50% Clean Power by 2025: 3 Amigos Summit sets tone of international cooperation

3 amigos waving.jpgOn June 29, 2016 the Three Amigos – the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S.,  issued a  “North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan”   , summarized by Clean Energy Canada here .  The Plan sets a target of 50 per cent clean power generation by 2025 for North America – with “clean” including energy from nuclear, fossil fuels if produced with carbon capture and storage technologies, and improvements in energy efficiency. The Plan also calls a for shared vision for a clean North American automotive sector, including harmonized regulations, and for collaboration on cross-border electricity transmission projects, specifically naming the Great Northern Transmission Line, ( Manitoba to Minnesota), and the New England Clean Power Link, (Quebec to Vermont). The recent Brexit vote loomed large over the leaders’ meetings; as  the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis stated: “As Europe is disintegrating, North America is integrating, and it’s integrating in a way that I think provides real and substantive and tangible benefits to the citizens of the three countries.” In a similar vein, Inside Climate News verdict was, “Whatever their respective individual contributions, the three nations’ vow to work in concert is what most excites advocates of strong climate action. And the possibility of a common price on carbon. ”

What might excite advocates of Just Transition for workers is the final statement of the joint press release , which pledges to:  “Invest strategically in communities to help them diversify economies, create and sustain quality jobs, and share in the benefits of a clean energy economy. This includes promoting decent work, sharing best practices, and collaborating with social partners such as workers’ and employers’ organizations and nongovernmental organizations on just transition strategies that will benefit workers and their communities….Protect the fundamental principles and rights at work of workers who extract and refine fossil fuels, and who manufacture, install, and operate energy technologies.”

A group of economic think tanks, including Pembina Institute, Canada 2020, and the World Resources Institute collaborated on Proposals for a North American Climate Strategy   in advance of the Summit meetings. Their recommendations are mostly recognized,if not resolved:  “.. . the United States, Canada, and Mexico should consider the cost of carbon in long-term decision-making; commit to a methane reduction goal and cooperate to reduce black carbon; coordinate their leadership efforts in international forums; work to ensure effective carbon pricing throughout the continent; collaborate to accelerate the shift to clean energy; develop a North American strategy for sustainable transportation; work to strengthen resilience and equity in a changing climate; and develop a coordinated forest and land use strategy.”    For some reaction, see “Dirty or Clean, politics drive cross-border energy deals”    in the Globe and Mail (July 4) , or “ Steering toward a North American electric auto pact ”   in  Policy Options  (August) .  And from the Montreal Gazette, an Opinion piece to bring things back to earth: “After the Three Amigos summit, Canada has work to do on carbon pricing”  .

Controversy over secret Energy East meetings casts more doubt about the National Energy Board

Canada’s National Energy Board was served a legal notice   on August 11, the latest fall-out from news reports in July which revealed  that Jean Charest, former Premier of Quebec and a paid consultant to TransCanada at the time, met privately with NEB Board members to discuss the Energy East pipeline proposal .  The panelists met privately with other registered intervenors, including the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal  and Équiterre – a Quebec-based environmental group, despite NEB’s own rules that require it to review projects in public, keeping a full record of discussions, and to use a fair and transparent process.  The revelations would not have come to light without the digging of a National Observer reporter and his Freedom of Information requests;  the NEB has now apologized for the meetings and released some records and emails.  According to a series of reports in the Globe and Mail in March 2016 (here  and here )  Jean Charest has also been investigated for his attempts to contact the Prime Minister’s Office about Energy East, but was cleared of breaking lobbying rules in March.

The NEB officials who conducted the “off-the-record”  meetings  are now panelists on the NEB hearings on Energy East,  currently underway in New Brunswick . The legal letter  sent on August 11 demands that the Energy East hearings be suspended; a new panel be struck  to conduct hearings into the private meetings; and two senior members of the NEB ( the Chair and Vice-Chair) who both participated in the controversial meetings, must be excluded from any duties related to Energy East during the course of the investigation . The legal letter was sent on behalf of two Quebec advocacy groups: Stratégie Énergétiques and the Association Québécoise de la Lutte contre la Pollution Atmosphérique (AQPLA).

Reaction to the controversy is summarized in  “Charest pipeline controversy flares as May calls for resignation from federal panel”   in the National Observer (August 8).  And Chantal Hebert sums it all up succinctly in “National Energy Board’s credibility as an independent agency at stake: Hébert”  in the Toronto Star, (August 11). To date, the federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change hasn’t addressed the NEB controversy directly, but urged Canadians to have confidence in the system during a news conference in Halifax in August.

Summer’s heat can be deadly for workers

thermometer and sunWe know all know this summer is hot, but what does it mean for workers?    In These Times published an article by Elizabeth Grosman in July, “As Temperatures Climb Across the Country, Workers Will Suffer”. Her article examines the situation in the U.S., reporting that in 2015, “the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received more than 200 reports of workers hospitalized because of heat-related illness and at least eight deaths associated with heat exposure. In 2014, 2,630 U.S. workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died on the job from heat stroke and related causes. Since 2003, an average of more than 30 workers a year have died of heat-related causes.  The article also point out that 9 of the 30 deaths occurred to workers who had been on the job less than 3 days – making this an issue which might be improved by training and stronger OHS contract language.  In 2014, OSHA launched a “Heat Rest Shade” campaign to remind employers of their obligation to provide respite for workers  , and with online training materials   and information resources  .

The Ontario Ministry of Labour updated their guidance re Heat Stress in 2014, and the Heat Stress Awareness Guide published by the Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario in 2007 is still valuable.  It too points out the risks to new employees and those who are not conditioned to heat.  For  Canada-wide information, see the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Fact Sheets here  or  see (from 2010)  Protecting Workers from Heat Stress: What are an Employer’s Legal Obligations?

Being unemployed is also a factor in heat-releated illness according to an article in Environmental Health Perspectives .   Researchers led by Hung Chak Ho of Simon Fraser University in B.C. developed a block-by-block map of neighbourhoods in Vancouver and discovered that those blocks with a high proportion of low-income earners, a high proportion of renters and a high unemployment rate are at greater risk of mortality than the elderly.  See “Unemployed people, not the elderly, at highest risk”   for a summary.

And amidst the high heat and drought that all of us are feeling in central Canada this summer comes scientific validation of our experience:  the release of State of the Climate 2015  , the 26th edition of the assessment released each summer as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.  Canada is profiled in Chapter 7 :  “The annual average temperature in 2015 for Canada was 1.3°C above the 1961–90 average, and was the 11th warmest year since nationwide records began in 1948.” (The warmest year on record for Canada to date has been 2010, at 3.0°C above average.)  Globally, the report catalogues several symbolic mileposts: notably, it was 1.0°C warmer than preindustrial times, and the Mauna Loa observatory recorded its first annual mean carbon dioxide concentration greater than 400 ppm in 2015.  A thorough summary appeared in The Guardian (August 2). ( State of the Climate is compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Weather and Climate, from contributions from scientists from 62 countries, and is the recognized authority on global climate indicators and  notable weather events).

Oil workers in Newfoundland training for wind and solar energy jobs

Iron and Earth , the worker-led group which helps oil and gas industry workers transition to clean energy jobs, announced  a Memorandum of Understanding with Beothuk wind-farm-311837_1280Energy   in mid-July 2016.  Beothuk, headquartered in St. John’s, Newfoundland, is proposing to build six offshore wind farms in Atlantic Canada with a combined capacity of  4000+ MW of energy, and estimates that it will create 10 jobs for each MW produced. The MOU is not available online, but is reported to encourage apprenticeships and retraining in wind energy.

On August 8, the Newfoundland and Labrador chapter of Iron and Earth began to crowdfund  for a demonstration greenhouse project: to build a greenhouse incorporating solar and one other site-specific technology (micro-hydro, wind or geothermal) to power, heat and light a greenhouse year-round.  Concurrently, the project will demonstrate a solution to food security issues by powering LED grow lights even in the winter months, and will offer a solar energy course to  increase the region’s renewable energy skill set. Iron and Earth states that Newfoundland has no training programs for renewable energy, and a goal of this project is to retrain oil and gas workers. Bullfrog Power, the leading Canadian green energy provider, has pledged to  match any donations made to the  Greenhouse crowdfunder until the goal is reached; click here for details or to donate.

U.S. Fossil fuel workers need early retirement, guaranteed pensions, and clean energy futures

A Just Transition program of income and pension-fund support for workers in fossil fuel–dependent communities could be provided for approximately $500 million per year, according to the Just Transition proposals by Robert Pollin and Brian Callaci .  “A Just Transition for U.S. Fossil Fuel Industry Workers”  was published in American Prospect in July and re-posted to Portside on July 11.  It estimates the numbers of jobs at risk in the fossil fuel industry, contrasting coal and the oil and gas industry, and assumes  that displaced workers will be re-employed in a growing clean energy industry.  The Just Transition proposals focus on: Retirements at age 64 with full compensation; Guaranteed fully-funded pensions; and Community transition.  For coal workers, pension funds are managed through the United Mine Workers of America Health and Retirement Funds, which is currently underfunded by $1.8 billion. The authors call for the federal government to  bridge that gap with funding from  companies and the government.  In the oil industry, the authors call on the U.S.  Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to use its legislated  power to prohibit the oil companies from paying dividends or financing share buybacks until the pension funds are fully funded, and to place liens on company assets if pension funds are underfunded.  Acknowledging that the decline of the fossil fuel industry, already underway, will bring hardships to entire communities, they point to past experience: the Worker and Community Transition program operated by the Department of Energy from 1994 to 2004 to cushion the impact of nuclear decommissioning. Once example from that program:  a successful economic diversification program in Nevada, which repurposed a nuclear test site to what is now a solar proving ground.  Another previous community assistance program, the Defense Reinvestment and Conversion Initiative,  is deemed less successful.  The authors conclude that a Just Transition program is eminently affordable at approximately  1 percent of the $50 billion in overall public spending needed to build a U.S. clean energy economy. And they state,  “ It is also an imperative—both a moral and strategic imperative.”