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.

Don’t call it a Just Transition – United Mineworkers announce Principles for Preserving Coal Country

United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts was accompanied by West Virginia’s senior Senator Joe Manchin on April 19 when he announced the UMWA’s new principles for addressing climate change and the energy transition.  Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition is built on three goals: “preserve coal jobs, create new jobs, and preserve coalfield families and communities.” The UMWA statement calls for specific steps to achieve those goals, including enhanced incentives for carbon capture and storage research, with a goal of commercial demonstration of utility-scale coal-fired CCS by 2030; tax incentives for build-out of renewable supply-chain manufacturing in coalfield areas, with hiring preference for dislocated miners and families; and provision of wage replacement, family health care coverage, and pension credit/401(k) contribution, as well as tuition aid. For the community, the principles call for direct grants to coalfield counties/ communities/school districts to replace lost tax revenues for 20-year period, as well as targeted investment in infrastructure rehabilitation and development – roads, bridges, broadband, schools, health care facilities. 

The document concludes with a statement of willingness to work with Congress, President Biden, and other unions, and with this: “This cannot be the sort of “just transition” wishful thinking so common in the environmental community. There must be a set of specific, concrete actions that are fully-funded and long-term. The easiest and most efficient way to fund this would be through a “wires” charge on retail electric power sales, paid by utility customers, which would add about two-tenths of one cent per kilowatt hour to the average electric bill. This would amount to less than $3.00 per month for the average residential ratepayer.”  

Summaries appeared in: “Miners’ union backs shift from coal in exchange for jobs”  from Associated Press, published in the Toronto Star;  “Surprise news from the miners union gives Democrats an opening against Trumpism” in the Washington Post;   “A coal miners union indicates it will accept a switch to renewable energy in exchange for jobs”  in the New York Times, and “America’s largest coal mining union supports clean energy (with conditions)” in Grist.

At the same press conference on April 19, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced that he will co-sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, as reported by Reuters here. Passage of the PRO Act is also one of the action items in the Mine Workers Preserving Coal Country statement, and a key goal for American unions.

Government committee recommends further study for support for workers amid transition to electric vehicle production

The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development presented their report, The Road Ahead: Encouraging the Production and Purchase Of Zero-Emission Vehicles In Canada to the House of Commons on April 13.  The Committee had received eighteen briefs and heard from twenty-one witnesses since the Fall of 2020 – available here.  The importance of reducing transportation emissions was accepted, and the topics of discussion included purchase incentives, expanding ev charging infrastructure and the impact on the electricity sector, the potential of hydrogen-powered vehicles, and more. The resulting report makes thirteen recommendations, to which the government is requested to respond. Amongst the recommendations: the existing federal incentive program for EV purchase be continued and expanded to include used EV’s, that the price cap be eliminated, with eligibility geared to income; that the Government of Canada build on existing initiatives, like the Green Mining Innovation program, to improve the environmental performance of Canadian minerals used in battery and hydrogen fuel cell production; and that the federal government  work with provincial and territorial governments to develop recycling and end of life management strategies for ZEV batteries.

Recommendation #6 addresses the concerns of workers: “The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada study opportunities to support automotive sector workers while facilities are transitioning to produce ZEVs, and consider dedicated funding to retrain automotive sector workers for ZEV production.”

Most of the input to the Standing Committee was from industry representatives, but the report attributes Recommendation #6  largely to the testimony of Angelo DiCaro, Research Director of Unifor on November 23, 2020.  From the report: “Witnesses cautioned that it will be challenging to reorient Canada’s automotive sector to produce ZEVs. It takes time for producers to bring vehicles to market, and to retool facilities and retrain workers to produce ZEVs.  Angelo DiCaro suggested that the Government of Canada should ensure that the employment insurance system will support workers during plant retooling. He also noted that the transition to ZEVs could threaten jobs in Canada’s automotive parts sector, especially among businesses that produce parts for the powertrains that propel ICEVs. To compensate, Mr. DiCaro said that Canadian governments should set rules about the afterlife of vehicles that could create jobs in vehicle disassembly and recycling.”    

Specifically, when asked later by NDP MP Laurel Collins, “what kind of retraining and income supports do Canadian auto workers need to support a just transition to a zero-emissions future?” DiCaro identified the powertrain segment of the auto parts industry as the most vulnerable, and continued…. “as plants transition, as will happen with Oakville, we have to see how long these transition times will take in our next round of bargaining. I can assure you that, if this is going to be a two-year or a 16-month transition to get that plant retooled, there are going to be questions about income supports for those workers as they retrain and wait for these cars to come online….. This is front and centre. I think the act of collective bargaining gives us an opportunity to explore that. Certainly our employment insurance system and our training systems are going to have to be looked at more carefully.”

72% of surveyed oil and gas workers in Canada want career transition – with many willing to accept wage reduction

A survey of over 2,000 respondents from across Canada who had previously worked in the oil and gas industry found that 72% indicated that their career priority was to make a career transition. Of that 72%, “35% indicated their desired employment situation was in a different role or industry; 14% were seeking a different work arrangement such as self-employment; and 12% planned to seek employment after additional training.” The survey results are summarized in two blogs on March 30, Untapped Talent: Opportunity to Transition, and Untapped Talent, Transitioning Opportunity , from Canada’s oil and gas labour market organization, PetroLMI. The survey was conducted from October 2019 to December 2020.

While a resistance to lower wages is frequently cited as a barrier to Just Transition, the PetroLMI survey showed that: “the wage expectations of respondents were not out of line given their education, experience and skills. When asked about their salary expectations, 61% indicated a salary of less than $100,000, and 28% were willing to take a reduction in their salary for stable employment. In Alberta more than 35% of respondents said they were willing to take a salary reduction.”  42% of respondents were over the age of 55; 77% had over 15 years of experience; 86% had post-secondary education  –  in Alberta, most held a university, while in the rest of Canada, trade certification was most cited.

From the industry point of view: “While layoffs rarely have a silver lining, these workforce reductions mean there is a robust pool of talent available for hire.” “The layoffs that occurred among respondents were broad and impacted a wide range of job families and occupations from trades, truck drivers, technologists and technicians to geoscientists, engineers and information technologists. The talent pool also included occupations that tended to be transferable across industries including finance, accounting, human resources, health and safety, sales, marketing and business development. They also included field operations and drilling workers with transferable skills such as working in safety-sensitive workplaces, critical thinking and problem-solving. As a result, construction and renewable energy companies have begun hiring from this talent pool.”

Canada’s Petroleum Labour Market Institute (PetroLMI- formerly the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada)  produces ongoing labour market analysis, recently stating: “The cumulative impacts of a six-year economic downturn, lower demand due to COVID-19 health restrictions, and structural shifts in the oil and gas industry, mean there is a smaller oil and gas workforce in Canada – down 26%, or 58,700 jobs from its peak in 2014.” Their latest detailed labour market data, sourced from Statistics Canada, is here.  Analytical reports are compiled here,  including a four-part series titled “The Impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s Energy Workforce: A four-part series on work practices, productivity and opportunities”. On that topic, Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy ranks Canada, U.S. and Australia as hardest hit in “Covid-19 job toll: Top O&G employer China resilient, US takes larger hit than European peers” , a March 9 newsletter.  (The Canadian Energy Research Institute also published Economic Recovery Pathways for Canada’s Energy Industry: Part 2 – Canadian Crude Oil and Natural Gas in September 2020, modelling employment and economic impacts) .

Just Transition policies in Canada, EU and OECD countries – including unique case studies

How Can we Manage a Just Transition? A comparative review of policies to support a just transition from carbon intensive industries  was released by the University of Victoria , Institute for Integrated Energy Systems in late March 2021.  The researchers examined national Just Transition policies in Canada and in twenty-five European Union and Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, along with EU-level and regional entities.  Seven main thematic areas were identified: i) governance mechanisms: ii) climate and sustainability planning; iii) workforce development; iv) economic development; v) regional and rural development; vi) innovation and research; vii) social security.  Amongst the key findings:  Jobs and environment-focussed initiatives are the most common, with well-developed workforce and skills strategies evident. However, the researchers highlight many deficiencies, including a lack of social justice language in policies; a lack of targeted strategies, excepting for the coal industry; a lack of proactive planning – with the exception of workforce development measures; and a lack of integrated planning at the industrial/economic planning level.  The report points to best practice examples –  in New Zealand for its proactive approach,  and in Scotland and Ireland, for accountability through Just Transitions Commissions.  

The report provides a thorough literature review, international analysis, and identifies areas where further research is needed. It also provides ten brief, unique case studies which include, but go beyond fossil-fuel related transitions, consisting of: Ontario, Canada; Grand-Est, France; Saarland, Germany; Western Macedonia, Greece; Piedmont, Italy; Incheon, Capital Region, Korea; Bay of Plenty, New Zealand; Basque Country, Spain; Kalmar, Småland with Islands, Sweden; and Wales, United Kingdom.