Trump’s solar tariffs may impact solar jobs worldwide

solar installers on roofDonald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on solar panels and washing machines on January 23  was roundly criticized on many grounds – most frequently, the impact on jobs in the solar industry, as stated in the  New York Times Editorial on January 23 ,“Mr. Trump’s Tariffs will not bring back manufacturing jobs”.   The Times supported their opinion with several articles, including  “Trump’s Solar Tariffs are clouding the industry’s future” (Jan. 23) , which states: “Far more workers are employed in areas that underpin the use of solar technology, such as making steel racks that angle the panels toward the sun. And the bulk of workers in the solar industry install and maintain the projects, a process that is labor-intensive and hard to automate.” The Solar Energy Industries Association in the U.S. response is here, and their Fact Sheet (Feb. 2)  explains the terms and impact of the decision. The Solar Foundation released its 8th annual Jobs Census on February 7, revealing the first-ever year of decline in the number of jobs, but still a census of over 250,000 workers.    For a thorough overview, see the Fact Checker article by the Washington Post,  “Trump says solar tariff will create ‘a lot of jobs.’ But it could wipe out many more” (Jan. 29).

Three Canadian solar companies immediately filed a suit against the tariffs in the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that they violate NAFTA. The EU, China, South Korea, and Taiwan have also filed complaints at the World Trade Organization.  For a deeper look at the possible implications for other countries, including Canada, consider the complexity of global trade:  From an excellent overview in  The Energy Mix: “Trump Solar Tariff may be opening salvo in trade war”: “Although China appeared to be Trump’s intended target, the tariff on solar cells and panels will mostly hit workers in other countries. Thanks to dispersed supply chains—and partly in response to previous U.S. tariffs—solar photovoltaic manufacturing is a global industry. Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam all hold a larger share of the U.S. market than China does directly. And all are entitled to seek remedies under various trade agreements.”   The Energy Mix item refers to “U.S. tariffs aimed at China and South Korea hit targets worldwide”    in the New York Times (Jan. 23), which adds:  “Suniva, one of the American solar companies that had sought the tariffs, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, citing the effects of Chinese imports. But the majority owner of Suniva is itself Chinese, and the company’s American bankruptcy trustee supported the trade litigation over the objections of the Chinese owners.” From Reuters,  “Why the US decision on solar panels could hit Europe and Asia hard”  states that Goldman Sachs estimated that the tariffs implied “a 3-7 percent cost increase for utility-scale and residential solar costs, respectively …. Two key exclusions with respect to technology and certain countries (Canada/Singapore, among others) were included as part of the (initial) recommendation.” Canadian Solar , founded in Canada but a multinational traded on NASDAQ,  is one the world’s biggest panel manufacturers.

For an overview of the current state of the U.S. renewable energy markets and labour force, including solar, see  In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the new American Workforce  (Jan. 2018) , co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Meister Consultants Group.  Highlights:  there are  4 million clean energy jobs in the U.S., with wind and solar energy jobs outnumbering  coal and gas jobs in 30 states.  Quoting the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review for 2017 ,  the In Demand report states that: “The solar industry grew 24.5 percent to employ 260,000 workers, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016.”  The coal industry employs 160,000 workers in the U.S.  In Demand  compiles statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and many others, about current and projected clean energy markets and employment in the U.S.: renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative vehicles, and energy storage and advanced grid sectors.

 

The U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement : how did Canada react? How did the labour movement react?

Front de Seine at night as seen from Pont Mirabeau

From Wikimedia Commons

As anyone alive must know by now, Donald Trump announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement on June 1, 2017. NPR offers an annotated, fact-checked transcript of Trump’s announcement here.   The Editorial Board of the New York Times called it  “Our Disgraceful exit from the Paris Accord” ; Bill McKibben called it “Trump’s Stupid and Reckless Decision” in a New York Times OpEd, and  Vox headlined: “Quitting the Paris Climate Agreement is a moral disgrace”  . Leaders from business, government, and civil society around the world reacted with dismay: see a compilation of global reaction from the Daily Climate,  or from The Conversation, a compilation of analysis by academic experts: “Why Trump’s decision to leave Paris accord hurts the US and the world”    – including Simon Reich from Rutgers University who states:  “many may well claim that June 1, 2017 was the day that America’s global leadership ended.”

Almost immediately,  the states of California, Washington and New York stepped forward into the leadership gap with the June 1 launch of a U.S. Climate Alliance. By June 5, according to a New York press release , 10 more states had joined : Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.  The mayors of hundreds of U.S. cities have also committed to the Climate Alliance, including Atlanta, Washington, D.C.,  New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose.  The Alliance is committed to achieving the U.S. Paris Agreement goal of reducing emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels, and to meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan.  Read “Bucking Trump, These Cities, States and Companies Commit to Paris Accord”  in the  New York Times  and “These Titans of Industry just broke with Trump’s decision to exit the Paris accords”  in the Washington Post (June 1) to see the extent of immediate push-back over the decision.

HOW DID CANADA REACT TO TRUMP’S DECISION?  The official government position was stated by Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change :  “While Canada is deeply disappointed that the United States has chosen to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, we remain steadfast in our commitment to work with our global partners to address climate change and promote clean growth. It is the right thing to do for future generations and will create good jobs as we grow a clean economy.

Canada will continue to take leadership on climate change.

In September, we will co-host a Ministerial meeting with China and the European Union in Canada to move forward on the Paris Agreement and clean growth…. With or without the United States, the momentum around the Paris Agreement and climate action is unstoppable.”

And by June 5, Canada was on the world stage as the official host of World Environment Day .

Other Canadian reaction to Trump’s decision:  In the mainstream press: “World reacts to Trump’s climate move: ‘He’s declaring war on the planet itself’” in the Globe and Mail (June 2); from the CBC, “Trump quitting the Paris accord might not necessarily be the end of the world” .   In Maclean’s magazine, Catherine Abreu, Director of Climate Action Network Canada, wrote “What Trump’s retreat really means for Global Climate Action”     ( June 2), which provides a concise analysis of the impacts, affirming a theme put forth by others – Trump’s move is damaging but not an insurmountable problem, and others are stepping up to the task, and in fact, are galvanized to greater effort.

Other Canadian reaction:   From Mitchell Beer in Policy Options (June 7), “Trump’s Paris Withdrawal, Canada’s Opportunity”;   Matt Horne’s Opinion piece, from a Vancouver point of view,  in the Globe and Mail (June 4) “Environmental progress is possible despite Trump’s climate-change agenda”;  from the Energy Mix:  “World Leaders Respond, U.S. States and Cities Step Up as Trump Blunders Out of Paris Agreement” (June 2) ; “Canadian big city mayors defiant in face of Trump’s exit from Paris Accord” in the National Observer (June 1), which quotes Canadian mayors  assembled at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Big City Mayors’ Caucus in Ottawa on June 1;  and Denis Coderre, Mayor of Montréal and president of Metropolis, a 140-member world association of major cities : “in spite of this setback, cities will not just stand down; ….Mayors from around the world will be meeting in Montreal from June 19 to 23 at the Metropolis World Congress. … climate change will be at the heart of our deliberations, in collaboration with other networks of cities such as the C40 Climate Leadership Group and ICLEI.”

HOW DID UNIONS REACT TO THE TRUMP DECISION?  In “Unions respond to US announcement on Paris climate change agreement” (June 2), Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff states: “While President Trump’s decision on Paris represents a set-back to united action on climate change, it doesn’t change the fact that the rest of the world is moving forward. Canadian government, civil society and industry recognize the need to adapt to a low-carbon economy.” The CLC  also references the response by the ITUC  (included below).

From the AFL-CIO, a brief 2- paragraph response:  “Paris Climate Agreement Withdrawal a Failure of American Leadership” (June 1) ; from the Service Employees’ International Union, “Trump’s wrong decision on Paris won’t stop working Americans from pushing for progress on climate change” , and in his blog on June 2, Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers’ International President  states: “Workers Want a Green Economy, Not a Black Environment”  .   He refutes Trump’s reference to serving Pittsburg not Paris by detailing the pollution problems caused by the steel mill and zinc plants in Pittsburg in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, and concludes:  The U.S. “has an obligation to lead the world in combatting climate change. Great leaders don’t shirk responsibility. ” The Labor Network for Sustainability Facebook post of June 1 concludes with:  “In taking this step, Trump has abandoned his opportunity to lead, and it is up to the U.S. labor movement to step up and provide support and leadership to communities, cities and states who are committed to solving the climate crisis; to ensure that workers are not left behind, and that we can all make a living on a living planet.”

Internationally,  the International Trade Union Confederation reacted with:  “The clear commitment by governments in the Paris Agreement to give workers, including those depending on the fossil fuel economy, a key role in developing a Just Transition strategy, will be undermined by the US announcement, which will also inhibit industrial and economic transformation in the US.”  The ITUC statement continues with a statement from the Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO , which interestingly does not name Donald Trump, but rather blames the decision on the advice of  EPA head Scott Pruitt.

From UNI Global Union: “Planet first, Trump last – UNI condemns Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal” , which states that “President Trump is on the wrong side of history,” … “This latest miscalculated act makes us even more determined than ever to work for people and planet.”

And on June 9,  in advance of the G7 Environment Summit in Bologna:  Our jobs, Our planet was released by the Trade Union Advisory Committee to the OECD (TUAC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with the support of trade union confederations from G7 countries. The declaration states: “ Today, we reaffirm once again our commitment to support ambitious climate action and the Paris Climate Agreement. Pulling out of the Paris climate agreement  from ambitious climate pathways equals abandoning a cleaner future powered by good jobs”.

In the U.K., the Greener Jobs Alliance  reaction, Reasons to be Fearful ,  is written in the context of the British national elections, scheduled for June 8, and criticizes Prime Minister May for her weak criticism of the Trump decision.   This theme is taken up by DeSmog UK, “How the UK’s Climate Science Deniers (and Government) Reacted to Trump’s Paris Agreement Withdrawal”  (June 2) .

The Australian Council of Trade Unions, in response to the Australian government’s reaffirmation of its own commitment to the Paris Agreement on June 2, released their position: “Commitment to Paris crucial for ensuring a Just Transition for workers“.

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

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.”

The Columbia paper also 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 uncertainty for the miners and 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 . For the best explanation  see “ Mine wars: The struggle for coal miners’ health care and pension benefits comes to a head”  in The Conversation,  published April 26 and updated April 30th with the news that Congress  had extended health care benefits until May 5. This will be the latest of several extensions, without a resolution to the issue.

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.

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

 

Workplace resistance to the Trump agenda, and tracking the changes

The deliberately-executed distraction and turmoil of President Trump’s policies in the U.S. threaten and weary us all, at the same time that well-planned  resistance is most necessary.  Long-time activist Frances Fox-Piven wrote in The Nation in January, before the Inauguration,  “Throw sand in the gears of everything”, reflecting on past resistance movements in U.S. history, including civil rights and the Vietnam War.  She asks, “ So how do resistance movements win—if they win—in the face of an unrelentingly hostile regime? The answer, I think, is that by blocking or sabotaging the policy initiatives of the regime, resistance movements can create or deepen elite and electoral cleavages”.  Fox Piven puts strong hope in the actions of state and local governments, as well as citizen action. She also points to the defining protest which finally turned government policy on the Vietnam War: soldiers refused to followed orders.

In   “Where’s the best place to resist Trump? At Work” ( Washington Post ,Jan. 31; re-posted to Portside) the authors argue that  “ From solidarity strikes to slowdowns and sit-ins, workplace revolt is a key strategy in opposing the new administration”.  Describing some of the early anti-Trump protests, they state:  “These actions are indispensable, and may form the seeds of a new movement, but people should not ignore one of the most powerful means of resistance and protest that they have: their roles as workers.” Federal workers are not the only ones with the power to resist and disrupt, though federal workers are leading the way with courageous initiatives such as information leaks and alternative Twitter accounts.  The longshoremen in Oakland, California for example, declined to report for work on Inauguration Day :  see “Want to Stop Trump? Take a Page From These Dockworkers, and Stop Work”   in In These Times  (Jan. 23).  Or read “Some New York Taxi Drivers Are Striking In Protest Of Trump’s Refugee Ban”  in Buzzfeed (Jan. 29).

altepaResistance by federal workers is described in “In Show of Internal Dissent, Federal Workers Rising Up Against Trump”  a February 1 article from Common Dreams.  Another ongoing, public form  are the many   “rogue” Twitter accounts, started by the National Parks Service ,and now including very active accounts at  alt_EPA (with over 300,000 followers), alt_Interior  , alt_NOAA  , alt­_DOL , and more.  Ironically, they form a goldmine of activist information.  But beware of trolling accounts and imposter accounts.

Other web sources to follow U.S. developments, especially those related to climate change and environmental regulations,  are: Climate Central   ;   Common Dreams   ; Democracy Now: Donald Trump Coverage ; Inside Climate NewsThink Progress ; and   350.org   . Also notable,  Deregulation Tracker , where the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law (Columbia Law School) is  monitoring changes to  legislation and regulations, and the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative , which  is  monitoring, documenting, and analyzing changes to approximately 25,000  federal  websites using proprietary software that allows them to track changes to the language and code.  Climate Central published “The EPA Has Started to Remove Obama-era Information”   (Feb. 2)  based on the EDGI monitoring.