Can Biden unite Labour and climate activists with his American Jobs Plan ?

On March 31, U.S. President Biden announced his “American Jobs Plan,” which outlines over $2 trillion in spending proposals, including $213 billion to build, modernize and weatherize affordable housing,  $174 billion for incentives and infrastructure for electric vehicles; $100 billion for power grid modernization and resilience; $85 billion investment in modernizing public transit and bringing it to underserved areas; $35 billion investment in clean technology research and development, including incubators and demonstration projects; $16 billion employing union oil and gas workers to cap abandoned oil and gas wells and clean up mines, and $10 billion to launch a  Civilian Climate Corps to work on conservation and environmental justice projects.  All of these are proposals, to be subject to the political winds of Washington, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggesting a date of July 4 for a vote on legislation.

The White House Fact Sheet outlines the specifics . Robert Reich calls the plan “smart politics” in  “Joe Biden as Mr. Fix-it” in Commons Dreams, and according to “Nine Ways Biden’s $2 Trillion Plan Will Tackle Climate Change” in Inside Climate News, “President Joe Biden aims to achieve unprecedented investment in action to address climate change by wrapping it in the kind of federal spending package that has allure for members of Congress of both parties.”   David Roberts offers a summary and smart, informed commentary in his Volt blog, stating: “Within this expansive infrastructure package is a mini-Green New Deal, with large-scale spending targeted at just the areas energy wonks say could accelerate the transition to clean energy — all with a focus on equity and justice for vulnerable communities on the front lines of that transition. If it passes in anything like its current form, it will be the most significant climate and energy legislation of my lifetime, by a wide margin.”

Julian Brave NoiseCat writes in the National Observer on April 6, summing up the dilemma:   …” Each policy has the potential to unite or divide the Democrat’s coalition of labour unions, people of colour, environmentalists and youth activists. Some policies, like the creation of a new Civilian Climate Corps …. are directly adopted from demands pushed by activists like the youth-led Sunrise Movement. Others, like investments in existing nuclear power plants and carbon capture retrofits for gas-fired power plants, will pit labour unions against environmental justice activists from the communities those industries often imperil. Uniting the environmental activists who oppose the development of fossil fuel pipelines with the workers who build them will be among the Democrats’ greatest challenges.”

Some Specific U.S. statements:

Generally favourable reaction comes in a brief statement from the AFL-CIO. The  BlueGreen Alliance states: “This is a historic first step, and yet we know this and more will be needed to deliver the scale of investment needed, particularly in disadvantaged communities and for workers and communities impacted by energy transition.”  Similarly, Kate Aronoff writes “Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Needs More Climate Spending” in The New Republic; and the Climate Justice Alliance response is titled  “Grassroots, Environmental Justice Communities call on Biden To Go Bigger, Bolder And Faster For A Climate, Care And Infrastructure Recovery Package That Meets The Moment”.

The Sunrise Movement press release commends Biden for calling for passage of the PRO Act, for clean energy initiatives, and environmental justice aspects, and has a mixed reaction to Biden’s version of the Civilian Climate Corps: “This gives our movement a starting place, and with a foot in the door we can fight to expand and strengthen the CCC over the coming years.” ….. “The plan Biden rolled out today would create about 10,000-20,00 jobs in a Civilian Climate Corps, which would train and employ young people to build clean energy and decarbonize the economy. When FDR rolled out a similar Civilian Conservation Corps, it employed around 300,000 people per year, and that was back when the US population was ~40% of its current size .”   

Will Biden’s Plan push Canada’s climate ambitions?

The CBC published “Here are four ways Biden’s big climate bill touches Canada” .  Mitchell Beer compiles reactions in “Biden Jobs, Infrastructure Plan Aims to ‘Turbocharge the transition’ off Fossil Fuels”  in The Energy Mix, including Adam Radwanski’s response in the Globe and Mail, “Joe Biden’s new climate plans should jolt Ottawa” (restricted access).   And the Canadian United Steelworkers alludes to the “Buy American” elephant in the room for Canadians, in its press release titled, Build Back Better Through Infrastructure Spending on Both Sides of the Border (April 1)  “the United Steelworkers union (USW) sees U.S. President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan as an opportunity to maintain and create jobs, bolster manufacturing and make our communities safer. ….A decade ago, the USW worked with the Obama administration and the Canadian government to create a North American strategy that benefited workers in the United States and Canada…. Canada is not the problem facing U.S. manufacturing and workers. Co-operation between Canada and U.S. will build on our longstanding and productive trading relationship.”

Global Commission proposals for clean growth forecasts 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate released its 2018 flagship report at the G20 meetings in Argentina  on September 5 . Under the title, Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century: Accelerating Climate Action in Urgent Times , the report acknowledges that all models are imperfect, but its extensive research and modelling predicts that its “bold climate action” prescription could deliver at least US$26 trillion in economic benefits through to 2030, and over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030, as well as avoid over 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution.  As the final point in its action road map, it calls for Just Transition measures and a role for civil society and trade unions in their creation.

The report is structured around a sectoral approach, focused on energy, cities, food and land use, water, and industry. Across those economic sectors, every chapter hammers the theme of urgency, calling this the world’s “use it or lose it moment”. “The decisions we take over the next 2-3 years are crucial because of the urgency of a changing climate and the unique window of unprecedented structural changes already underway. The world is expected to invest about US$90 trillion on infrastructure in the period up to 2030, more than the entire current stock today. …. Investing it wisely will help drive innovation, deliver public health benefits, create a host of new jobs and go a long way to tackling the risks of runaway climate change. Getting it wrong, on the other hand, will lock us into a high-polluting, low productivity, and deeply unequal future. “

Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Century  calls for the following urgent actions:

  1. “governments should put a price on carbon and move toward mandatory climate risk disclosure for major investors and companies.”  (Specifically, the carbon price for the G20 economies should be at least US$40-80 by 2020, with a predictable pricing pathway to around US$50-100 by 2030, accompanied by a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies and harmful agricultural subsidies and tax-breaks by 2025);
  2. all economies should place much greater emphasis on investing in sustainable infrastructure as a central driver of the new growth approach;
  3. “ the full power of the private sector and innovation needs to be harnessed.” (Specifically, “ By 2020, all Fortune 500 companies should have science-based targets that align with the Paris Agreement.”  Governments need to change regulations, incentives and tax mechanisms that are a major barrier to implementing a low-carbon and more circular economy, and public-private partnerships should be encouraged.
  4. “a people-centred approach is needed to ensure lasting, equitable growth and a just transition. It is good economics and good politics.”….“All governments should establish clear Energy Transition Plans to reach net-zero energy systems, and work with energy companies, trade unions, and civil society to ensure a just transition for workers and communities. Successfully diversifying local economies as we shift away from coal and eventually other fossil fuels will require multi-stakeholder dialogue, strategic assistance, re-training, and targeted social protection.”

The Global Commission  is comprised of government leaders, academics, and business leaders, including Sharan Burrow of the ITUC, and Lord Nicholas Stern. Established in 2013, the Commission published its first, landmark report in the New Climate Economy initiative in 2014:  Better Growth, Better Climate , which established its position that there is no trade-off between growth and strong climate action. In addition to the annual policy document, international climate issues are published  in a Working Paper series, available here .

 

Federal government sets out new requirements for Infrastructure funds – climate lens, community benefits

The Investing in Canada Plan of the federal government will invest more than $180 billion over 12 years for public transit projects, green infrastructure, social infrastructure, trade and transportation, and Canada’s rural and northern communities. Two recent press releases define how the program funds will be awarded:  at the start of June , Infrastructure Canada announced that proposals under the Investing in Canada program, as well as the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund,  and those submitted to the Smart Cities Challenge,  will be required to use a “climate lens”, to assess “how their projects will contribute to or reduce carbon pollution, and to consider climate change risks in the location, design, and planned operation of a project.”  The General Guidance document for Climate Lens is here  .

second press release,  on June 22,  announced a new Community Employment Benefits requirement – under which applicants for major projects will be required to set targets for training and employment opportunities for at least three groups targeted by the CEB initiative: Indigenous peoples, women, persons with disabilities, veterans, youth, apprentices, and recent immigrants, as well as procurement opportunities for small-to-medium sized businesses and social enterprises.  The  General Guidance document for Community Enterprise Benefits   explains the administrative details.

Mowat report community benefits agreements Ontario became the first Canadian jurisdiction to promote community benefits, through the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act 2015 , and in May 2018, the province announced five new community benefits projects under its Long-term Infrastructure plan.

Engage and Empower , an April 2018 report from the Mowat Centre at University of Toronto,  discusses the Ontario Community Benefits framework, and sets out principles which are applicable outside Ontario.  It states: “it is essential to engage that community to understand the types of benefits that are most aligned with its priority needs, and to continue this engagement throughout the project as impacts are being measured and evaluated. This process of defining and engaging the community requires an ongoing relationship built on trust and collaboration … It is critical that governments avoid an overly prescriptive approach and recognize, instead, that communities are dynamic and robust ecosystems – with existing networks and capabilities – and desire autonomy in the process of defining, articulating and negotiating the benefits to accrue through an infrastructure project.”

 

Infrastructure Canada invests in public transit and requires Community Employment Benefits agreements

An April 11 article in the National Observer, “After massive investments , Trudeau government puts public transit on track” attempts to explain the political and bureaucratic tangle of the Canada Infrastructure Plan in the wake of a series of press releases by the federal government.  Those press releases have announced  $33 billion in funding for infrastructure projects through bilateral agreements with the provinces and territories, with the lion’s share – $20.1 billion –  going to public transit.  The National Observer article also profiles some public transit projects already announced or in progress: the 12.5-kilometre, 13 stations Ottawa light rail project; a  $365 million plan to extend the Montreal’s  Blue Line for five stops; Calgary’s Green Line LRT; Victoria B.C.’s plan to improve resilience against seismic activity; and new electric and hybrid buses for Gatineau and Laval, Quebec, and London Ontario. Another excellent update of Canada’s public transit appeared in Corporate Knights magazine in January 2018, “The e-bus revolution has arrived”. And in March, Winnipeg Transit released its report on electrification of its bus fleet- summarized by the CBC here ; Winnipeg is home to the New Flyer Industries, which manufactures the battery-electric buses in use.

Public transit is obviously good for reducing Canada’s transportation-related GHG emissions, and investments at this scale are obviously important sources of  job creation. The Bilateral Letter of Agreement with Ontario states: “ a Climate Lens will be applied to these federal investments, and a Community Employment Benefits Reporting Framework will be applied for relevant programs under the Investing in Canada Plan. Both the Climate Lens and the Community Employment Benefits Reporting Framework will be developed in consultation with provinces, territories, municipalities and other stakeholders over the next few months and will be embedded in the integrated bilateral agreements once completed.”   Community benefits agreements are already in place in some transit construction projects in Toronto,  and Ontario passed the  Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015 , which states: “Infrastructure planning and investment should promote community benefits …. to improve the well-being of a community affected by the project, such as local job creation and training opportunities”.

For inspiration on another side of the issue, read the recent article, “Connecting green transit and great manufacturing jobs” in Portside on April 14.  It provides a very detailed case study of the fight to bring domestic, union jobs to light rail manufacturing in Los Angeles,  a campaign spearheaded by Jobs to Move America (JMA) .  From their website, JMA “is dedicated to ensuring that the billions of public dollars spent on American infrastructure create better results for our communities: good jobs, cleaner equipment, and more opportunity for historically marginalized people.”  Their website provides research papers and news updates.

electric_bus_banner Winnipeg

New Flyer Electric Bus, Winnipeg Manitoba. Image from http://winnipegtransit.com/en/major-projects/electric-bus-demonstration/ 

 

Ontario announces initiative re energy efficiency in hospitals, and updates Infrastructure Plan

hospital for sick kidsA press release on November 27 from Ontario’s Ministry of Health announced  an  investment of $64 million through  a Hospital Energy Efficiency Program, which will support 180 projects at 98 hospitals across the province, providing more efficient heating, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting. The funds will be directed from the proceeds of cap and trade auctions, and are in addition to the $9 billion for new hospital projects already announced in the 2017 Budget statement, as part of Infrastructure spending.

On November 28,  the government released Building Better Lives  , an  update for 2017 about the  Ontario Long Term Infrastructure Plan which was launched in 2014, and which integrates climate change priorities in infrastructure planning for public transit, transportation, schools and hospitals.    The government press release cites a study by the Centre for Spatial Economics to defend its program.   The Economic Benefits of Public Infrastructure Spending in Ontario (March 2017) estimates that  in the short-run, gross domestic product rises $0.91per dollar of spending, 4.7 jobs are generated per million dollars spent,  and $0.27 of each dollar spent by government is recovered in additional Ontario and federal and government revenues.

Building Better Lives also includes a Technical Appendix with details on the asset management strategies of key ministries and agencies, as well as information about their assets. The Appendix also provides an overview of the three-year review to be undertaken to identify best practices and to transform the asset management process for government ministries.  This status report and review is required under the Ontario Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015.