$1.5 billion will buy new renewable energy projects, good green jobs, and environmental justice in New York State

On  June 2, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his state would invest $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects through the Clean Climate Careers Initiative.  The program has three elements:  “supercharge” clean energy technologies, create up to 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020, and  achieve environmental justice and Just Transition for underserved communities. Both the Governor’s press release and one from the Worker Institute at Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School attribute the inspiration for the new renewable energy initiative to the  “Labor Leading on Climate” program at the Worker Institute.

The  Institute has just published Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State (June 2017),  in which Lara Skinner and  co-author J. Mijin Cha argue for an “audicious”  job creation plan which would create decent green jobs in the building, energy, and transport sectors.  The report provides case studies and specific proposals to reduce GHG emissions – for example, to retrofit all public schools in the state to reach 100 percent of their energy efficiency potential by 2025, reduce energy use in all public buildings by 40 percent by 2025, install 7.5 GW of offshore wind by 2050,  rehabilitate New York City public transit, and construct and improve the existing high-speed passenger rail corridor between Albany and Buffalo, and between New York City and Montreal.  The report also includes a recommendation to establish a Just Transition Task Force – a recommendation incorporated in Governor Cuomo’s plan.

In the plan announced  by Governor Cuomo, $15 million has been committed “to educators and trainers that partner with the clean energy industry and unions to offer training and apprenticeship opportunities, with funding distributed to the most innovative and far-reaching apprenticeship, training programs and partnerships.  ”  The state is also committed to the use of a Project Labor Agreement framework for the construction of public works projects associated with the initiative.

A Working Group on Environmental Justice and Just Transition has been appointed and staffed, with a first meeting scheduled for June.  It will advise the administration on the integration of environmental justice principles into all agency policies, and to shape existing environmental justice programs.  The press release includes endorsements from the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and unions, including: Greater New York Building Construction Trades Council, New York State AFL-CIO, New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, IBEW Local 3, Transport Workers Union, Utility Workers Union Local 1-2,  United Association Plumbers & Pipefitters, and the past Secretary Treasurer of Service Employees International Union.

Governor Cuomo’s  Renewable Energy initiative was announced one day after Donald Trump’s  withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and after the Governor had signed an Executive Order  reaffirming New York’s  commitment to the Paris goals, and had launched a Climate Alliance with the states of California and Washington.

Buildings and Infrastructure: the state of Canadian adaptation to climate change

The National Infrastructure and Buildings Climate Change Adaptation State of Play Report  was released on May 18, providing a gold mine of detail about  the current Canadian system of climate change adaptation, and how it  affects water infrastructure, transportation systems, telecommunications, and buildings (both private housing and commercial and  multi-unit buildings such as hospitals and penitentiaries).

fort_mcmurray-fireReflecting  the strong influence of insurance concerns in the report, it provides a  catalogue, with damage estimates and many photographs, of recent natural disasters, including the Calgary and Toronto floods in 2013, the Fort McMurray fire, as far back as the Eastern Canada ice storms of 1998.  The report identifies a wide range of barriers and problems to adaptation progress, but also provides case studies of innovative initiatives, and compiles a list of 62 “opportunities or next steps”  for those identified as the key actors – all levels of government,  private companies, professional associations, and citizens.  Recommendations  reflect an understanding of the need for more climate change training and professional education for engineers, consultants, and the insurance industry, and calls on private companies to emphasize and “Better integrate climate change considerations into organizational planning, decision-making and risk management processes.”

Appendices include an extensive bibliography; a table of national and provincial standards and regulations (e.g. for stormwater management); climate risks, and others.  The final appendix presents case studies of innovative initiatives, including  Toronto Hydro Electrical Distribution Infrastructure Case Study ; British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Provincial Highway Infrastructure Case Study; City of Castlegar Stormwater Infrastructure Case Study (B.C.); Municipality of the District of Shelburne Wastewater Treatment Plant Case Study ; Elm Drive: Low Impact Development Demonstration Site Case Study (Toronto); Fraser Health’s Climate Resilience and Adaptation Program (B.C.); Linking Climate with Water Infrastructure and Social Vulnerabilities Credit Valley Conservation (Ontario).

The report was prepared by Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure of Burlington, Ontario, in collaboration with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority of Mississauga, for the  Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group (IBWG) – a joint enterprise of  the Institute for Catastrophic Loss and Engineers Canada.  It will be one of many inputs to the Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group of Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Platform  in their discussions of their work plan for the next four years.

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

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

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

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

Community Benefits Agreement for Light Rail Transit a model for good jobs through infrastructure development

A Community Benefits Agreement for the Eglinton Crosstown  Light Rail Transit project in Toronto is expected to create around 300 jobs for youth, women and minority workers from the low income areas the project traverses.   According to an article  in the Toronto Star, local people “will receive construction and trades training through education centres set up by local unions — who are guaranteeing job placements for those who complete their skills-building programs.”   A Framework Agreement  was first struck in 2014; at that point, the Toronto Community Benefits Network  had proposed that 15 % of employee hours on the Crosstown project should go to people with employment barriers, including women, aboriginal people, racialized workers, and new Canadians.   The new project Declaration ,  finalized on December 7, 2016,   has set the bar at 10% of employee hours, but is being hailed as a precedent-setting example of the community benefits model for large scale infrastructure projects in Canada.  For the first time in North America, this agreement includes professional, administration, and technical jobs as well as skilled construction trades.   The Toronto and York District Labour Council states it best in its press release :  “A Community Benefits Agreement is powerful tool to overcome the historical underrepresentation of minorities and women in the construction industry. Jobs in the construction trades are good, well-paying jobs with benefits and a focus on safety. They can also be green jobs. Most importantly, workers have the opportunity to help build up their communities with the sense of pride, ownership and responsibility that engenders.”

A June 2015 article in WCR describes the community benefits agreement concept, cites examples in Vancouver and Los Angeles, and highlights Ontario’s  Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015.  That Ontario legislation from June 2015 requires “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”.

More proof that green buildings are better for workers

The health impact of  green workplaces was the subject of a new article,   The Impact of Working in a Green Certified Building on Cognitive Function and Health  , by researchers at the  Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and SUNY Upstate Medical University. Researchers studied 109 workers at 10 buildings and found that employees who worked in certified green buildings had higher cognitive function scores, fewer sick building symptoms and higher sleep quality scores than those working in non-certified buildings.  The research was sponsored by United Technologies.  For an overview of ongoing research at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health , go to its Nature, Health and the Built Environment website . Other related information is available at the World Green Building Council’s “Better Places for People” website .

From a management point of view, an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Air Pollution making office workers less productive”  (September 29) reports on the effect of air pollution on call-center workers at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. The authors conclude that these office  workers are 5%–6% more productive when air pollution levels are rated as “good” (an Air Quality Index of 0–50) versus when they are rated as unhealthy (an Air Quality Index of 150–200). Productivity was measured by completed calls each day, length of breaks, and time logged in.

All this points to the importance of green building.  World Green Building Week  began on September 26, 2016 – preceded by an agreement amongst the national green building councils from 10 countries (including Canada)  to adopt zero net carbon certification programs by the end of 2017.  See the World Green Building Council press release for a description of the meetings, including the definition of “zero net carbon” (ZNC)  as advanced by the architectural network, Architecture 2030   .