How Trump’s budget will rob coal workers and communities of federal aid

An April Issue Brief from the Center for American Progress examines the Trump actions to date and concludes that “The Trump Budget Cuts Hit Coal Communities and Workers Where It Hurts”  . In a concise, well-documented overview, the paper explains the widely-accepted facts about the decline of the coal industry – that it is caused not by over-reaching environmental regulation, but by market forces and declining productivity, especially in the Appalachian coal mines. But the thrust of the report is to estimate in detail how the Trump budget proposed for 2018  would eliminate $1.13 billion in federal funding for  7 of the 12 Obama-era programs, undoing the current  efforts to diversify the economies of coal mining communities and provide workforce training.

In 2015, then-President Barack Obama launched the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization, or POWER, Initiative, which funded efforts by  12 federal agencies to align, scale up, and target federal economic and workforce development assistance to coal communities and coal economy workers . Coordinated by the Department of Commerce, the Initiative included the Appalachian Regional Commission, which had been established in 1965 to invest in economic and workforce opportunities  in Appalachia, and the National Dislocated Worker Grants program, part of the Department of Labor Employment and Training Administration, which channeled funding to state workforce development agencies to provide employment and training services.   The CAP issue paper was co-authored by Jason Walsh,  who  was a senior policy adviser in the White House under President Obama, involved in the design and coordination of the POWER Initiative.

A new report from Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy asks “Can Coal make a Comeback?”    and with detailed statistics and  discussion of coal in the context of the global energy industry, answers the question as “No”.   The paper concludes with some examples of local economic diversification  programs, stating: “There is a lot the federal government can do to help accelerate locally driven economic diversification efforts… But this all requires a clear-eyed assessment of the outlook for the coal industry and a commitment to put sustainable solutions ahead of politically expedient talking points.”  It calls for the federal government to help provide retirement and healthcare security by passing the Miners’ Protection Act  .  But an April 19 article in the New York TimesRetired Miners Lament Trump’s Silence on Imperiled Health Plan”(April 19)  describes the political horsetrading in Congress – part of the government funding showdown due April 30.  The fates and possibly the lives of more than 20,000 retired miners rests on extending federal funding to the health benefits fund, depleted by coal industry bankruptcies .  The United Mine Workers of America website hosts many human stories about the “imperiled” health plan, but little about lobbying efforts.

In addition to the economic analysis of the Columbia University report, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis ( IEEFA) published a brief on April 21, “U.S. Coal Phase-out, Blow by Blow: Plant Closings and the Likely Corresponding Effect on Specific Companies and Mines”—  which “focuses on how the scheduled closures, conversions or curtailments of 46 coal-fired generating units at 25 electricity plants in 16 states stand to affect the U.S coal-mining industry through 2018, including the loss of nearly 30 million tons of coal demand.”   It does not estimate job losses or community impacts.

 

Two Marches in April: for Climate action and Science-Based Policy

In releasing its  most recent working paper , the Labor Network for Sustainablity (LNS) states : “On the eve of the second Peoples’ Climate March, we offer this as a contribution to the conversation that we must continue in earnest and move us to bold, decisive and immediate action.”  Comments are invited, as is participation in Labor Contingent of the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29.  According to 350.org,  , more than 100,000 people have already RSVP’ed for the Washington March alone, as of April 13.   See information about the March in Toronto or Vancouver.

The LNS paper, Jobs for Climate and Justice: A Worker alternative to the Trump Agenda , describes  a Jobs for Climate and Justice Plan – a four-part strategy to defeat  the Trump ideas,  and develop  a climate-safe and worker-friendly economy.  Author Jeremy Brecher states that “protecting the climate requires a massive and emergency mobilization” comparable to the industrial transformation of World War 2.   The paper suggests ideas to create new climate-friendly jobs and protect the workers and communities who are threatened by climate change, and while most of these have appeared in earlier LNS publications , the sheer number of positive, concrete examples of worker  initiatives across the U.S. makes this an inspiring document .

According to an article in Common Dreams, “The Fights to Protect Science, People and Planet Are Inherently Connected” (April 6)   .  A  blog post from Legal Planet,  “The War on Science continues”  also makes clear how the Trump administration disregard for science is impacting climate change research, and how closely intertwined the two issues are.  So on April 22,  Earth Day, watch for or join the March for Science “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments”. “….. We are advocating for evidence-based policy-making, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”

ScientistsThe main Science March is set for  Washington D.C., but there are sister marches around the world, including in 18 cities across Canada . The Canadian organizers, Ottawa-based  Evidence for Democracy , state: “The politicization of science, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted”.  This is not just an American issue.  Canadians remember the muzzled scientists of the Harper era, and can see current examples  – Evidence for Democracy published a report on April 6, Oversight at Risk: The state of government science in British Columbia   – the first of several planned surveys of provincial government scientists . Some results:  32 per cent said they cannot speak to the media about their research; 49 per cent think said political interference reduces their department’s ability to create policies and programs based on scientific evidence.

 

Opposition to Trump’s Executive Order targeting the Clean Power Plan

The Labor Network for Sustainability in the U.S.  released a new paper,  “Trump’s Energy Plan: A Brighter Future for America’s Workers? , which urges the labour movement to “unwrap the package” and examine the proposals in Trump’s America First Energy Policy , released on the first day after his  Inauguration.  LNS reviews and refutes the major planks in that policy, including the “bring back the coal industry” claim, and states, “Our hard-hit coal miners and communities deserve a plan that will enable them to find decent livelihoods in the future, not one that lures them with illusions that it will bring the coal industry back.”  LNS has previously published its plan,  The Clean Energy Future: Protecting the Climate, Creating Jobs, Saving Money , written by Synapse Economics .

trumphardhatThe most recent installment of the America First Energy Policy was released on March 28: the  Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth , replete with the illusory promise to bring back coal jobs.  Summaries and explanations are easy to find: from the Office of the White House Press Secretary ;  the Brookings Institute  ;  “The Giant Trump Order is Here. What it is, what it does”  in The Atlantic; “Trump just gutted U.S. policies to fight climate change”  from Think Progress . Dismay and outrage is also widespread, summed up by Vox :“This is it. The battle over the future of US climate policy is officially underway”.  Even the mainstream Washington Post brings out the battle imagery in its headlines:   “The standoff between Trump and green groups just boiled into war” (March 30)  ,  and “The assault on climate science is evil, and evil must be fought”   (March 31).

Although disguised in the language of job creation for coal miners, the Executive Order goes beyond the attack on the Clean Power Plan and coal-fired power plants  –  empowering the Cabinet to review and rollback  other Obama-era policies, including limits on methane leaks, a moratorium on federal coal leasing, and the use of the social cost of carbon to guide government actions. The Editorial Board of the New York Times sums up the scale of the attack:  “President Trump risks the Planet”  (March 28) .

The claim of “bringing back coal jobs” has been disproved repeatedly and convincingly. Typical is the press release from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis , which sees “zero employment impact” from Trump’s measures, stating,  “Market forces overwhelmingly favor natural gas-fired electricity generation and renewable energy, and the trend away from coal will continue”…. Coal is simply being outpaced. It is an industry in decline, and the fundamentals are inescapable.”  “A simple way to see why Trump’s climate order won’t bring back many coal jobs”  in Vox refers to the Department of Energy  Annual Energy Outlook 2017 , which projected that without the Clean Power Plan,  U.S. coal consumption would rebound only as far as the  historically low levels of 2015, when there were approximately 63,000 coal miners in America.  Today, there are approximately 50,000.   Compare this to the solar workforce, which created 51,000  jobs in 2016 alone – to bring the total number to 260,077 U.S. solar workers, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.  Even the CEO of Murray Energy, the largest privately-owned coal company in the U.S., acknowledged in a report in The Guardian, that coal jobs are not coming back.

What the Trump Executive Order could do, according to modelling by consulting firm the Rhodium Group,  is to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emission reduction to around 14 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 – a far cry from the Paris Agreement pledge of 26 %, and effectively ceding climate leadership to the European Union and China.  The Sierra Club USA provides a thorough discussion of the environmental impacts in  Donald Trump Orders EPA to Unwind Clean Power Plan in Setback for “Vitally Important” Clean Air   (March 28) .    The reaction of major environmental groups such as Environmental Defence Fund, Earthjustice, and  Natural Resources Defence Council is summarized in “Environmental groups vowing to fight Trump’s Climate Actions ”   in the  National Observer (March 29).

Is there any cause for hope?  Yes, according to analysis by  Inside Climate News in  “Hundreds of Clean Energy Bills Have Been Introduced in States Nationwide This Year”  (March 27).  This provides a state-by-state summary of bipartisan clean energy legislation, stating:  “At least eight states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New York,  Pennsylvania and Vermont—are considering legislation to dramatically boost their reliance on clean power in the coming decades. These bills specifically call for increasing the mandate to obtain electricity from sources like wind and solar, a common form of escalating quota called a renewable portfolio standard (RPS). Currently,  29 states in the nation, along with Washington, D.C., have them and eight others have voluntary targets.”

Voices of Business are also challenging the Trump agenda.  In  “Climate change is real: Companies challenge Trump”  in The Guardian  (March  29) , the CEO of the We Mean Business coalition calls  the transition to a low-carbon economy “inevitable”, and the Executive Order “regrettable “.  Further, he states: “This announcement undermines policies that stimulate economic competitiveness, job creation, infrastructure investment and public health.” Similar sentiments appear in the Business Backs Low Carbon USA statement signed in November 2016 by over 1000 companies and investors. The statement  calls for the U.S. economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy, and  re-affirms “our deep commitment to addressing climate change through the implementation of the historic Paris Climate Agreement.”   The list of over 1000 companies is here  .

Finally, and giving everyone a voice: the People’s Climate March  on Washington D.C. on April 29 , organized by the coalition which emerged from the  2014 March in New York City and around the world.  The Labor Network for Sustainability will be leading a labour contingent in Washington – see their Facebook page for information , and see the People’s Climate March website for  locations of sister marches.

climate march

 

Climate change has consequences for mental health in the workplace

Mental Health and Our Changing Climate: Impacts, Implications, and Guidance  is a report released at the end of March by the American Psychological Association, Climate for Health, and ecoAmerica. The goal is to raise public awareness of the issue and to provide “climate communicators, planners, policymakers, public health professionals, and other leaders the tools and tips needed to respond to these impacts and bolster public engagement on climate solutions.”  Although it doesn’t directly address workplace issues, much of the discussion is relevant.  For example, the report catalogues the acute mental health impacts that result from the horror and disruption of natural disasters or extreme weather events such as Hurricane Katrina –  depression,  disrupted social relationships, domestic violence, and heightened intergroup aggression.  The report also highlights women as being at higher risk: “because, on average, women have fewer economic resources than men, women may also be more affected, in general, by the stress and trauma of natural disasters.” (p.39).

Extreme weather and disasters focus attention, but there are also chronic impacts resulting from longer- term climate changes – the key example given is a proven increase in violence and inter-personal aggression associated with higher temperatures.   Certain occupational groups are highlighted for their high risk to climate-related anxiety, including first responders to natural disasters, but also including health care-givers, and those directly employed in natural settings – conservation officers, park rangers.

The final section of the report deals with tips to build resilience at the individual and community level.  It urges that training be provided for first responders so that they can identify and deal with appropriate compassion for the victims of natural disasters.

Reaction from Canada, California as Trump attacks Obama fuel emissions standards

solar-power-1020194_1920The rest of the world is driving towards new technologies, but U.S. state governments are rolling back EV incentives   and  on March 15,  Donald Trump took the U.S. a further  step away from reducing  transportation emissions.  Following pressure from U.S. auto companies, and in the name of creating American jobs and reviving American manufacturing,  the White House announced that the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will re-open the evaluation of the  Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) and greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) standards for light-duty vehicles manufactured in 2022- 2025 .  Never mind that the EPA, in the waning days of the Obama presidency in January 2017, had already issued its official  Determination  to leave the standards in place, stating that they  “are projected to reduce oil consumption by 50 billion gallons and to save U.S. consumers nearly $92 billion in fuel cost over the lifetime of MY2022-2025 vehicles”, with minimal employment impacts.  The New York Times   compiles some of the U.S. reaction to the announcement, quoting Harvard’s Robert Stavins, who states that rolling back the Obama-level regulations would make it  impossible for the United States to meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.   A sample of  U.S. concerns appear in:   “Trump Fuel economy rollback would kill jobs and cost each car-buyer $1650 per year “ by Joe Romm in  Think Progress ; DeSmog BlogTrump Takes Aim at Fuel Efficiency Requirements, Prompting Concern US Automakers Will Lag on Innovation”   ; and the Detroit Free Press,  reporting on a lead-up Trump speech in Ypsilanti, Michigan ,  “Trump visit puts UAW politics in crosshairs”  http://www.freep.com/story/money/business/2017/03/14/trump-visit-puts-uaw-politics-crosshairs/99165906/    (March 14). The Detroit Free Press  states that autoworkers were bused in to the Trump event by their employers, with Fiat Chrysler and General Motors offering their workers a day’s pay as well.  No immediate reaction to the announcement came from the United Autoworkers union, although  the DFP article states: “UAW President Dennis Williams has repeatedly said he disagrees with Trump on health care, immigration, the environment and most other major issues. But Williams supports Trump’s desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) …..”

In Canada, where Unifor represents autoworkers,  president Jerry Dias spoke out  in “ Auto workers union takes aim at Trump’s examination of fuel standards ” in the Globe and Mail (March 16), and in a CTV News report . He  states that “ he would fight any attempt to roll back environmentally friendly regulations in the auto industry following Trump’s announcement”. Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change was in Washington on March 15th,  meeting with EPA head Scott Pruitt, but her reaction was guarded and diplomatic,  as reported in “As Trump eyes reprieve for gas guzzlers, Canada looks to China  ”  in the National Observer and in “Trump targets fuel-efficiency standards” in the Globe and Mail  (March 16).  Traditionally, Canadian  fuel emissions standards have been harmonized with the U.S. , as a result of the strongly integrated auto industry.  For example, at the end of February, Canada released  its proposed regulations for heavy-duty vehicles, and according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, Canada continued to follow the  U.S. model.  Similarly,  Ontario announced a Memorandum of Understanding on auto manufacturing with the state of  Michigan on March 13, pledging cooperation on regulatory standards as well as technology  and supply chain management.

Harmonization will be more difficult after Trump’s announcement on March 15, just as Canada and Ontario are reviewing their own revisions to fuel emissions regulation . Ontario reacted to the Trump  announcement with a  pledge to continue to cooperate with California and Quebec in the Western Climate Initiative – read “Ontario plans to team up with California against Trump on climate change” in the National Observer (March 16). California won the right to set its own fuel emission standards in the 1970’s, and today, fifteen other states voluntarily follow  California’s tougher standards, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and the New York metropolitan area – translating into more than 40% of the U.S. population.  “The Coming Clean-Air war between Trump and California” in The Atlantic surveys this  latest conflict between California and the Trump administration .  A press release from Governor Gerry Brown called the fuel standards  announcement  “a cynical ploy” that puts politics ahead of science, and pledged that California will fight it in court.