A just clean energy transition for New York state – proposals include protection of pension benefits for displaced workers

On November 13,  the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts published a new study by authors Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Jeannette Wicks-Lim, all well-established experts on the job creation benefits of renewable energy.  Clean Energy Investments for New York State: An Economic Framework for Promoting Climate Stabilization and Expanding Good Job Opportunities    examines the benefits of large-scale investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency for New York State, and proposes a Just Transition policy framework to support such clean energy investments. Their analysis is based on an estimate of a 40 percent decline  in production activity and employment in fossil fuel industries in New York State as of 2030. They examine the labour market and present detailed statistics about the compensation and benefits, unionization, educational qualifications, gender and race of the small percentage (0.15 percent) of the total state workforce who worked in fossil fuel dependent industries in 2014.

In Chapter 8, they  propose a Just Transition program guaranteeing pensions and reemployment, as well as providing income, training and relocation support for workers. They also propose support for fossil-fuel dependent communities, primarily through channeling new clean energy investments to the affected communities.  The report cites the model of the Worker and Community Transition program that operated through the U.S. Department of Energy from 1994 – 2004.

Because of the level of detail in the report, (including information about the unfunded pension liabilities of the relevant companies), the authors are able to make very specific policy recommendations and also provide cost estimates. For example, they call on the State government to mandate full funding of pensions via state law, or through coordination with the federal Pen­sion Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), to the extent that companies could be prohibited from paying dividends or financing share buybacks,  or the state (in cooperation with PBGC) could place liens on company assets when pension funds are underfunded.

The report estimates a total cost of approximately $18 million per year to fund 100 percent compensation insurance for five years,  retraining for 2 years, and relocation support for workers. This is based on an average of  $270,000 – $300,000 per worker per year, for  the estimated  67 displaced workers likely to be eligible.

Interesting context for this report appears in an interview with Robert Pollin in the  Albany Times Union, “N.Y. must try harder to become a clean energy beacon.

B.C. Municipalities urged to take fossil fuel giants to court

In January,  West Coast Environmental Law and over 50 other environmental, health, human rights, women’s rights, and faith-based organizations sent an Open Letter  to local municipalities in British Columbia, urging them  1.) to write to fossil fuel companies, demanding accountability for the climate change costs being borne by citizens , and 2.) To consider participating in a class action lawsuit against the big polluters.  As part of their new  initiative, called   Climate Law in Our Own Hands  , West Coast Environmental Law is offering legal research and support to interested local governments, as well as template letters and fossil fuel company addresses to facilitate the  letter-writing campaign.  WCEL argues that fossil fuel companies will only start working towards climate change solutions when they are held to account to pay their fair share for the damage being caused.   According to one of the Open Letter signatories, Sierra Club B.C. , “The Province of BC has estimated that Metro Vancouver Municipalities will need to spend $9.5 billion between now and 2100 to address rising sea-levels (about $100 million per year on average).”  The list could continue to add wildfires, the destruction of forests by the mountain pine beetle, drought, and extreme weather.

WCEL  is not new to this issue, but rather have been active since the 2015 landmark Urgenda case in the Netherlands , when they released their report  Taking climate justice into our own hands  , which included a draft Climate Compensation Act .  The new website,  Climate Law in Our Own Hands maintains a blog about legal actions around the world, including a November 2016  report about  420 “grannies”  in Switzerland who are working with  Greenpeace Switzerland to launch a legal challenge  against the Swiss government for inadequately addressing threats to their health and future generations from climate change.  Other high profile court cases underway include the challenge to stop Arctic drilling  by  Norweigian youth and Greenpeace in Norway ,  and the ongoing cases led by  Our Children’s Trust   against the U.S. federal and state  governments.  The federal case,  Juliana v.United States  first launched in 2015,  and most recently (November 10, 2016) has been permitted to proceed to trail, after Judge Ann Aiken issued an opinion and order denying the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry’s motions to dismiss .  The 21 plaintiffs, mostly teenagers, are suing for the constitutional right of future generations  to live in  a healthy and safe environment.

Clean Energy creates more jobs than fossil fuels, with a wage premium

Following on the January 2017  report US Energy and Employment  from the U.S. Department of Energy, more evidence of the healthy growth of the clean energy industry comes in a report  by the Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps and Meister consultants.  Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy and Sustainability Jobs    compiles the latest statistics from diverse sources,  and concludes that “sustainability” accounts for an estimated 4.5 million jobs (up from 3.4 million in 2011) in the U.S. in 2015. Sustainability jobs are defined as those in energy efficiency and renewable energy, as well as waste reduction, natural resources conservation and environmental education, vehicle manufacturing, public sector, and corporate sustainability jobs.  Statistics drill down to wages and working conditions – for example,  average wages for energy efficiency jobs are almost $5,000 above the national median, and wages for solar workers are above the national median of $17.04 per hour.  Comparing clean energy with the fossil fuel industry, the report states that the  1.4 million jobs  in energy efficiency construction and installation alone is more than double the number of workers in fossil fuel mining, extraction and electric power generation combined.  Now Hiring states that for every $1 million invested in building retrofits and industrial efficiency,  8 direct or indirect jobs are created;  in comparison,  3 are created by a comparable investment in the fossil fuel industry. This final comparison of job multiplier effect  is based on  “Green versus brown: Comparing the employment impacts of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and fossil fuels using an input-output model”  by Heidi Garrett Pelletier at PERI, and appears in the February 2017 issue of Economic Modelling.