CLIMATE ACTIVISTS SHUT DOWN CHASE BANK TO ‘STOP THE MONEY PIPELINE’ TO FOSSIL FUELS
On the heels of Goldman Sachs and Blackrock announcements to divest from oil and gas, pressure is mounting on JPMorgan Chase, the world’s largest funder of fossil fuels
SAN FRANCISCO, CA, January 31, 2020 —Dozens of local activists launched the ‘Stop the Money Pipeline ‘campaign in Bay Area today with creative disruption at Chase Bank at [location to be disclosed]. These citizens are demanding that JPMorgan Chase – the largest funder of fossil fuels worldwide – defund fossil fuels immediately to protect the planet. The action was coordinated by the Bay Area Climate Coalition, which includes Extinction Rebellion SFBay Area, Rainforest Action Network, 350 Bay Area, 350 Silicon Valley, XR Youth, Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Front Bay Area, and Diablo Rising Tide.
According to the “fossil fuel finance report card” published by a coalition of environmental organizations, JPMorgan Chase is the world’s top banker of fossil fuels. The bank has provided over $195 billion in financing to fossil fuel companies since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Activist and actress Jane Fonda is helping to lead the call to JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to stop funding the destruction of the planet.
Anthropogenic climate change, created by emissions from human activity being trapped in the earth’s atmosphere and heating the globe, is causing the collapse of natural systems leading to forest fires, sea level rise, flooding, increasing storm systems and the extinction of species. Communities in California are feeling the impacts of climate change as deadly forest fires.
Other leading financial institutions are recognizing that the risk associated with destroying the planet is bad business. In December, 2019 Goldman Sachs announced that they were formally banning investments in coal and oil, including ceasing to fund Arctic drilling, and would be investing $750 billion in sustainable and climate focused initiatives over the next decade. In January, 2020 Blackrock, the largest asset management firm in the world, joined Climate Action 100+, an global group of investors mobilizing around climate change, and Chairman Larry Fink wrote in his 2020 letter to CEOs “we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance. The evidence on climate risk is compelling investors to reassess core assumptions about modern finance.”
While critics maintain that these financial institutions need to do more, it may only be a matter of time before the other shoe drops with mounting pressures from consumers, civil society and the very climate itself.
Chase customers are cutting up their credit cards as part of the #CutTheChaseChallenge. The Bay Area Climate Coalition recommends investing with socially and environmentally responsible banks or local credit unions. “A lot of people don’t know where their money sleeps at night. Moving your investments to align with your values is one of the biggest things you can do for the planet,” said Extinction Rebellion activist Sandra (last name omitted for privacy).
On Saturday, November 16, at 11am, help shut down the largest climate destruction site in the Northeast: Cricket Valley fracked gas plant in Dutchess Co., NY. Families & #ClimateStrike youth encouraged to attend as well as friends who would like to participate in non-violent and creative escalation.
Who is most at risk?
Schaghticoke Indigenous Nation, Dutchess Co. organic farms, three adjacent children’s schools, and the ecosystem of Harlem Valley’s The Great Swamp Watershed, the largest freshwater wetlands in New York, and surrounded by medicinal plants.
The Cricket Valley Energy Center (CVE) is a 1,100 megawatt fracked gas plant under construction in Dover/Wingdale, New York. It would receive out-of-state fracked gas through the Iroquois Gas Transmission System, a pipeline project co-owned by TransCanada and the Virginia-based fossil fuel bully Dominion Resources. Advanced Power, a Switzerland-based private energy infrastructure company, would own and operate the plant. The plant aims to begin operations in 2020, but WE are going to stop it. The company wants to perform “shakedowns” or testing of the turbines using diesel fuel. We won’t let them shake us down.
Governor Cuomo has the power to stop this plant. The plant was approved nearly a decade ago, based on out-of-date science, and without genuine community input. The plant is also on very shaky financial legs, and will foot us with the bill through our electric rates, as well as endure decades of pollution that Cuomo has committed to halting through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. His father, former Governor Mario Cuomo halted dirty Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant even though the building was complete. Governor Cuomo can follow his father’s legacy, listen to climate science, and follow our climate law… or will the largest fracked gas power plant in the northeast U.S. be Governor Cuomo’s Climate Legacy?
Time is running out. The climate crisis is at our doorstep. Communities around the world are already being battered by the earliest effects of the changing climate–superstorms, floods, wildfires and droughts. And still not moving any closer to actualizing the dramatic transformation of our energy systems and economy that we all know are needed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
It’s still too early to tell how this is all going to play out but we’re excited to see the energy and activity and we’re ready to throw down. Nobody can afford to sit on the sidelines–the stakes are too high.
We know that the scope and the urgency of the climate crisis demands bold action and we’re inspired to see so many people–and so many new voices–thinking big. We are excited to see people thinking about mobilizing to create serious disruption to the systems that are perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels and to see people talking about organizing protracted surges of resistance, not just self-contained actions. We’re hopeful that our movements will use this wave of energy to directly confront the root causes of the climate crisis–capitalism, colonialism, and white supremacy–and to reject market-driven false solutions.
In the coming weeks and months we’ll be keeping our ears to the ground to find ways that we can plug in. We’ll be checking in with old friends and hopefully hearing from new friends about what folks are planning and where we can show up in the best ways. We’ll be sharing some of our ideas about how we think our movements can make fall 2019 a turning point in the movement for climate justice and we’ll be listening carefully to learn from the other new ideas that are emerging.
Time is running out and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Let’s keep this conversation going, let’s work together to build momentum, and let’s get ready to throw down hard this fall.
Rising Tide is an international, all-volunteer, grassroots network of groups and individuals who organize locally, promote community-based solutions to the climate crisis and take direct action to confront the root causes of climate change. Want to get involved or continue the conversation? Email us at networking@RisingTideNorthAmerica.org.
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.
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.
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.