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.

 

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.

Community Members Occupy Jordan Cove LNG Portland Office Lobby in Solidarity with Impacted Landowners

Pics via NO LNG EXPORTS Oregon. ?

via Portland Rising Tide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019

Contact: Dineen O’Rourke, dineen@350pdx.org, 631.830.7478

Community Members Occupy Jordan Cove LNG Portland Office Lobby in Solidarity with Impacted Landowners

[Portland, OR] On Wednesday, May 22nd, from 11AM-1PM Over seventy community members gathered inside the lobby of the Jordan Cove LNG Portland office (11 SW 5th Avenue) to demonstrate opposition to the the proposed fracked gas project in solidarity with impacted landowners in Southern Oregon.

The Jordan Cove LNG project is a proposed 229-mile pipeline and export terminal to transport fracked gas through Southern Oregon to markets in Asia. The pipeline threatens the private property rights of hundreds of landowners, tribal lands and cultural resources, and 400 rivers and streams. The highly volatile LNG export terminal is proposed in an earthquake and tsunami zone on the coast and places over 16,000 Coos Bay residents in an hazardous burn zone.

If built, the Jordan Cove LNG export terminal alone would become the largest source of climate pollution in the state of Oregon. The full annual climate emissions from this project would be equal to another 7.9 million passenger vehicles on the streets according to a report from Oil Change International.

Pics via NO LNG EXPORTS Oregon.

Inside the office lobby, video messages were screened from Southern Oregon landowners whose property would be subject to eminent domain for the proposed fracked gas pipeline. Community members also joyfully listened to anti-fossil fuel folk music, ate blueberry pie (symbolic of potentially impacted blueberry fields), and wrote comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Large banners in the lobby read, “Protect What You Love”, “No LNG”, and “No Pipelines Anywhere”.

For 15 years, rural landowners, Tribal representatives, youth, environmental advocates, and other residents have mobilized to stop Jordan Cove LNG, which was originally denied by FERC in 2016. Just a few weeks ago, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) denied a Clean Water Act permit that the project cannot move forward without. The company still has permit applications pending at the local, state, and federal levels.

“Jordan Cove has threatened us with eminent domain for over a decade,” said Francis Eatherington, landowner in Douglas County. “Though they recently moved the route off our property, it is now much closer to the house, and so we are still threatened with the effects of a gas explosion. And what will happen when a forest fire burns over the block valve that’s cited near us?”

“Jordan Cove and Pembina have been pressuring landowners to sell permanent access to our land for their dangerous export project,” said Stacey McLaughlin, a landowner impacted by the pipeline. “They have caused us years of stress about the fate of our home and livelihood. I want them to pull their permit applications and stop torturing us.”

At the rally, people called on Governor Kate Brown to deny all state permits for this unpopular and unnecessary project and expressed concerns about the impacts of recent Trump pro-pipeline executive orders.

“Jordan Cove LNG is not welcome in Southern Oregon and it’s not welcome here in Portland either.” said Audrey Caines with Portland Rising Tide. “We will continue to stand with communities in Southern Oregon to fight Jordan Cove LNG until this climate disaster is stopped for good.”

Portland Rising Tide, a local all volunteer grassroots group that takes direct action to confront the root causes of climate change, organized today’s rally. They were joined by community members with 350pdx, Sunrise Movement PDX, DSA Eco Socialists, and individuals representing their own demands to end this pipeline project.

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Reflections of a Climate Justice Three-Eyed Raven

The Army of Climate Capitalism (i.e. the Dead) prepares to march.

By Ananda Lee Tan (but not really)

If Game of Thrones were an allegory for climate change, and the Army of the Dead represented the forces of destruction causing this ecological crisis, then:

The White Walkers would be Multi-National Corporations (MNCs), whose zombie army represented the hordes of utility companies, bankers, government shills, venture capitalists, climate engineering firms, clean energy technology vendors and pollution traders advancing an agenda of climate capitalism.

House Lannister would be leaders of philanthropy, entrenched in their allegiance to the oppressive systems that created their wealth, while divided in their conscience and recognition that their wealth was stolen from the lands, lives and labor of others – folks who need it back, if the army of the dead is to be stopped.

Other Houses of the Seven Kingdoms resemble various civil society clusters at large:

The Houses of High Garden, Dorne and the Baratheons resemble the Big Green NGOs, with varying degrees of loyalty and allegiance to Lannister wealth, their campaign goals and strategies guided by Lannister money. Yet, these national and international NGOs often find themselves confronted by frontline communities, whom they sometimes side with when forced to reckon with the values, common sense and ecological knowledge of place-based power.

The Houses of the Riverlands and the Iron Islands are the associations of farmers and fisherfolk – salt of the earth and sea, whose loyalty to place and tradition is often manipulated to serve the needs of the MNCs, usually resulting in their own demise. However, when the day comes to take a final stand, there is no one else you’d rather have by your side.

The Kingdom of the Mountains and Vale appear to have the closest likeness to the House of Labor – who are deeply suspicious of the Lannisters and the non-profit complex that serves them. Like many International Unions, the Knights of the Vale are often wary of stepping outside the boundaries and comforts of their well-protected fortresses and towers, to serve the needs of those less fortunate and more vulnerable. However, when push comes to shove, these Knights will honor their core principles and step up in times of peril, especially when responding to calls for solidarity.

This brings us to House Stark, the environmental justice movement – least favored or funded by the Lannisters; honor-bound by principles and often suffering the consequences of speaking inconvenient truths to those holding the purse-strings. This is a family that strives to remind itself that “protecting the realms of men” includes serving a deeper and more inclusive democracy – including all frontline communities, both Northerners and Southerners who challenge imperialist borders and walls built by the ruling class. And by diligently following principles of Inclusion, Bottom-up Organizing and Just Relations, House Stark can help align diverse formations – so that Dothraki and Unsullied, Free-folk and Crows can band together against the Night King’s armies.

Of course, Winterfell is not the only bastion of environmental justice but simply one amongst many metaphorical frontiers. For the long history of the Dothraki struggle, or that of the Unsullied, and so many other movements of black, brown and Indigenous peoples are barely mentioned in this otherwise epic saga. And we cannot even begin to comprehend the root systemic drivers of climate change without examining the 500 + year war waged by European colonialism, or the role of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in building the foundations of the settler, colonial economy and concentrating the wealth of the fossil fuel corporations.

We cannot begin to unpack the complexity of the climate puzzle, without first understanding the history of struggles for Indigenous Sovereignty and Black Liberation, and connecting the dots between these struggles to the realities that Black, Brown, Indigenous and Migrant communities around the world continue to face today. For not only are these communities the first and most impacted by the storms, floods, fires and droughts brought on by climate change, they have historically suffered the most harm from the systemic pollution, poverty, police and prison violence deployed by the colonial, extractive empires warming this planet.

Hence, it’s no surprise that while the thought-leadership and wisdom of the Dothraki tribes and the Unsullied warriors are not invited to the war rooms and strategic command tables of the NGO elite, our forces are always the first to be deployed in the fighting vanguard; forming the front lines of defense for planetary survival, often offered up as poorly-equipped cannon-fodder and sacrifice zones – akin to trade-offs made at pollution policy tables where the NGO elite negotiate compromise and “Net Zero Common Sense” with the dead.

So many more likenesses abound, such as:

  • The Brotherhood without Banners – clearly Rising Tide renegades, anti-authoritarian trouble makers who bow to no king nor non-profit sigil, but willing to play undervalued, yet critical roles in standing with climate justice;
  • The Order of Maesters – scientists and scholars, many whom serve the MNCs, their markets and neoliberal ideologies, and a few whose integrity cannot be easily bought or sold;
  • Sellswords – consultants who serve the Lannisters one day, and then the Brotherhood the next – depending on who offers the weightiest purse or the most pleasurable company.
  • And, of course the Society of Faceless Men/Women – those operatives who work in the shadows; highly-skilled organizers who are not in the game for money, status, accolades or honorific titles – folks who get the work done quietly, behind-the-scenes, and in ways that avoid the gaze and detection of the White Walkers. We could certainly use less “rock stars” and more unsung heroes like Arya Stark across our movements.

What becomes clear in the staging of this all-time greatest zombie apocalypse battle scene, is that however large a movement force we muster against the Corporate white walkers, and their armies of ecological collapse, we will never win…

We will never win if we rely on the false promises and resources of the Lannisters.

We will never win if we continue to neglect and sacrifice our best fighting forces, sending them out to face the full onslaught of winter with token flaming swords, and weak campaign strategies designed by elite war councils of privileged and inexperienced youth.

We will never win unless we center the thought leadership of those who best understand the forces of the dead; those who have struggled against the white walkers for centuries and have even succeeded, from time to time, at pushing back their advance without any support from the Lannisters or their NGO banner men.

We will never succeed in defeating the MNC White Walkers without transferring the wealth and power of the seven kingdoms to serve the true needs of the frontlines of the crises, the communities who understand that dismantling hetero-patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism are all essential components of a comprehensive battle plan against climate change.

And we will never win unless we develop a creative, holistic, collaborative and coordinated strategy that plays to everyone’s strengths and skills involved.

Unless we ensure that cavalry, infantry, dragons, catapults, burning trenches, Valyrian steel and dragon glass are all synchronized in their purpose – the forces of climate capitalism will remain far stronger in its unified goal of overwhelming and destroying us all

For in real life, what we need to say to the God of Death is “Not This Way”.