Getting Serious About Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground Means Getting Serious About a Just Transition

picketGetting Serious About Keeping Fossil Fuels in the Ground Means Getting Serious About a Just Transition

Reposted from Counterpunch 

As the climate crisis continues to deepen and as it becomes less and less plausible that current efforts to curb global warming will even come close to preventing our earth from crossing the 2 degree Celsius ‘red line,’ the climate movement has shifted towards a bolder vision for climate action. Virtually every pole of the climate movement has evolved towards a set of bolder, more urgent demands and the mantra ‘keep it in the ground’ has begun to dominate the discussion about fossil fuel extraction and use.

While this bold position certainly reflects the urgency of the threat of climate change, the immediacy of the demand presents a new set of challenges for the climate movement.  What happens to the millions of working families who are currently depending on incomes from jobs in and related to the fossil fuel industry? And what happens to communities whose economies rely on income from the fossil fuel industry and the low income workers as revenue dries up and energy costs rise?

According recent data from the BLS, 761,000 workers are employed in the extraction and mining sector and 116,700 workers are employed in the refining and processing sector in the United States alone. Each one of those direct fossil fuel industry jobs supports as many as 7 related jobs—from delivery drivers, equipment manufacturers, to the clerks at the mini-mart across the street from the power plant that workers stop into on their way to work.  In total, it is fair to say that more than 6 million workers rely on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihoods in the US alone.

If we are going to keep fossil fuels in the ground, what happens to those 6 million working families?

Most climate justice organizations have adopted some messaging around a call for ‘just transition’ for workers and communities that are impacted by a shift away from fossil fuels in their public platforms. But it’s not clear what this ‘just transition’ would actually look like or how it materially amounts to anything more than just a messaging point.

For many, the concept of a just transition evokes images of workers walking off of their jobs in coal mines and oil refineries and walking into a factory right next door building wind turbines or solar panels. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with work in industrial manufacturing knows that vision is a fantasy.

Setting aside the most important factor—those ‘green energy jobs’ simply don’t exist in the numbers needed to transition the number of workers currently depending on work in the fossil fuel industry—the skills fossil fuel industry workers have spent decades honing are often not immediately transferable to other industries, the wind and solar jobs that do exist are not generally in close proximity to where energy workers (and their families) live, Further, these jobs generally pay a fraction of the wages and benefits that the largely unionized fossil fuel workforce currently experiences.

The challenges of an abrupt transition away from fossil fuels will extend beyond just the workers who rely on incomes in the fossil fuel industry. As workers look to find new jobs, oil refinery and coal mining communities will find themselves struggling to provide basic services to residents as the primary sources of revenue dry up. While many in the climate movement envision a future where energy from renewables is available at the same cost–if not cheaper than–energy from fossil fuels, the transition will almost certainly be accompanied by at least a temporary spike in energy costs. Even a small spike in energy costs could spell serious trouble for low wage workers already living on the economic edge.

If the climate movement is going to get serious about keeping fossil fuels in the ground, the movement needs to get serious about cultivating a real vision for a just transition.  If we’re going to see coal-fired power plants and oil refineries and chemical plants shut down we need to have a real vision about what the future looks like for those workers, their families and their communities.

Anyone who has been involved in, or even around a plant closure or a mass layoff knows how disruptive and violent that transition can be.  There are too many a 40-something refinery workers forced to leave their job of 25 years with skills that aren’t directly transferable to other industries only to find themselves in poverty-level service sector jobs. There are too many factory towns turned into ghost towns as all of the families evacuated after the primary employer shut down and left town.  There are too many good people who’ve lost their jobs and couldn’t find ways to support their families that began to believe that suicide is the only way out.

The concept of a ‘just transition’ isn’t new. It was popularized in the 1980’s by Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers (OCAW) leader Tony Mazzocchi. As Mazzocchi navigated a challenging time as a leader in an energy union during the rapid growth of the modern environmental and antinuclear movements in the United States he argued that workers who were displaced as a result of shifting energy sources deserved support in transitioning to new jobs. His initial proposal was for a Superfund for Workers, arguingthere is a Superfund for dirt. There ought to be one for workers.”

The idea that workers who are displaced as a result of public policy isn’t radical and it’s not a novelty.  Under the Trade Act of 1974 (and subsequent amendments) workers who are displaced as a result of trade are eligible for two years of unemployment compensation and two years of job training benefits. Even that falls far short in offering a smooth transition–particularly in communities experiencing concentrated unemployment caused by a plant closure impacting hundreds or even thousands of workers. Meanwhile, workers who are displaced as a result of environmental regulations are only statutorily entitled to 26 weeks of unemployment compensation.

Over the past three decades the concept of a just transition has gained popularity-if not specificity. The 2013 International Labor Organization passed its “Resolution concerning sustainable development, decent work and green jobs.” The resolution called for a just transition for workers whose jobs are eliminated as a result of environmental policy but appropriately noted that, “there is no ‘one-size-fits-all.’ Policies and programmes need to be designed in line with the specific conditions of countries, including their stage of development, economic sectors and sizes of enterprises”

Although most of the discussion about just transitions center on financial assistance and job training opportunities for workers who have already lost their jobs, some of the most important questions in articulating a vision for a just transition relate to how, when, and even if jobs should be eliminated. It seems relatively intuitive that shutting down an oil refinery would reduce carbon emissions but it is not always that straightforward.

Without addressing demand for fossil fuels and building alternatives to scale, shutting down oil refineries in the United States would likely have little impact on global carbon emissions. As refineries close in the United States, crude oil is increasingly being exported to new mega-refineries like the new Reliance Industries 1.24 million barrel per day refinery in India only to be refined and shipped back for sale in gas stations around the country. These refineries operate with fewer environmental or safety regulations than those in the United States and the carbon emissions generated by floating crude oil halfway around the world and shipping refined products back could even mean an even greater carbon footprint. If the climate movement is serious about cultivating a just transition, we need to make sure that we’re actually reducing carbon emissions and not just pushing jobs and refineries out of our own backyards and into other communities.

Climate change and its catastrophic impacts on our communities and planet are, without a doubt, the most pressing issues facing our world today. We need mass education, we mass mobilization, and we need mass resistance to build a real social movement to slow the devastating effects of climate change. But we also need to have a real, serious conversation about what a just transition looks like in our economy.

There are a myriad of proposals floating for serious just transition programs, from Mazzocchi’s Superfund for Workers which would provide four years of pay and training, to the expansion of TAA benefits to energy workers, to Senator Sanders’ proposed Clean Energy Worker Just Transition Act. It is not clear exactly what a just transition program for energy workers could or should look like, but if the climate movement really wants to keep fossil fuels in the ground it’s time to get serious about answering these questions.

A real just transition certainly doesn’t mean telling the millions of families who depend on jobs in and related to the fossil fuel industry that they need to ‘just transition’ to low-wage service sector jobs or to the handful of low-paying jobs in the wind or solar industries. If we’re going to stop—or even slow—climate change we all need to transition together.

Patrick Young is a Pittsburgh, PA based organizer and activist with deep ties in the industrial labor and climate justice movement.  Patrick can be reached at patrickjamesyoung@gmail.com.

Rising Tide North America Statement in Response to “Citizens for Local Governance” Smear Campaign in North Texas

DRC_FLIER_50098751Rising Tide North America Statement in Response to “Citizens for Local Governance” Smear Campaign in North Texas

In response to the recent smear campaign on members of Blackland Prairie Rising Tide by “Citizens for Local Governance,” Rising Tide North America issued the following statement:

Rising Tide North America stands in solidarity with our friends in Blackland Prairie Rising Tide and other like-minded individuals in Denton, TX.

A Political Action Committee (PAC) in Texas is targeting residents of Denton who have been organizing to unseat establishment, status-quo candidates in their local City Council elections next month. The PAC is trying to delegitimize all opposition to their crony candidates by falsely asserting that Blackland Prairie Rising Tide (BPRT) is behind it all.

BPRT is in no way involved with any electoral campaigning, though some of its members are being subjected to McCarthyistic attacks. The PAC is attempting to smear all Rising Tide organizing, silence legitimate dissent in Denton and stop the good work being done to end fracking in North Texas. These attacks have come in the form of a website full of inaccuracies about Rising Tide North America, Blackland Prairie Rising Tide and friends in Denton, and a postcard mailed to thousands of registered voters in Denton with similar information.

We condemn the efforts of the Citizens for Local Governance. The organization implies through its smear campaign that dissent and non-violent civil disobedience are wrong and deserve the scrutiny of federal authorities. Citizens for Local Governance includes conservative activists associated with the fossil fuel industry.

Citizens for Local Governance has a moneyed interest in stifling free speech and real liberty from the corporate state. Its members worship at the altar of money, power and status, and thus are directly threatened by Rising Tide North America. For that reason, we know we’re doing our work right when attacked by groups like this. Smear campaigns like this only embolden us in fighting for a just and stable climate.”

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Vermont Pipeline Opponents Scale Tree, Halt Land Clearing for Pipeline?

treevia Rising Tide Vermont

[UPDATE: Day 2 Press Release]

Monkton, Vt. – For the second time in less than a month, opponents of Vermont Gas Systems’ fracked gas pipeline have taken to the trees to prevent pipeline construction in Addison County. An individual is sitting in a platform thirty feet high, effectively stopping crews from clearing the pipeline route.

“As we’ve said before, this pipeline ends with us. We don’t see the state’s decision to support this polluting, expensive pipeline as a legitimate decision, and will continue to get in the way of construction as much as possible,” Addie Herbert of Rising Tide Vermont.

Vermonters from across the state have attempted to stop the pipeline for years, through testifying at public hearings, writing letters, appealing to elected officials and intervening in the controversial Public Service Board process. Many feel they are left with no recourse but to directly intervene in construction.

“The Public Service Board showed their true colors recently, when they proposed barring the public from pipeline hearings,” said Jane Palmer, who’s farm is less than half a mile from the tree sit. “It’s no surprise that people are putting their bodies on the line when the state is putting corporations above democracy.”

Vermont Gas Systems sources its gas from the Western Canada Shale Basin, one of the largest deposits of oil and gas in the world. If built, this pipeline will become a major emitter of greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades. Opponents see the project as a direct link to the carbon and methane time bomb that scientists have warned

“We’re calling on all who are fighting to increase local control over energy projects in the state to join us in our effort to stop this undesirable pipeline,” Herbert said, in reference to recent legislation aimed at increasing town oversight in regards to renewable energy siting. “If we are to meet our energy needs in this state without wrecking the climate or landscapes of other communities, we need to end this system of unaccountable, corporate-owned energy and build a truly democratic energy system.”

Two Arrested, Two in Trees as Sunoco Logistics Continues to Clear Cut in Huntingdon, PA

Police Back Pipeline Despite Lack of Permits, Landowner Objections

Legal Funds Needed! Click HERE to donate to support the fight against the Mariner East 2 Pipeline!

Backed by Pennsylvania state police and Huntingdon County sheriff’s deputies, on March 29, Sunoco Logistics Partners’ chainsaws cut a swath through forest that the Gerhart family had protected for decades, clearing the way for the Mariner East 2 pipeline.

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Hundreds of Pennsylvania residents had called and emailed Governor Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on March 28, requesting that they intervene to prevent Sunoco from felling trees in sensitive areas without the necessary water-crossing and erosion permits. But the DEP declined to stop Sunoco from felling trees, saying on March 29 that Sunoco “indicated” that it is not cutting trees near water bodies or in wetlands. On the same day, Sunoco’s crews were observed cutting trees on steep slopes and allowing them to fall across streambeds, trespassing outside the pipeline right-of-way and allowing trees to fall outside its boundaries. Some falling trees narrowly missed observers who were standing, legally, outside of the right-of-way.

By the end of the day’s cutting, multiple sections of streams and wetlands were filled with trees, branches and sawdust. In response to the near-misses and complaints of Sunoco tree-cutters trespassing, state troopers said that observers were responsible for their own safety and claimed they were not aware that pipeline workers had to stay inside the right-of-way.

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Those opposing the cutting were treated differently. State police arrested an Altoona resident, who is alleged to have crossed into the right-of-way to warn crews that a tree they were about to cut held a safety line for one of three tree-sitting protesters, as well as another observer who had been telling crews to stay inside the right-of-way. The two were taken to Huntingdon County jail and charged with indirect contempt of court and disorderly conduct. Bail for both was set at $100,000. They face up to six months in jail for the charge of contempt of court, and at least one faces a year for an additional charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

On Monday, March 28th, Huntingdon County’s President Judge George N. Zanic had issued Sunoco an emergency injunction to allow tree-clearing to proceed. The family intended to appeal that decision, but the chainsaws arrived before they were able to do so.

Cutting is expected to continue on Wednesday, March 30.

 

BACKGROUND

Ellen and Stephen Gerhart purchased the property in 1982 and placed it in the Forest Stewardship Program, pledging never to develop it. Now they are fighting seizure of their property by eminent domain, in a case that is still in litigation. The Gerhart family refused a cash offer from the company, stating concern about the impact of the pipeline on the environment and on their community’s health, safety and well-being.

“We are living, breathing Pennsylvanians who have tried to preserve this land,” Stephen Gerhart, 85, wrote in a letter to Judge Zanic. “Sunoco is a billions of dollar, faceless entity, based in Texas. The products that they want to transport through our land are not needed in Pennsylvania, or anywhere else in the United States.”

“Our opposition to the project,” said Ellen Gerhart, “has to do with our rights as property owners and stewards of the environment. You would think that government officials who have sworn to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution would do so, but they’re ignoring their responsibility and allowing out-of-state companies to run over the rights of Pennsylvania citizens.”

In early March, the Gerharts hired Schmid & Company Consulting Ecologists to conduct an independent analysis of the waterbodies and wetlands on their property. Schmid & Company found that Sunoco had undercounted the number of wetlands on the property by a factor of seven. The Gerharts then asked the Pennsylvania DEP to put a stop to tree clearing for the pipeline until Sunoco secured the necessary erosion and water-crossing permits, a recommendation supported by Schmid & Company.

“I believe it is unwise public policy to allow private parties to damage the environment prior to any determination that the proposed impacts are either necessary or unavoidable,” James Schmid wrote in a letter to Judge Zanic before Monday’s hearing. “But that is what appears to be about to happen here.”

Before tree-clearing began, Dr. Mark Bonta, a member of the Environmental Studies faculty at Penn State Altoona, looked at the Gerhart’s property and said that “it appears to be a model for how to leave an upland woods and forested wetland alone to foster biodiversity.”

Sunoco Logistics Partners is a company controlled by Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas. It has contracts with European petrochemical companies for the export and sale of massive amounts of NGLs that would flow through the Mariner East 2 pipeline. On March 24, after a two-week journey from Marcus Hook, Pa., the first export shipment of ethane from Sunoco’s Mariner East 1 pipeline reached Norway on the Ineos Intrepid, the largest multi-gas carrier in the world; it would be one of eight ships in a planned “virtual pipeline” carrying Mariner East ethane to petrochemical depots in Europe.

Sunoco LP is embroiled in dozens of eminent domain cases across the state. Landowners and residents  are banding together to oppose its massive NGL export project, saying that it is unnecessary and is not for public use, while the company claims it is a public utility with eminent domain rights.