They Saved Tens of Thousands of Lives, Then They Lost Their Jobs

Source F&WW Twitter Feed

cross-posted from Medium

They Saved Tens of Thousands of Lives, Then They Lost Their Jobs

This isn’t what a just transition looks like

by Patrick Young

At around 4 am on Friday, June 21, a massive fire and explosion rocked Alkylation unit at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery in South Philadelphia. The explosion was so powerful that it shook houses and apartment buildings around West Philadelphia. The ball of fire could be seen for miles, turning the predawn sky orange. As the fire raged, while every human instinct must have screamed to run away from the fire, members of the PES Emergency Response Team (ERT) dropped everything to run toward the fire. They battled the blaze for hours and by 10 am the fire was contained but still burning.

Like anyone who is familiar with refinery operations, Jim Savage, an operator at PES and a union activist immediately turned his thoughts to the ERT writing, “Huge props to our refinery Emergency Response Team. I’ve always questioned their sanity, but their courage and professionalism has never been in doubt. Those explosions were terrifying and I have no idea how we didn’t have injuries or even worse. It’s going to be a long and dangerous day for them, so keep them in your thoughts.”

It took a full day to fully extinguish the fire. The explosion was bad, but it could have been much, much worse. Unit 433, the Alkylation unit where the explosion occurred used hydrofluoric acid (HF) as part of the refining process. HF is by far the most dangerous chemical in the facility and PES’s most recent emergency response plan reported that there were as many as 71 tons of the chemical at the facility. Just after the explosion, the operator on the board at the refinery’s central control room transferred the HF that was in process to another container, preventing a mass release of the chemical.

Hydrofluoric acid is an incredibly dangerous chemical used as a catalyst in some oil refineries (there are inherently safer technologies in use in many refineries but owners of many older refineries, including the PES facility in South Philadelphia have refused to invest in safer systems). HF quickly penetrates human tissue, but it interferes with nerve function so burns may initially not feel painful, giving people a false sense of safety. Once it is absorbed into the blood through the skin it reacts with calcium and can cause cardiac arrest. It volatilizes at a relatively low temperature and travels as a dense vapor cloud — PES reports that the supply of HF stored at the South Philadelphia refinery could travel as far as 7 miles putting as many as a million people at risk.

On June 21, the members of United Steelworkers Local 10–1 on the PES Emergency Response Team and in the refinery’s control room prevented the dozens of tons of HF at the refinery from being released saving tens of thousands of lives.

Then on June 26th, those workers learned that they were losing their jobs. Philadelphia Energy Solutions announced that it was shutting down refinery operations and laying off nearly all of the workers at the refinery within weeks.

Declaring Victory

Philly Thrive, a local environmental group that had been organizing against the refinery for years immediately declared victory, changing the cover photo on its Facebook page to an image with the words “Victory: The largest polluter in Philly is closing” and, in much smaller letters, the words “time for a just transition! #GreenNewDeal.”

To their credit, Philly Thrive did issue a longer written statement on the closure laying out a more detailed set of demands for remediating the site and ensuring that workers’ pensions and healthcare were paid for. But that statement seemed to fall flat with the 1,000 workers — many of whom had just risked their lives to prevent a catastrophe and save tens of thousands of lives — who saw Philly Thrive proudly declaring victory right after they learned that they were losing their jobs.

Philly Thrive Declares Victory. Source: Philly Thrive Facebook Page

Tonight, there are a thousand families that are wondering what their futures will look like after the refinery closes. At PES, because of years of union struggle in the oil refining sector, those workers pulled in good, family-sustaining wages. They could own homes, send their kids to college, and plan for a comfortable retirement. But many of their skills are not immediately transferrable to other jobs, and the jobs that are available are largely non-union and pay half of what workers at PES were earning.

This isn’t what a just transition looks like

While the shutdown of the South Philadelphia refinery is unlikely to have any impact on fossil fuel consumption in the eastern United States in the short term — imports of refined gasoline and home heating oil will make up for the lost production — there is a scientific consensus that if we are to have any chance at averting the catastrophic changes in our climate that we are experiencing, we need to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases.

Any sort of transition away from the fossil fuel economy will almost certainly be painful for the hundreds of thousands of workers currently employed in the sector. And there probably is no scenario where the majority of workers would in the fossil fuel industry would enthusiastically embrace such a dramatic change. But abruptly laying off the workers who just ran towards — not away from — danger and saved tens of thousands of lives is probably one of the most unjust transitions those workers could expect to face. Philadelphia Energy Solutions management apparently went as far as violating the federal WARN act by failing to give many of the workers 60-days-notice before unceremoniously escorting them out of the refinery carrying cardboard boxes containing their personal belongings.

When talking about plant closures and job loss, the climate movement often talks about a just transition. Interestingly, the idea of a ‘just transition’ isn’t an idea to come out of the environmental or climate movement. The term was coined by Tony Mazzocchi, a leader in the Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers (a predecessor of USW Local 10–1). In the early 1990s as the evidence that carbon in the atmosphere was contributing to climate change, Mazzocchi recognized that although it would be painful for workers, we would soon need to transition our economy away from fossil fuels. He said, “there is a Superfund for dirt. There ought to be one for workers,” proposing significant public investment to support fossil fuel workers who were transitioning out of the fossil fuel industry. When environmental partners suggested that the Superfund for Workers had too many negative connotations, Mazzocchi changed the name of his proposal to a Just Transition.

Since 1993 the term “just transition” has gained traction in much of the climate movement and in parts of the labor movement. While many are comfortable with using it as a vague catch-phrase, workers who are facing job loss have found some urgency in becoming much more specific about exactly what a just transition will look like. In the lead up to the 2015 UNFCCC talks in Paris, the International Trade Union Confederation published a five-point framework for what a just transition means:

1. Sound investments in low?emission and job-rich sectors and technologies. These investments must be undertaken through due consultation with all those affected, respecting human and labour rights, and Decent Work principles.

2. Social dialogue and democratic consultation of social partners (trade unions and employers) and other stakeholders (i.e. communities).

3. Research and early assessment of the social and employment impacts of climate policies. Training and skills development, which are key to support the deployment of new technologies and foster industrial change.

4. Social protection, along with active labour markets policies.

5. Local economic diversification plans that support decent work and provide community stability in the transition. Communities should not be left on their own to manage the impacts of the transition as this will not lead to a fair distribution of costs and benefits

The shutdown of the South Philadelphia refinery was not preceded by investment in clean energy jobs (Principle 1) or early warning, training and skills development (Principle 2). Social protections have failed workers in Philadelphia as many were not even given the federally-required 60-day WARN notices and payments (Principle 4) and this shutdown comes at a time when the Philadelphia government is pushing expansion in an east-coast energy hub, not supporting local economic diversification (Principle 5). While environmental activists from organizations like Philly Thrive have issued sweeping demands for comprehensive transition programming there does not appear to be any indication that workers at the refinery were meaningfully involved in the crafting of that platform (Principle 2).

The shutdown of the South Philadelphia refinery failed badly on all five of the ITUC’s Just Transition Principles.

Where to go from here

The situation in South Philadelphia is bad and there isn’t anything that is going to make things okay for the 1,000 workers and their families who are struggling to imagine what their futures might look like. There are, however, some things that could help keep the situation from getting worse.

Everyone in the environmental community who celebrated the closure of the facility should be ready to campaign just as hard to demand that the Carlyle group, Energy Transfer Partners and PES’s other investors aren’t able to make off with the $1.25 billion insurance payments the company is poised to collect in the aftermath of the explosion just to leave workers and the community holding the bag. Workers and the community need to be first in line to collect whatever is left over to provide severance, healthcare, and to clean up the site that has been badly contaminated by over 150 years of oil refining.

Right now there is no superfund for workers, but there is a transition program that can be adopted for these workers. Because the lost production at the South Philadelphia refinery will be replaced with refined gasoline and home heating fuel imports, workers at the facility should be eligible for TAA benefits, which could provide urgently needed funds to support job retraining and extended unemployment. Supporting workers’ TAA petition should be a top priority of anybody who is concerned about a just transition at this facility.

Going forward, bold proposals like the Green New Deal start the ball rolling on an incredibly important discussion about building the clean energy infrastructure that we need to have a just transition away from fossil fuels. But we need to make sure that the workers and communities who are at the front lines of this transition are not left behind and have an opportunity to be a core part of the process. The workers at the South Philadelphia refinery risked their lives and saved thousands of lives on June 21. They didn’t cause that disaster and they deserve a much more just transition.

 

Water Protectors Lock Down to Stop Line 3 Construction

via Ginew Collective 

Water Protectors Lock Down to Stop Line 3 Construction, Powerlines Built for Tar Sands Pipeline Through Army Corps Land as Enbridge Seeks Water Crossing Permits

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 3, 2019
Contact: ginew@protonmail.com

(Park Rapids, MN) This morning, water protectors supported by Ginew Collective, Northfield Against Line 3 and others halted work at an active construction site on the proposed Line 3 route. Three water protectors locked themselves to logging equipment while over a dozen concerned citizens rallied in support.

Great River Energy, Enbridge’s named utility provider for numerous pump stations it needs to power its tar sands pipeline, is logging through water crossings and wetlands next to the Line 3 route.

Enbridge has significant unmet energy needs to power the Line 3 route, and notes its partnership with Great River Energy in its application to the Army Corps of Engineers to bulldoze through wetlands and water crossings. Great River Energy specifies in its Army Corps application that it is building the electric transmission line to power Enbridge’s pipeline unbuilt pump station.

Minnesota has not issued the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) or DNR permits required for Line 3 construction across wetlands or water crossings. Minnesota announced the 401 water quality certification process will not be complete until fall 2019.

“Enbridge pretends to follow the process while it is busy bulldozing through our forests and wetlands,” said Frances Weatherall while locked to logging equipment.

“This is a years-long plan to send more dirty tar sands through Minnesota, don’t be fooled into thinking they won’t destroy as much as they can while they wait for their final state permits,” said Mollie Weatherall, locked with her sister on the same machine.

Jonas, who was also locked to a machine said, “This is a step towards decolonization, Enbridge is carving up the planet and our government doesn’t care. Today it’s my turn to put my body between the planet I want to protect and the attacks against our water, our climate, and Native sovereignty.”

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PLEASE SHARE:

Link to fundraise for bail: PayPal.me/nfldal3

Link to Facebook post with press release & pictures: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=2254586604870599&id=2061510617511533

San Francisco: Climate Shenanigans Target California Democratic Convention

photo courtesy of Diablo Rising Tide.

via Diablo Rising Tide

This weekend, as California’s Democrats, the next generation’s “real climate leader” Gov. Gavin Newsom and a dozen or so presidential candidates gathered in San Francisco, guerrilla climate advertisers with Diablo Rising Tide pasted, projected and otherwise displayed messages to the liberal masses about fossil fuels and climate change.

One of California’s biggest secrets is that the oil lobby has captured the  state government and dominates the public and political discourse around fossil fuels and climate change.

California writer Dan Bacher recently outlined a must-read of the power, influence and methods that the oil lobby uses around the state:

photo courtesy of Diablo Rising Tide.

“The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) is not a household name in California, but it should be. It’s the trade association for the oil industry and the largest and most powerful corporate lobbying organization in the state. If  you want to know the industries, organizations and people that control California, WSPA and Big Oil are right at the top of the list.

WSPA represents a who’s who of oil and pipeline companies, including AERA, BP, California Resources Corporation, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon, Plains All American Pipeline Company, Valero and many others. The companies that WSPA represents account for the bulk of petroleum exploration, production, refining, transportation and marketing in Arizona, California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, according to the WSPA website, www.wspa.org.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power and influence over public discourse in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.”

photo courtesy of Diablo Rising Tide.

In San Francisco this weekend, WSPA remained behind the scenes, but disruptions, bird-dogs and protest were peppered through the weekend targeting Newsom and presidential candidates.

  • At one point 11 year Charlie asked Newsom why California wasn’t adopting a Green New Deal. Newsom, doing his best impression of Dianne Feinstein, told Charlie that “California is doing enough on climate.” Clearly, in a state where hundreds of oil drilling permits were issued in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, a million acres of federal land are being opened to fracking and an entire city burned to the ground during wildfires, the state of California and its governor is not doing enough.
  • A group of Porter Ranch residents found Governor Newsom to ask him when the infamous Aliso Canyon methane storage facility was going to be closed. He re-committed to closing the facility, but forgot to include what his timeline. Maybe he should have just done it the first time and he’d not have to re-commit.
  • Climate youth also converged outside and inside the convention calling for stronger climate action.
  • And then the “conservative voice” of the Democratic presidential candidates, former Colorado Gov. John “Frackenlooper” Hickenlooper was booed during most of his speech after attacking climate action, healthcare for all and socialism. We should have disrupted that shithead.

More shenanigans await as we aim to continue fucking with Big Oil and its lacky politicians.

Germany’s biggest CO2-Polluter RWE Claims 2 Million Euros from climate activists

Europe’s largest CO2 emitter, the German energy company RWE, sues
climate activists for 2.07 million Euros for compensation.

Cologne, 05/29/2019:
The German power company RWE sues climate activists for 2.07 million
Euros for compensation. At the time of the 23rd UN Climate Conference in
Bonn in on 15 November 2017, the activist group “WeShutDown” blocked
conveyor belts and diggers in the Weisweiler coal power plant. With the
blockade, the activists achieved an almost complete shutdown of
Germany’s fourth biggest power plant.

Now, RWE is apparently trying to deter the anti-coal movement, demanding
large scale damages from activists for the first time. But the affected
activists will not let RWE intimidate them: “The claims by RWE cannot
stop our movement. Climate change is not waiting. Coal-fired power
plants must be shut down immediately and for good. As long as that is
not achieved, there will be blockades and other actions.” says activist
Cornelia.
The activists have filed an objection against the lawsuit.

The activist also face a criminal court case. It has been scheduled now
for july 10th, 15th and 17th. The process will take place in Eschweiler,
and deals with legal accusations such as disturbance of public supply
and trespassing. The activists announce that they will use the attention
raised by the lawsuit to accuse RWE of the worldwide destruction of
livelihoods and to spread their demand for an immediate coal phase-out.

A journalist, who accompanied the action in Weisweiler, is also being
sued. RWE even tries to deny his status as a Journalist.
The activists reject the plans of the German government to run
coal-fired power plants until 2038: “Burning coal for another twenty
years is madness. The capitalist economic system is based on the
illusion of perpetual growth. That’s why we have to overcome it”, says
Moritz.

RWE, whose three large lignite-fired power plants Weisweiler,
Niederaussem and Neurath alone emit about ten percent of German CO2
emissions, is increasingly targeted by climate activists and
initiatives. The activists declare themselves to stand in solidarity
with the internationally known occupation in the nearby Hambach Forest,
which protects the ancient forest from the biggest RWE lignite mine.

**The activists can be contacted for interviews or further questions.

Contact: +491779037423 e-mail: wedontshutup@riseup.net twitter: @we_shut

Press review of the action and the campaign against the lawsuit (german
only):http://wedontshutup.org/pressespiegel/

fotographs: https://www.flickr.com/photos/147051632@N03/

http://wedontshutup.org/en/press-releases/