U.S. Labour unions divided on carbon capture

A new Labor Network for Sustainability background paper asks Can Carbon Capture Save Our Climate – and Our Jobs?. Author Jeremy Brecher treads carefully around this issue, acknowledging that it has been a divisive one within the labour movement for years. The report presents the history of carbon capture efforts; their objectives; their current effectiveness; and alternatives to CCS. It states: “LNS believe that the use of carbon capture should be determined by scientific evaluation of its effectiveness in meeting the targets and timetables necessary to protect the climate and of its full costs and benefits for workers and society. Those include health, safety, environmental, employment, waste disposal, and other social costs and benefits.”

Applying those principles to carbon capture, the paper takes a position:

“Priority for investment should go to methods of GHG reduction that can be implemented rapidly over the next decade” – for example, renewables and energy efficiency.  … “Carbon capture technologies have little chance of making major reductions in GHG emissions over the next decade and the market cost and social cost of carbon capture is likely to be far higher. Therefore, the priority for climate protection investment should be for conversion to fossil-free renewable energy and energy efficiency, not for carbon capture.”

“Priority for research and development should go to those technological pathways that offer the best chance of reducing GHGs with the most social benefit and the least social cost. Based on the current low GHG-reduction effectiveness and high market cost of carbon capture, its high health, safety, environmental, waste disposal, and other social costs, and the uncertainty of future improvements, carbon capture is unlikely to receive high evaluation relative to renewable energy and energy efficiency. Research on carbon capture should only be funded if scientific evaluation shows that it provides a better pathway to climate safety than renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

“…..People threatened with job loss as a result of reduction in fossil fuel burning should not expect carbon capture to help protect their jobs any time in the next 10-20 years. There are strong reasons to doubt that it will be either effective or cost competitive in the short run. Those adversely affected by reduction in fossil fuel burning can best protect themselves through managed rather than unmanaged decline in fossil fuel burning combined with vigorous just transition policies.”

This evaluation by LNS stands in contrast to the Carbon Capture Coalition, a coalition of U.S. businesses, environmental groups and labour unions. In August, the Coalition sent an Open Letter to Congressional Leaders, proposing a suite of supports for “carbon management technologies” – including tax incentives and “Robust funding for commercial scale demonstration of carbon capture, direct air capture and carbon utilization technologies.”  Signatories to the Open Letter include the AFL-CIO, Boilermakers Local 11, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Laborers International Union, United Mine Workers of America, United Steelworkers, and Utility Workers Union of America.  Although the BlueGreen Alliance was not one of the signatories, it did issue a September 2 press release which  “applauds” the appointment of the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management within the U.S. Department of Energy. The new appointee currently serves as the Vice President, Carbon Management for the Great Plains Institute – and The Great Plains Institute is the convenor of the Carbon Capture Coalition.

Labor’s voice in support of the Green New Deal

Joe Uehlein of Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) was interviewed by Counterspin Radio on May 3 concerning his views on the Green New Deal; a transcript was published by FAIR on May 8 as “Climate Change is the Real Job Killer”  . Uehlein and colleague Jeremy Brecher have written numerous articles on this theme – including  “12 reasons why labor should support a Green New Deal”, which appeared in Working In These Times in 2018.  LNS monitors the situation and posts new GND endorsements by U.S. labour unions in a dedicated “Green New Deal” section of its website, building a compilation of documents. Labor Network for Sustainability co-hosted a Labor Convergence on Climate on April 13, along with the Alameda Labor Council in California; the next Labor Convergence will take place in Chicago at the end June, with the theme Strengthening Labor’s Voice to Help Shape the Green New Deal. Details are here 

For those interested in the issue of how the Green New Deal is being communicated in mainstream media, “Establishment Media and the Green New Deal: New Wine in Old Bottles” appeared on May 1 in FAIR . The article tracks mainstream U.S. newspaper and network coverage of the announcement by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ed Markey on February 7 (and 8th), and a subsequent snapshot of coverage two weeks later.   It documents the chronology with  sample headlines and quotes, with some analysis. While none of it is surprising, taken together it condenses the tone and atmosphere of the GND launch. The conclusion: “To meet that level of public concern, the mainstream media should be covering how to leverage climate action quickly and broadly enough to make a dent in the crisis, as well as probing how and if solutions can also bring a clean and just energy economy into existence.”

One might also add that mainstream media should be seeking out the voices outside of  political and academic circles – such as Joe Uehlein’s and those of other labour leaders. One such article, “Labor Unions are skeptical of the Green New Deal, and they want activists to hear them out” appeared in The Intercept  in February, and describes the complex conflict within the labour movement – a topic also addressed by Naomi Klein in   “The Battle lines have been drawn on the Green New Deal” , which appeared in The Intercept (Feb. 13).

 

 

An agenda for U.S. progressive unions: Resist, reclaim, restructure for climate justice and energy democracy

Towards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition in the Time of Trump  is  a new discussion paper by Sean Sweeney and John Treat,  acknowledging the work of the progressive unions affiliated with the Labor Network for Solidarity and Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and  proposing  an “ambitious and effective agenda for progressive labor to respond to the converging environmental crises, and to pursue a rapid, inclusive approach to energy transition and social justice.”   To set the stage, the authors acknowledge and describe  the divisions within the U.S. labour movement, especially those around the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.  They applaud Bernie Sanders for  breaking new ground in the 2016 Presidential elections by making climate change a central part of the progressive political agenda – notably his call  for a just transition for fossil fuel workers and for a national ban on fracking.  They label “Green Jobs” as  “a Tired Phrase, an Unconvincing Promise”, and find glaring problems with the existing blue-green alliance approach, stating that the accomplishments are not unimportant, “ but the “green jobs” narrative has failed to engage numerous constituencies of potential allies in the struggle for better health, workplace and environmental protections for all, and for broader social, economic and ecological justice.”

In its place, the authors look internationally for inspiration, and propose “an ambitious, pro-active, independent, labor-led program of action” , built on actions  which “resist, reclaim, restructure”, with Just Transition, Solidarity,  and Internationalism as important  principles.  Some specific examples: “Resist : energy-related land seizures, despoliation, and violation of indigenous rights and territories; Resist shale oil and gas drilling and associated infrastructure (pipelines, export platforms, etc.), especially on federal and tribal lands.”  Reclaim: “ Fight to reverse state-level “electricity market restructuring” and to reform Investor Owned Utilities;  Review the Public Utilities Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) in order to determine whether it should be repealed in order to restore States’ power to make their own energy choices; Re-invent regulatory bodies for the power industry, establish mechanisms for meaningful public involvement and democratic decision-making; Investigate and pursue new ways to use union pension funds in order to maximize their impact for a “public goods” approach to energy provision and climate change mitigation; Reinvent public infrastructure, beginning with the postal service in order to drive local renewable energy generation and to provide financial services for working class people who need them.”   Restructure: “Demand energy sector reform to allow for a just transition to renewables under public and community control; Demand establishment of dedicated, priority revenue streams for public renewables and a “just transition fund,” to be funded via a Financial Transaction Tax; Reject costly Power Purchase Agreements; Demand adequately funded, modern and available public transit systems, including the development of public fleets of electric vehicles for urban mobility.”

labor for our revolutionTowards a Progressive Labor Vision for Climate Justice and Energy Transition in the Time of Trump was released on June 1  by Trade Unions for Energy Democracy, and submitted for discussion to Labor for Our Revolution , a network of unions  and labor activists engaged in campaigns to support workers’ rights and contribute to building a broader movement for social and economic justice. LFOR endorses the work of  Our Revolution , the network which grew out of the Bernie Sanders campaign in the U.S.. Our Revolution  states it  has three intertwined goals: “to revitalize American democracy, empower progressive leaders and elevate the political consciousness. “

Why U.S. unions supported the Washington March for Climate, Jobs and Justice

LNS at 2017 Washington Climate MarchThe May 5th Newsletter of Trade Unions for Energy Democracy provides an early assessment of  “Why U.S. unions marched for the climate” . The article lists some of the many unions who marched in Washington D.C. on April 29 in the March for Climate, Jobs and Justice, highlighting the unique perspective of the National Nurses Union and 1199 SEIU, who see the public health effects of climate change in their daily work.  TUED also mentions  a meeting convened by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis and hosted by the American Postal Workers Union, “bringing together roughly 30 labor, community and social movement activists and organizers, to reflect on possibilities for building on the Canadian Leap Manifesto framework to advance the struggle for energy democracy and just transition in the U.S. context.”

Finally, the TUED article credits the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS) with much of the work in building participation in the March.  The latest LNS newsletter reports that over a dozen unions and more than 3000 members marched in Washington,  including 100 members from AFSCME’s local DC37 in New York. The newsletter also describes marches on the West Coast, where climate change was included in the May 1 messages. The LNS Facebook page has more details and photos. 

joint press release  (April 26)  includes brief statements from each of the members of the labour steering committee for the march:  Service Employees International Union  ( SEIU), Communications Workers of America (CWA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) (including the local from the EPA),  and BlueGreen Alliance.

How are U.S. Unions Working Toward a Climate-Safe Economy for All Workers?

Joe Uehlein, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), has written A Climate Protection Guide to Organized Labor, which summarizes the issues and arguments regarding the role of U.S. labour in the fight against climate change. Joe’s essay also introduces the Labor Landscape Analysis, a “set of tools” compiled by the LNS and consisting of several units. For climate activists not familiar with the labour movement, The Labor-Climate Landscape: A Guided Tour for Worker- and Climate-Protection Advocates explains decision-making in labour unions, relationships in the movement, and the climate change policies of 42 U.S. unions, as well as the role of more than 800 local, regional and national labour leaders. It updates and expands on Labor and Climate Change: A Briefing Paper for Activists (2010). In his introductory essay, Joe Uhelein states: “The threat of global warming requires a different concept of solidarity, one which recognizes the common interest of all workers in climate protection. That concept gives all unions a legitimate role in shaping labor’s climate policy. But it also gives them an obligation to protect the livelihoods and well-being of any workers who might be adversely affected by climate protection policies through a just transition to a climate-safe economy”.