Utility Workers Union and UCS estimate costs to transition U.S. coal miners and power plant workers in joint report

Hard on the heels of the April statement by the United Mine Workers Union, Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition, the Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA) jointly released a report with the Union of Concerned Scientists on May 4: Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape. This report is  described as “a call to action for thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support for coal-dependent workers and communities across the nation.” The report estimates that in 2019, there were 52,804 workers in coal mining  and 37,071 people employed at coal-fired power plants – and that eventually all will lose their jobs as coal gives way to cleaner energy sources. Like the United Mine Workers, the report acknowledges that the energy shift is already underway, and “rather than offer false hope for reinvigorated coal markets, we must acknowledge that thoughtful and intentional planning and comprehensive support are critical to honoring the workers and communities that have sacrificed so much to build this country.”

Specifically, the report calls for a minimum level of support for workers of five years of wage replacement, health coverage, continued employer contributions to retirement funds or pension plans, and tuition and job placement assistance. The cost estimates of such supports are pegged at $33 billion over 25 years and $83 billion over 15 years —and do not factor in additional costs such as health benefits for workers suffering black lung disease, or mine clean-up costs. The report states: “we must ensure that coal companies and utilities are held liable for the costs to the greatest extent possible before saddling taxpayers with the bill.”  Neither do the cost estimates include the recognized needs for community supports such as programs to diversify the economies, or support to ensure that essential services such as fire, police and education are supported, despite the diminished tax base. 

The report points to the precedents set by Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities ( 2018), the German Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment (2019), as well as the New Mexico Energy Transition Act 2019  and the Colorado  Just Transition Action Plan in 2020.  The 12-page report, Supporting the Nation’s Coal Workers and Communities in a Changing Energy Landscape was accompanied by a Technical Report, and summarized in a UCS Blog  which highlights the situation in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. A 2018 report from UCS Soot to Solar   also examined Illinois.

Final Report released by Canada’s Task Force on Just Transition

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Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna stands with Hassan Yussuff, Co-Chair of the Just Transition Task Force and President of the Canadian Labour Congress

The Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities was appointed by the Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change in April 2018.  Their  report, completed in December 2018, was released to the public on March 11, 2019 :  A just and fair transition for Canadian coal power workers and communities – in French,  Une transition juste et équitable pour les collectivités et les travailleurs des centrales au charbon canadiennes .

This report provides ten recommendations for the workers and communities affected by the federal government’s 2016 policy decision to phase-out coal-fired electricity in Canada, as part of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  A 2030 timeline was decided in  2018, and final  Regulations were released in November 2018.  There are 16 coal-fired generating stations left in Canada and nine mines which produce the thermal coal that feeds them, located in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.  Coal worker layoffs have already begun in Alberta, which has its own Workforce Transition Program  in place. Workers in the metallurgical coal industry, which is used to make steel, are unaffected by the coal phaseout.

The new federal report, A Just and fair transition for Canadian coal power workers is built upon 7 principles, and makes 10 recommendations. Those principles of a Just Transition include: 1. Respect for workers, unions, communities, and families; 2. Worker participation at every stage of transition; 3. Transitioning to good jobs; 4. Sustainable and healthy communities; 5. Planning for the future, grounded in today’s reality; 6. Nationally coherent, regionally driven, locally delivered actions; and, 7. Immediate yet durable support.   The report defines Just Transition, relates it to the Paris Agreement, provides an overview of coal mining work and provincial policies, and makes  ten broad recommendations, largely based on what the Task Force heard in its public engagement sessions across the four provinces in the summer of 2018.  “What we heard”  is an accompanying report which summarizes submissions and lists the dozens of communities and organizations involved.

Recommendations:  The Foundational recommendations of the Task Force include a call to  “embed just transition principles in planning, legislative, regulatory, and advisory processes to ensure ongoing and concrete actions throughout the coal phase -out transition: 1. Develop, communicate, implement, monitor, evaluate, and publicly report on a just transition plan for the coal phase-out, championed by a lead minister to oversee and report on progress. 2. Include provisions for just transition in federal environmental and labour legislation and regulations, as well as relevant intergovernmental agreements. 3. Establish a targeted, long-term research fund for studying the impact of the coal phase-out and the transition to a low-carbon economy.” Recommendations concerning workers include:  establish local transition centres to provide retraining,  relocation and social supports; establish a pension-bridging program for those forced to retire early; create a detailed and publicly available inventory of labour market information regarding coal workers, and create a comprehensive funding program to assist workers in securing a new job – including income support, education and skills building, re-employment, and mobility. Recommendations relating to communities include: identify, prioritize, and fund local infrastructure projects in affected communities, and establish a dedicated, comprehensive, inclusive, and flexible just transition funding program ; meet directly with affected communities to learn about their local priorities, and to connect them with federal programs that could support their goals.

$35 million was committed to Just Transition programs in 2018. The Task Force estimates that  “direct and indirect costs of the phase-out will stretch well into the hundreds of millions of dollars and the timeframe will go beyond 2030.”  It calls for  “additional and more substantial investments in Budget 2019 and budgets thereafter.”   Canada’s next budget will be delivered on March 19 – providing a gauge of the government’s intentions re Just Transition for coal workers and their communities.

The Canadian Labour Congress announcement concerning the Task Force Report release is  titled “Just Transition Task Force report has potential to put people at the heart of climate policy”, and pictures the members of the Task Force. In addition to Hassan Yussuff, President of the CLC and Co-Chair of the Task Force, union members included Gil McGowan (Alberta Federation of Labour), Mark Rowlinson (United Steelworkers), Scott Doherty (Unifor) , Tara Peel (Canadian Labour Congress), and Mark Wayland (IBEW).

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Unions well-represented on Canada’s new Task Force on Just Transition – including Co-Chair Hassan Yussuff, President of the CLC

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Hassan Yussuff, President, Canadian Labour Congress

On April 25, Canada’s  Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced the members of the the Just Transition Task Force for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities, to be co-chaired by Hassan Yussuff, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and Lois Corbett, Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.  Biographies are here , revealing that six of the eleven members of the Task Force are unionists: two from the CLC, the Alberta Federation of Labour,  United Steelworkers, Unifor, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.  The press release by the Canadian Labour Congress states: “The world is watching. By launching this task force, Canada has the opportunity to set an international example on how to implement progressive policy to reduce emissions while keeping people and communities at the centre”.  A National Observer article provides context and background about the members of the Task Force, and some quotes from the press conference which announced it.  A CBC report also includes a video of the press conference.

The full Terms of Reference for the Just Transition Task Force were originally published in February 2018, and include a mandate to make recommendations to the Minister via an interim report and a final report due at the end of 2018. Members of the Task Force will meet with government officials at the local and provincial level, workers, stakeholders, academics, and also make site visits to coal plants and communities that will be affected by the accelerated phase-out of coal power in Canada.  The Task Force will no doubt benefit from the work of  Alberta’s  Advisory Panel on Coal Communities , which also examined the impacts on communities and workers of an end to coal-fired electricity by 2030, and proposed strategies to support workers through the transition. The Alberta Panel issued its recommendations  in a brief report, titled Supporting Workers and Communities in November 2017, resulting in a number of provincial  programs, described here .

At the international level, Canada has been active since joining with the United Kingdom to launch the Powering Past Coal Alliance in November 2017 at the Conference of the Parties (COP23), in Bonn in 2017.  Updates on that initiative are available from this link.  As of April 2018, there are over 60 countries and private businesses in the alliance. An April 2018 release  reports that Canada and the U.K. will collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies on the goals of the Alliance, including to produce research and case studies on the issue.   Also, at the One Planet Summit in December 2017,  Canada announced its partnership with the World Bank Group and the International Trade Union Confederation, to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries.

Canada announces a new Task Force on Just Transition for Coal-Power Workers

On February 16th, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change announced    amendments to existing regulations to phase out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030, along with new greenhouse gas regulations for natural-gas-fired electricity.  The proposed regulations are open to comment until April 18, 2018.The government’s Technical Backgrounder is here.

In fulfilment of a promise made to Canadian unions at the COP meetings in Bonn in December 2017, the Minister also announced the creation of a Task Force on the Just Transition for Canadian Coal-Power Workers and Communities.  A detailed statement of the Terms of Reference calls for the Task Force to engage with specified stakeholder groups and provide policy options and recommendations by the end of 2018.  The Minister will appoint  9 members and 2 chairs –  with the strongest representation from labour unions, including  a representative from the from the Canadian Labour Congress; from a provincial Federation of Labour in an affected province; from a union responsible for coal extraction; from a union in coal power generating facilities; and from a union in the skilled trades related to coal power.  The rest of the Task Force will include a  workforce development expert,  a sustainable development expert; a past executive from a major Canadian electricity company or utility; and a municipal representative, identified in collaboration with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Reaction is generally supportive, as exemplified by the Climate Action Network, or the Pembina Institute.  Members have not yet been named, although the expertise of the Coal Transition Coalition, chaired by the Alberta Federation of Labour, would appear to be essential. Their report, Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal Workers, was submitted to the Alberta Advisory Panel on Coal Communities in 2017, and recommended establishing an independent Alberta Economic Adjustment Agency to manage Just Transition.

 

U.K. Rolls out Green Policies, including Fighting Plastics, Phasing Out Coal, and Encouraging Divestment

Theresa May 2018 Facing criticism for recent  policy reversals which have resulted, for example, in falling investment in clean energy in the U.K. in 2016 and 2017 , the government has recently attempted a re-set with its policy document:  A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment , released on January 11.    “Conservatives’ 25-year green plan: main points at a glance” (Jan. 11) in The Guardian summarizes the initiatives, which focused on reducing use of plastics (in line with a recent EU decision), encouraging wildlife habitat, and establishment of an environmental oversight body.  Specifics are promised soon; the Green Alliance provides some proposals in “Here’s what Theresa May should now do to end plastic pollution” (Jan. 11). George Monbiot is one of many critics of the government policy, in his Opinion Piece.

In the lead-up to the long-term Green Future policy statement, other recent developments have  included: 1.  Changes to investment regulations to encourage divestment.    “Boost for fossil fuel divestment as UK eases pension rules”  appeared in The Guardian on December 18 , stating:  “in what has been hailed as a major victory for campaigners against fossil fuels, the government is to introduce new investment regulations that will allow pension schemes to ‘mirror members’ ethical concerns’ and ‘address environmental problems.’    The rules are expected to come into force next year after a consultation period and will bring into effect recommendations made in 2014 and earlier this year by the Law Commission. ”

2. Coal Phase-out:  Also, on January 4, the British government responded to a consultation report by announcing CO2 limits to coal-fired power generation.  By imposing emissions limits, the government seeks to phase out coal-fired power by 2025, but still to allow flexibility for possible carbon capture operations, and for emergency back-up energy supply. The consultation report, Implementing the end of unabated coal: The government’s response to unabated coal closure consultation  , capped a consultation period which began in 2015.    The government’s policy response is  summarized in the UNEP Climate Action newsletter here  (Jan. 5).

 

Canada, the World Bank and International Confederation of Trade Unions announce a partnership to promote Just Transition in the phase-out of coal-fired electricity

One-Planet-Summit-sign2-1024x605Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister is back on the  international stage at the One Planet Summit in Paris, which is focusing on climate change financing – notably phasing out  fossil fuel subsidies, and aid to developing countries.  In a press release on December 12,  Canada announced a partnership with the World Bank Group to accelerate the transition from coal-fired electricity to clean sources in developing countries, stating: “This work also includes sharing best practices on how to ensure a just transition for displaced workers and their communities to minimize hardships and help workers and communities benefit from new clean growth opportunities. The transition to a low-carbon economy should be inclusive, progressive and good for business. We will work together with the International Trade Union Confederation in this regard.”   The World Bank Group announcement was briefer : “Canada and the World Bank will work together to accelerate the energy transition in developing countries and, together with the International Trade Union Confederation, will provide analysis to support efforts towards a just transition away from coal.”  The ITUC Just Transition Centre hadn’t posted any announcement as of December 13.

Other Canadian partnerships announced in a general press release: a Canada-France Climate Partnership to promote the implementation of the Paris Agreement through  carbon pricing, coal phase-out, sustainable development and emission reductions in the marine and aviation sectors; Canada was selected as one of five countries for a new partnership with the Breakthrough Energy Coalition led by Bill Gates; and Canada , along with five Canadian provinces, two U.S. states, and Mexico, Costa Rica and Chile, signed on to the Declaration on Carbon Markets in the Americas, to strengthen  international and regional cooperation on carbon pricing.

The World Bank, one of the organizers of the One Planet Summit, made numerous other announcements – including that it will no longer finance upstream oil and gas developments after 2019, and as of 2018, it  will report greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy. Such moves may be seen as a response to the demands of the Big Shift Global campaign of Oil Change International, which  released a new briefing called “The Dirty Dozen: How Public Finance Drives the Climate Crisis through Oil, Gas, and Coal Expansion  on the eve of the One Planet Summit.  Over 200 civil society groups also issued an Open Letter   calling on G20 governments and multilateral development banks to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and public finance for fossil fuels as soon as possible, and no later than 2020.  Signatories include Oil Change International, Les Amis de la Terre – Friends of the Earth France, Christian Aid, Greenpeace, Reseau Action Climat – Climate Action Network France, WWF International, BankTrack, Climate Action Network International, Global Witness, 350.org, Germanwatch, Natural Resources Defense Council, CIDSE, and the Asian Peoples Movement on Debt and Development.

In Canada, Environmental Defence is collecting signatures in a campaign to stop fossil fuel subsidies , stating  “ Together, federal and provincial governments hand out $3.3 billion in subsidies every year for oil and gas exploration and development. In 2016, Export Development Canada, a crown corporation, spent an additional $12 billion in public money to finance fossil fuel projects.”

Saskatchewan’s new Climate Strategy maintains old positions: No to carbon tax, yes to Carbon Capture and Storage

Prairie Resilience: A Made-in-Saskatchewan Climate Change Strategy was released by the government of Saskatchewan on December 4,  maintaining the province’s  position outside the Pan-Canadian Framework  agreement  with this introductory statement:    “A federal carbon tax is ineffective and will impair Saskatchewan’s ability to respond to climate change.”  A summary of all the strategy commitments appears as  a “Backgrounder” from this link.  An Opinion column in the Regina Leader Post newspaper summarizes it as  a “repackaging” of past policies, and “oil over the environment”.

The provincial government defends their plan as “broader and bolder than a single policy such as a carbon tax and will achieve better and more meaningful outcomes over the long term” by encouraging innovation and investment – and yes, that Prairie spirit of independent resilience.  The strategy includes provisions re protecting communities through physical infrastructure investment,  water system management, energy efficiency for buildings and freight, and disaster management.   It commits to “maintain and enhance partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities to address and adapt to a changing climate through actions that are guided by traditional ecological knowledge.”   In the electricity sector, which at 19% is the third largest source of emissions, it proposes  to introduce regulations governing emissions from electricity generation by SaskPower and Independent Power Producers; meet a previous commitment of up to 50 per cent electricity capacity from renewables; and “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.”    The Strategy is still open to consultation on the regulatory standards and implementation details, with a goal of implementation on January 1, 2019.  Consultation is likely to reflect the state of public opinion on climate change issues as revealed by the Corporate Mapping Project  in Climate Politics in the Patch: Engaging Saskatchewan’s Oil-Producing Communities on Climate Change Issues. The participants in that  study “were largely dismissive over concerns about climate change, were antagonistic towards people they understood as urban environmentalists and Eastern politicians, and believed that the oil industry was already a leader in terms of adopting environmentally sound practices.”      The oil and gas industry is Saskatchewan’s largest emitter, at 32% of emissions in 2015.  For an informed reaction, see Brett Dolter’s article in Policy Options, “How Saskatchewan’s Climate Change Strategy falls short”  (December 11).

sask-power-boundary-damOn the issue of carbon capture and storage:  The Climate Strategy document released on December 4 states a commitment to:  “determine the viability of extending carbon capture use and storage technology to remaining coal power plants while continuing to work with partners on the potential application for  CCUS technology globally.” On December 1, CBC reported that Saskatchewan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming  to “share knowledge, policy and regulatory expertise in carbon dioxide capture, transportation, storage and applications such as enhanced oil recovery.”  By late 2017 or early 2018, SaskPower is required to make its recommendation on whether  two units at the Boundary Dam will be retired, or retrofitted to capture carbon and storage (CCS) by 2020.  As reported by the CBC , the research of economist Brett Dolter at the University of Regina has found  that conversion to natural gas power generation would cost about 16% of the cost of continuing with CCS ($2.7 billion to replace all remaining coal-fired plants with natural gas plants, compared to  $17 billion to retrofit all coal-fired plants with carbon capture and storage.)  The final decision will need to  consider the economic implications for approximately 1,100 Saskatchewan coal workers, and isn’t expected until a replacement for Premier Brad Wall  has been chosen after his retirement in late January 2018.

For more details:  “Saskatchewan, 3 U.S. states sign agreement on carbon capture, storage” at CBC News (Dec. 1) ; “SaskPower’s carbon capture future hangs in the balance” at CBC News (Nov 23)  , and  “Saskatchewan Faces Tough Decision on Costly Boundary Dam CCS Plant” in The Energy Mix (Nov. 28).

Alberta unveils its Just Transition plan for coal workers

On November 10, the government of  Alberta released the Recommendations of the Advisory Panel on Coal Communities – 35 recommendations to promote a just transition from coal-mining, necessitated  by the government’s Climate Leadership Plan to phase-out coal-fired electricity by 2030.  The Advisory Panel focuses on three areas: workers, communities and First Nations. The 18 recommendations regarding workers relate to income security and replacement, pension security, retraining and re-employment – and recommend a strong role for unions in planning and process.  Some examples:  … “Programs and training should be delivered, as much as possible, while workers are currently employed and should include accessible and flexible skills development models. This includes a role for employers to enable access to skills development during employment.”… “Employers and unions should play roles in facilitating the training or retraining of impacted workers. This could be reflected in employer cost sharing with government and union participation in planning and delivery of assistance.”… Where provisions are inadequate, facilitate the negotiation of severance provisions between employers and unions that represent workers at coal-fired facilities and associated coal mines. Similar negotiations should be facilitated for non-union employees. …Where provisions are inadequate, facilitate the negotiation of early retirement benefits between employers and unions that represent workers at coal-fired facilities and associated coal mines. Similar negotiations should be facilitated for non-union employees. …Immediately assess the direct impact of the transition on the funded status, solvency and operation of defined-benefit pension plans and take steps to ensure these plans are adequately funded. ”

In  a separate press release , the government announced more details about  a $40-million transition fund for workers and communities.  As described on the government website , benefits will include financial support for retraining (still under development), on-site employment counselling for individuals, and the provision of facilitators to  assist employers, employees and unions to establish a worker adjustment committee to develop a workplace transition plan, using labour market information or commissioned regional labour market studies.  In addition, Alberta is calling on the federal government to make changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) program immediately, so that the provincial  income support will not reduce their EI income,  and to also extend the duration of EI benefits for coal workers.

The Coal Transition Coalition project, an alliance of unions led by the Alberta Federation of Labour, had previously published its recommendations in  “Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal workers.  The AFL response to the government’s announcements on November 10  calls the Transition Plan “a step in the right direction” and credits the Advisory Panel with listening to workers’  input.  President Gil McGowan warns, however, that   “Offering bridging supports to workers on EI and extending the benefit period for workers close to retirement are important elements of the plan, but they depend on the federal government doing their part,” … “Many coal-fired units in Alberta are closing due to federal government regulatory changes. They have a responsibility to these workers to help ensure a just transition.”

How to phase out Alberta’s Oil Sands by 2040, including Just Transition principles

Gordon Laxer, Professor emeritus at the University of Alberta and founding director of the Parkland Institute, has released a new report, Act or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands .  He summarized the report  in an article,  “The case for phasing out Alberta’s Tar Sands” , which appeared in Resilience  on May 23.   The full report reflects the author’s long and deep understanding of the political economy of Alberta. His fairly brief discussion of Just Transition principles occurs at the end of the report.

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From Wikimedia, in the public domain. Syncrude Lake Mildred plant, Alberta.

Section 1 of Act or be Acted Upon discusses the market forces and policy environment in which the oil sands continues to operate – including a discussion of the cap on emissions put in place in the Alberta government’s Climate Leadership Plan , and the issues of divestment and stranded assets. Looking for lessons to be learned, Section 2 examines the international and Canadian progress in banning coal-fired power, with a detailed look at Ontario’s experience and Alberta’s current efforts. The author emphasizes the importance of the health-based  arguments in Ontario’s campaign against coal, and suggests two possible motivators for an Alberta campaign against the oil sands: first,  the under-reported  health effects on residents and workers around Fort McMurray, the Peace River country, and the Aboriginal community of Fort Chipewyan,  and second, the devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray in 2016.

Section 3: “Phasing out the oil sands”,  calls for a permanent moratorium on new projects and a schedule for shutting down older projects that have paid off their capital costs- starting with the Suncor and Syncrude projects  which are over 50 years old. Finally, the author calls for replacing the existing emissions cap under the Climate Leadership Plan with  “an annually lowering GHG ceiling on all remaining Sands projects until they collectively reach zero by 2040.”

The final section of the Green Paper states: “It’s vital that phasing out the Sands be accompanied by a well-thought-out plan to provide workers and communities in the Sands with alternative work and retraining…. A just transition is the right thing to do, but it is also needed because if workers involved in the Sands don’t see a sure-fire alternative, they will fight hard to hang on to the Sands jobs they currently have, which will hamper the changes Alberta and Canada need to make.”   Those looking for new approaches to Just Transition will have to hope that Professor Laxer writes another paper – in this one, he goes only so far as to endorse the Just Transition principles set out in the October 2016 paper from the UNFCCC,  Just transition of the workforce, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs  .  To recap, those are: • Develop skills and retraining for green jobs  • Develop green enterprises • Promote government programmes to help the unemployed find work • Provide social protection • Minimize hardship for workers and address their needs • Consult all stakeholders to plan for a just transition.

Recalling the huge federal and provincial government research subsidies in the 1960’s that launched the oil sands, Professor Laxer concludes with this:  “The same governments now need to devote as much research money in today’s dollars to plan useful employment for Sands workers necessitated by the shift to a low-carbon future.”

after the SandsAct or be Acted Upon. The case for phasing out Alberta’s Sands  is a “Green Paper”, commissioned by the Alberta Institute of Agrologists and presented to them in March 2017.  Related reading:  Gordon Laxer’s book from 2015 , After the Sands. Energy and Ecological Security for Canadians ;   and from the Parkland Institute:  Restructuring in Alberta’s oil industry: Internationals pull out, domestic majors double down (April 2017);  Five things to know about Alberta’s oil sands emissions cap   (Feb. 2017); Extracted Carbon: Re-examining Canada’s Contribution to Climate Change through Fossil Fuel Exports (Jan. 2017).

EU Industry pledges no new coal plants as Australians mobilize to fight the giant Adani coal project

The Union of the Electricity Industry (EURELECTRIC), representing 3500 companies across Europe, released a statement on April 5, pledging that no new coal-fired plants will be built in the EU after 2020.   “The European electricity sector believes that achieving the decarbonisation objectives agreed in the Paris Agreement is essential to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the global economy. EURELECTRIC’s members are committed to delivering a carbon neutral power supply in Europe by 2050, and to ensuring a competitively priced and reliable electricity supply throughout the integrated European energy market.” Poland and Greece remain outside the agreement, and apparently outside the mainstream.

The Guardian calls the EU position   a “death knell for coal”,    and in a separate piece, summarizes the decline of coal-fired electricity around the world.  “Coal in ‘freefall’ as new power plants dive by two-thirds”  (March 22)    quotes a new report by Greenpeace  , Sierra Club USA,  and Coalswarm   :  Boom and Bust 2017: Tracking The Global Coal Plant Pipeline.   Its findings show a 62 percent drop in new construction starts, and an 85 percent decline in new Chinese coal plant permits. A senior Greenpeace official states: “2016 marked a veritable turning point”.  “China all but stopped new coal projects after astonishing clean energy growth has made new coal-fired power plants redundant, with all additional power needs covered from non-fossil sources since 2013. Closures of old coal plants drove major emission reductions especially in the U.S. and UK, while Belgium and Ontario became entirely coal-free and three G8 countries announced deadlines for coal phase-outs.”

Stop-Adani-LogoYet in Australia, environmentalists are waging an epic environmental battle against a giant, $16.5-billion coal mine adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, proposed by Indian energy conglomerate Adani. Government supporters, including the Prime Minister and politicians in Queensland, have argued that the mine would bring jobs and would not increase GHG emissions globally because Australian coal is cleaner than any other that India would be able to source from other countries; see an article in Climate Home for the rebuttal to that.  Voices in opposition include Bob Brown, a former Green Party leader, who states  : “This is the environmental issue of our times and, for one, the Great Barrier Reef is at stake. The Adani corporation’s dirty coalmine is an impending disaster with effects which will reach far beyond Australia.”  Or read:   “It’s either Adani or the Great Barrier Reef – are we willing to fight for a Wonder of the World?”   in The Guardian.   Thirteen community groups, claiming to represent 1.5 million Australians have joined the Stop Adani Alliance since its launch in March, and the Australian Conservation Foundation is behind another high-powered campaign . For context, see “The coal war: Inside the fight against Adani’s plans to build Australia’s biggest coal mine” from the Sydney Morning Herald.   For a catalogue of “the ten most-absurd things about the Adani mine ” , see “Australia’s Climate bomb: the senselessness of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine”    in The Conversation (April 12).

UPDATE:  An April 24 analysis  of the bleak prospects of the Carmichael Mine proposed by Adani for Australia  “Adani: Remote Prospect: Carmichael Status Update 2017”  .

Just Transition proposals for Australia’s Coal Industry workers

Flag_of_Australia.svgOutside of the United States, it seems that there is general recognition that the coal industry is in decline, and that this demands a planned response to transition both the energy mix and the communities and workers.  The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) in Paris, for example, is coordinating a Coal Transitions Project, bringing together researchers from Australia, South Africa, Germany, Poland, India and China, to publish reports examining past experiences in the six countries in March 2017, culminating with a global report and a consideration of the future of coal by 2018.

Australia’s coal production has a long and highly-political  history – summarized in  “The long-term future of Australian coal is drying up”  in The Conversation (October 2015), or “Australia’s Addiction to Coal” in the New York Times (November 14, 2016) . Amidst this highly political climate, the current government established a  Senate Inquiry into the Retirement of Coal Fired Power Stations in October 2016,  to examine “the transition from ageing, high-carbon coal generation to clean energy”  in light of the Paris Agreement commitments on emissions reductions , and the Agreement’s  provisions re just transitions. The deadline for the Inquiry’s Final Report has been extended to the end of March; an  Interim Report was released at the end of November 2016, with Chapter 4 devoted to options for managing the transition for workers and communities.   Submissions to the Senate committee are here, listed by author. Three  noteworthy examples: the Australian Psychology Association reviews the “flow-on psychosocial impacts on individuals, families and whole communities” of mass closures, but argues for the possibility of  building “vibrant, diversified, energy sustainable communities with good local jobs, and capable of lifting the prospects of all citizens”. The submission states: “Community-led transitions that identify the community’s needs and resources, involve the community in the formulation and control of change, and strengthen the local people’s capacity for action, are critically important components of planned transitions. “”  The Appalachian Transition  and Renew Appalachia are cited as models of community building.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted a thorough, 30-page proposal:  Sharing the challenges and opportunities of a clean energy economy: Policy discussion paper. A Just Transition for coal-fired electricity sector workers and communities.  Amongst the recommendations: establish  a “national independent statutory authority”, named Energy Transition Australia (ETA), within the environment and energy portfolio, and reporting to the Minister and parliament.   The  ETA would be overseen by a tripartite advisory board comprised of industry, unions and government, with a mandate to  oversee a planned and orderly closure of Australia’s coal fired power stations;  “manage an industry-wide multi-employer pooling and redeployment scheme, where existing workers would have an opportunity to be redeployed to remaining power stations or low-emissions generators; and  develop a labour adjustment package to support workers obtain new decent and secure jobs, including by providing funding for workers to access job assistance support, retraining, early retirement and travel and relocation assistance.”

Finally, a submission by Professor John Wiseman  of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute lists and synthesizes many of the recommendations from recent  Just Transition publications, including   Life After Coal: Pathways to a Just and Sustainable Transition for the Latrobe Valley  (October 2016). This report by the Environment department of the province of Victoria  focuses on the four Hazelwood coal-fired power plants, scheduled to close as early as April 2017.

Union Proposals for a Just Transition for Alberta’s coal workers

The phase-out  of the Alberta’s  coal -fired electricity generation  is in the works, with regulations begun by the Harper government and continued by the current provincial government in its Climate Leadership Plan  . Approximately 3,000 workers at 18 coal-fired electricity plants and their associated mines will be affected by the end of the phase-out in 2030.  In September 2016, consultant Terry Boston submitted recommendations to the government on how to transition the electricity supply; for public consultation about transition issues for workers and communities, an  Advisory Panel on Coal Communities  was established, and is scheduled to release its report “in early Spring 2017”.

On March 3, the union-based  Coal Transition Coalition  unveiled its detailed policy recommendations for the Advisory Panel.    Getting it Right: A Just Transition Strategy for Alberta’s Coal Workers , aims  to influence discussion early on in the planning process,  to ensure that issues such as  pensions, severance, labour-retention strategies and

coal transition coalition

Coal Transition Coalition logo

economic diversification are built in from the start. Getting it Right chronicles government policies and the coal mines to be affected, then describes in detail four case study examples of coal transitions in the U.S. and the Rhuhr Valley in Germany .  These case studies form the basis of the    “Lessons learned”  section, which in turn form the basis of the recommendations.

The Coalition’s recommendations emphasize  the advantage of a long-lead time available, the importance of unique, community-led plans, and the importance of public and political acceptance of the Transition programs.  Income replacement and severance benefits are a central concern – calling for enhanced federal Employment Insurance program benefits, and a provincial pension bridging trust fund with adequate reserves to help workers just shy of retirement in 2030. The Coalition also recommends that the province conduct an audit of existing pensions and their coverage and gaps, and prepare a plan to ensure pensions are fully funded and mandated to  meet their obligations.  The report cites a separate report commissioned by the Alberta Federation of Labour, Pension And Benefit Plans In A Just Transitions Strategy For The Alberta Coal-Fired Electricity Industry (November 2016)), which is not available online.

The core recommendation is to establish an Alberta Economic Adjustment Agency , free of political interference, to develop “a just transition plan that places the interests of affected workers, their families and communities as its highest priority”.  Programs would be funded through an  Alberta Economic Adjustment Trust Fund, governed by an independent board of trustees to guard against any  political or industry interference, and financed through  contributions “on the order of $10 million to $20 million per year” leading up to 2030.   The report is silent on who will provide the funding.

The Coal Transition Coalition is led by the Alberta Federation of Labour and includes the following unions:  Canadian Energy Workers Association, CSU 52, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers,   Ironworkers Local 720 , Unifor, United Steelworkers, and United Utility Workers Association.

Canadian government announces a phase-out of “traditional” coal-fired electricity by 2030

On November 21, the federal Environment Minister announced  that the four remaining provinces with coal-fired electricity  (Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) must  speed up the their emissions reduction targets. All traditional coal-fired units (i.e. those without carbon capture and storage)  will be required to meet a performance standard of 420 tonnes of carbon dioxide per gigawatt hour by no later than 2030, and performance standards must be developed  for new units to ensure they are built using efficient technology.  Details are set out in a Backgrounder  .  To allow for flexibility, Equivalency Agreements can be negotiated under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , and both Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are pursuing such agreements.  Nova Scotia, which announced  on November 21 that  it would  implement a cap and trade system which would  meet or exceed the federal emissions reduction target , will be allowed to continue to use coal in high-demand winter months even after 2030, (with no  specific date set yet for full compliance) .  Saskatchewan, which relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration technology to meet its recent emissions reduction plan, is “displeased”  about the coal phase-out plan, according to a CBC report .  Alberta has already announced its own plans   for a coal phase-out by 2030, promising  support for workers and communities.  See the “Liberals present plan to phase out coal-powered electricity by 2030” CBC (Nov. 21) for a good overview.

 What does this mean for coal workers?  Currently, coal-fired power  generated at 35 plants represents over 70% of emissions in Canada’s electricity sector, but provides  only 11% of our  electricity.  The coal industry employs approximately 42,000 direct and indirect workers.   In “Canada’s rejection of coal will clear the air but impact workers and power bills” , the CBC (Nov. 22) examines the likely higher  electricity bills in store for consumers, and  the likely job losses.  The CBC article quotes Warren Mabee, a researcher with the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change project and the associate director of the Queen’s Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy: he states that many workers in coal mines will be laid off  “while others will shift to extracting metallurgical coal, which is used in the steel-making process.”  It is important to note that the government press release explicitly promises:“ The Government of Canada will work with provinces and labour organizations to ensure workers affected by the accelerated phase-out of traditional coal power are involved in a successful transition to the low-carbon economy of the future.”

Much of the government’s motivation for its initiative comes down to the health benefits of removing pollutants of coal-fired electricity – carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, mercury and other heavy metals .  The Pembina Institute, along with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Canadian Public Health Association   and others, released   Out with the coal, In with the new: National benefits of an accelerated phase-out of coal-fired power  on November 21.  The report estimates that a  national coal phase-out by 2030 would prevent  1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits, and health outcomes valued at nearly $5 billion (including health and lower productivity costs) between 2015 and 2035.  The Pembina Institute reacted to the government announcement, calling it “timely” and “necessary .  Clean Energy Canada responded with  Quitting coal will drive clean growth and cut pollution.   BlueGreen Canada, which includes the United Steelworkers union, recently published the  Job Growth in Clean Energy report, which recognizes the world-wide decline of the coal industry, and states that, “if properly supported now, Alberta’s renewable energy sector will create enough jobs to absorb the coal labour force”.

Proposals for Alberta: Job creation and a healthier environment

A new report from the Pembina Institute, in cooperation with Blue Green Canada and the Alberta Federation of Labour, discusses the employment potential for renewables in Alberta – and concludes that investing in renewable sources of electricity and energy efficiency would generate more jobs than would be lost through the retirement of coal power. Further jobs still could be created by additional investment in community energy, and further jobs again by investing in long-term infrastructure and electricity grids. Job Growth in Clean Energy – Employment in Alberta’s emerging renewables and energy efficiency sectors   provides detailed statistics and  includes a major section on methodology; Pembina’s job estimates are higher than those of the Alberta government, partly because Pembina’s modelling includes solar energy while the government’s estimates are understood to be based on extrapolating from Alberta’s historic experience with wind. The report makes policy recommendations relevant to the Climate Leadership Plan and the current Energy Diversification Advisory Committee and encourages a speed-up of the phase-out of coal-fired electricity.  (See also a related Pembina report, Canada and Coal at COP22: Tracking the global momentum to end coal-fired power –and why Canada should lead the way ).

A worker-generated  proposal for job creation and GHG reduction is described by Andrew Nikoforuk in “A Bold Clean-Up Plan for Alberta’s Giant Oil Industry Pollution Liabilities” in   The Tyee (Nov. 4)    . The author summarizes the RAFT plan proposed by two workers from Grande Prairie, Alberta.  Reclaiming Alberta’s Future Today (RAFT)   is “a plan for the unionized abandonment, decommissioning,and reclamation of Alberta’s aging and expired fossil fuel infrastructure over the next 50 years…” The Plan begins with a proposal for an expert analysis of the state of liabilities from inactive oil and gas wells and abandoned pipelines – including analysis of the health and environmental effects, and the existing mechanisms to address the problem.

Alberta keeps its options open with renewable energy targets and preliminary approvals for 3 oil sands projects

In addition to a commitment to phase out coal-fired power by 2030, on September 14,  the Government of Alberta announced a firm target to generate 30 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind, hydro and solar by 2030. The government press release  associates this target with a projection that “at least $10.5 billion in new investment will flow into the provincial economy by 2030. This will mean at least 7,200 new jobs for Albertans as projects are built.” The health benefits of shutting down coal plants are highlighted in Breathing in the benefits: How an accelerated coal phase-out can reduce health impacts and costs for Albertans, a joint report from the Pembina Institute, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Lung Association of Alberta and NWT, and the Asthma Society of Canada, released on September 14.

On September 19,  the government appointed a Task Force, to be chaired by Gordon Lambert,  to make recommendations on targeting investments in climate technology to help transition to a lower-carbon economy. Submissions are invited; a report will be submitted by the end of November, summarizing the findings of the engagement and providing recommendations for a provincial Climate Change Innovation and Technology Framework.  Also underway: an Energy Efficiency Advisory Panel   which was launched in June 2016 (see the Discussion Document here )  and an Oil Sands Advisory Group  .     But not all is renewable in Alberta:  on September 15, the government announced  early stage approval of 3 new oil sands projects, representing “ about $4 billion of potential investment into Alberta’s economy and about 95,000 barrels per day of production”.  The proposed developments will still undergo further environmental reviews and will fall under the oil sands 100 megatonne greenhouse gas emissions limit, announced with Alberta’s Climate Leadership Plan.

Air Pollution and Coal: A Public Health issue around the world

On May 18, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, along with the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO), the Canadian Lung Association, the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA)  joined a global call   for the G7 nations to accelerate the transition away from coal­-fired electricity, to bring “ immediate and significant air pollution-­related health benefits and health care savings. A coal phase-­out also slows climate change, thereby reducing current and future illnesses and deaths from heat waves, droughts, malnutrition, flooding, air pollution and wildfires.” The Lung Association of America  recently ranked air pollution in U.S. cities and found that  Bakersfield, California, was the most polluted city for both short-term and year-round particle pollution, while Los Angeles-Long Beach was the worst for ozone pollution.  In the U.K., air pollution was cited as a “public health emergency” in a report published by a Select Committee of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Ministry  .  The World Health Organization (WHO)  ranked the world’s most polluted cities on May 12,  with four of the five worst cities in India. WHO surveyed 3,000 urban areas; the data shows only 2 per cent of cities in developing countries have air quality that meets WHO standards, compared to 44 per cent in developed countries. A WHO official also stated, “Probably some of the worst cities … are not included in our list, just because they are so bad that they do not even have a good system of monitoring of air quality, so it’s unfair to compare or give a rank.”

Alberta starts Coal Phase-out planning, makes Low-Carbon pact with U.K.

On March 6, 2016, the Speech from the Throne announced intentions to reinvest revenues from the carbon levy into creating jobs and economic diversification, to enact a Promoting Job Creation and Diversification Act , and to appoint an Energy Diversification Advisory Committee which will include Labour.  On March 15, Alberta and the United Kingdom announced  a Low-Carbon Innovation and Growth Framework agreement.  On March 16, the press release “Alberta takes next steps to phase-out coal pollution under Climate Leadership Plan”  explains the process underway.

Oregon Senate votes to phase out Coal generation

Oregon passed “precedent-setting” legislation in March with the passage of Senate Bill 1547, which will eliminate coal from the state’s energy supply by 2030, and provide half of all customers’ power with renewable sources by 2040. The state’s  one existing coal plant is its largest source of GhG emissions, according to Yale 360  .

Carbon Capture and Storage – Canadian case studies, and a Labour view

The recent report Global Status of CCS 2015  by the Global CCS Institute provides a glowing overview of the technology, and profiles the Quest project near Edmonton  , as well as a link to an August 2015 report about the Boundary Dam in Saskatchewan . In October, the B.C. government introduced Bill 40, the Natural Gas Development Statutes Amendment Act, 2015, amending legislation which allows carbon capture and storage “as a permanent solution for disposing of carbon dioxide (CO2) in British Columbia”. Reference materials from the 2014 public consultations on CCS in B.C. are here  .

In a working paper published by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, author Sean Sweeney writes that “CCS may have a place in the transition to a post-carbon world, but this place must be determined democratically, and by public need.”   Hard Facts about Coal: Why Why Trade Unions Should Re-evaluate their support for Carbon Capture and Storage states that, whether intended or not, CCS can provide political cover for the ongoing and increasing use for coal.

Nova Scotia Moving away from Coal-fired Electricity

In Our Electricity Future: Nova Scotia’s Electricity Plan , released on November 9, 2015 the government pledges to be a “green powerhouse” by 2040. Coal will be phased out in favour of renewable electricity so that “By 2050 or before, Nova Scotia’s electricity utilities may be nearly carbon free”. According to the press release,  the plan also commits $1.5 million over the next three years to support pilot projects to research technologies related to electricity use, management, and storage, as well as solar and tidal energy. Amendments to the Public Utilities Act and Electricity Act are promised “this fall” to support the electricity plan. Commentary  appears in Rabble.ca, and a summary  appears in CleanTech Letter (Nov. 10).

Alberta’s NDP Government includes Just Transition in its Climate Leadership Plan

The policies released by the Alberta government  on November 22 2015  are being hailed as a turning point in Alberta, including a plan to replace two-thirds of coal-generated electricity with renewables by 2030  , and to phase in carbon pricing, starting at $20 a tonne in January 2017 and reaching $30 a tonne by January 2018 . Emissions from the be oil sands will be capped at 100-megatons – representing a drastic reduction from the 267 megatons produced in 2013, although no date is attached to the proposal. Reaction is generally positive, even from business, according to the Calgary Herald  and the Toronto Globe and Mail . Rabble.ca sums it up in “Rachel Notley builds a coalition of big business, environmentalists and civil society”  The proposals are based upon the recommendations of the provincial Climate Change Advisory Panel Report  , chaired by Andrew Leach, and made public on November 20. In the “Labour Context” section (page 26) , the report states that revenue from carbon pricing must be reinvested in Alberta, including “To support transition needs of workers and communities and to enable full inclusion of Aboriginal communities in climate change mitigation and adaptation … Just transition programs need to be tailored to the circumstances of workers and their communities, and their selection, design and implementation will require participation of all those involved. Workers, unions, communities and firms will need to be engaged by government to develop specific programs that can include skills development and training, income support and relocation assistance, as well as working with the federal government on pension bridging and benefits programs for displaced workers.”