leading role, we risk either climate and economic breakdown or a transformation that is authoritarian, gives priority to the interests of capital over workers, and replicates the economic, social and political injustices that characterise the world today.

There are few more important issues facing workers in Victoria than how our economy is restructured and rebuilt in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to reduce the risks of climate change and to manage the effects of the warming that is already locked in to the climate system.

Climate change affects all workers, but in different ways. Health professionals like nurses, and emergency services workers like fire fighters and paramedics, are on the frontlines of the response to extreme weather and disasters and at the same time managing the pressures of other crises, like COVID-19. Public sector workers must manage everything from fire reconstruction work to welfare support to coordinating pandemic responses, often after years of federal funding cuts. In drought-affected communities, local workers can be hurt by the economic decline caused by lack of water, which has also led to closures of businesses such as dairy farming. Construction workers and farm workers must deal with the increasing number of hot days, often resulting in a downturn in industry productivity.

COVID-19 and its economic fallout have demonstrated that in times of crisis it is far too often women who disproportionally bear the brunt, both in job losses and also as frontline workers acting in response. It has also shown us that crises – whether climate or health related - exacerbate existing inequities, meaning those in insecure work, the low-paid, the disabled, migrant workers and First Nations communities are disproportionately affected. For instance, the link between insecure employment and the spread of the virus is now acknowledged by health authorities and the Victorian Government: workers without paid sick leave are more likely to go to work while sick. This tells us that in preparing for the challenges and likely crises of the future, including those climate-related, the elimination of these inequities and inequalities must be given high priority.

All of us will have to learn how to cope with a changing climate. But managing the economic restructuring that will be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change will be particularly important for workers and unions. Workers and their unions know only too well what happens when individual firms or industries are restructured without workers or unions having a proper say: it’s workers who pay the price.

Read the text (PDF).

Draft Colorado Just Transition Plan

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

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

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

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

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

Read the text (PDF).

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.

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).

Retooling Our World for the Future

By staff - Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change - June 24, 2020

The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists joined Green Jobs Oshawa’s first “Retooling Our World for the Future” Summit; a summit for community leaders, environmentalists, labour and social justice advocates all working towards the common goal of public ownership and repurposing our world and jobs for socially beneficial manufacturing. Here is the link to the video of the summit and a description of the speakers on Youtube.

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