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.”

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