Site C Hydro Dam will go ahead after historic decision by B.C.’s NDP Premier

site-c-project-location-mapBringing an end to years of controversy, in what NDP Premier Horgan called a “very, very divisive issue”, the British Columbia government announced on December 11 that it will proceed with construction of the Site C hydroelectric dam , on the grounds that it is too late to turn back.  In a press release  which blames “megaproject mismanagement by the previous government”, the government justifies its decision by saying that  cancellation would result in  “ an immediate and unavoidable $4-billion bill – with nothing in return – resulting in rate hikes or reduced funds for schools, hospitals and important infrastructure.”  The press release continues with a list of sweeteners for the opponents of the project, announcing that improved project management to keep costs to $10.7 billion; new community benefits programs to keep jobs in local communities and  increase the number of apprentices and First Nations workers hired; a new BC Food Security Fund to help farmers whose land will be negatively affected; and the promise of a new alternative energy strategy for B.C. .

The National Observer provides a brief overview of reaction in “As costs escalate, Horgan says it’s too late to stop Site C mega-project” . CBC News covers the debate and the decision in several articles, including “ John Horgan disappoints both Site C opponents and supporters in northeast B.C.”   and “B.C. government to go ahead with Site C hydroelectric dam project ” which examines the huge political fallout and  states that the Green Party , which holds the balance of power in B.C.’s legislature,  will not  force an election over the issue, despite their opposition to the decision.

Reaction on labour issues :  For mainstream union reaction to the decision, see “Site C: What Happens Next?”  in The Tyee (Dec. 11)  .  The complex labour politics of Site C is summarized in “ Construction Unions Pressing for Completion of Site C” , which appeared earlier in The Tyee,  (Nov. 24) , and takes a deep dive into the ties between the NDP government and  the Allied Hydro Council of BC, a bargaining agent for unions at previous large hydro projects, and an advocate of the  Site C project.  Following the decision, the  Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) stated their “relief” for the go-ahead decision, with the reservation that “Arbitrarily setting apprentice and other workforce ratios will limit contractor flexibility and inevitably drive up costs and slow the construction schedule.”   Similar sentiments appear in the press release from the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) , which represents the majority of Site C workers  under the Open Shop system in place since 2015.

site-c-protest-camp

Photo by Yvonne Tupper, from CBC News

Re the First Nations opposition: “‘A reconciliation fail’: B.C. First Nations promise court action over NDP’s approval of Site C”   at CBC News (Dec. 12), quotes First Nations leaders, including the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and the West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nations, who have already announced that they will apply for a court injunction to halt construction of the project and begin a civil action for Treaty infringement.

A sampling of reaction of environmentalists appears in “Site C a betrayal of First Nations, Ratepayers and Future Generations” (Dec. 11) and in multiple articles at DeSmog Canada https://www.desmog.ca/  . A glimpse of the environmental campaign appears at the Stop Site C website , and the  Wilderness Committee, a member of that campaign, reacts here .

Union conference focus: fighting climate change with innovative campaigns

LNS convergence meetingLabour and climate activists gathered to exchange experiences and plan for future action at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate event, held on September 23-24, under the banner “Building Worker Power to Confront Climate Change.”  The meeting was hosted by the Labor Network for Sustainability (LNS), which  recently released a report on the meetings  summarizing the impressive initiatives and projects,  including:  the Canadian Postal Workers Union proposal Delivering Community Power,  which envisions expansion and re-purposing of the postal station network to provide electric vehicle charging stations, farm-to-table food delivery, and  community banking ; the International Brotherhood of Teamsters described the San Francisco Zero Waste program that now diverts 80% of municipal waste from landfills into recycling and composting and provides union jobs; Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199  described their environmental and climate justice programs, resulting from the impact of disasters  like Superstorm Sandy;  worker training programs at the Net-Zero Energy training facility built by the  International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 in partnership with the Northern California National Electrical Contractors Association; the United Food and Commercial Workers described their experience with the  Good Food Purchasing Policy as a tool for protecting and enhancing labor standards for workers in the food industry and advancing climate justice; and the International Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen profiled their successful Green Diesel campaign to win cleaner fuel engines and a visionary strategy called  “Solutionary Rail” ,  profiled in “How we can turn railroads into a climate solution”  in Grist (March 2017) and in “ Electric Trains everywhere – A Solution to crumbling roads and climate crisis”  in  YES Magazine (May 2017).

Participants at the Second Labor Convergence on Climate included over 130 people –  labour union leaders, organizers, and rank and file activists from 17 unions, 3 state federations/central labor councils and 6 labor support organizations,  as well as environmental and economic justice activists.

New York marks Superstorm Sandy 5-year Anniversary in a big way: Climate Jobs Summit, Clean Energy Jobs Report, and expansion of New York’s Green Bank

Hurricane Sandy Oct 29 2012

Hurricane Sandy Oct 29 2012 – photo from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Climate Jobs Now! Summit was  held on October 27, in partnership with the Office of New York Governor Cuomo, Climate Jobs NY , and the Workers Institute, ILR Cornell University.  The event was built around the theme, Reversing Inequality and Combatting Climate Change: A New Era for States and Regions, with participants and speakers from New York labour unions, government, and climate advocates. The Closing Panel, “Fulfilling the Promise of a Just Transition for All New Yorkers through Clean Energy and Community Resilience” included John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council.   Video of some presentations is available .

Also on October 27, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released the 2017 Clean Energy Industry Report , which found that clean energy jobs employed 146,000 New Yorkers at the end of 2016, distributed as follows:  110,000 jobs in energy efficiency; 22,000 renewable electric power generation; 8,400 alternative transportation;  2,900 renewable fuels, and 1,400 in grid modernization and storage.  Employment growth in clean energy surpassed the economy as a whole, at  3.4% from December 2015 to December 2016, with projected growth to double again to 7% by the end of 2017.    The report also states that the demand exceeds the supply of clean energy workers, with employers reporting  the most difficult positions to fill are  engineers, installers or technicians, and sales representatives.   (In June, Governor Cuomo announced funding for  Workforce Development & Training Programs at campuses of the State University of New York).  

Finally on October 27, a press release  from the Governor’s office announced that the New York Green Bank is seeking to raise at least an additional $1 billion in private-sector funds to expand the availability of financing for clean energy projects. According to the press release, the Green Bank has had  strong interest “from third-party entities like pension funds and insurance companies seeking to use it as an investment vehicle for sustainable infrastructure projects”.  The additional capital  can be invested in projects across the U.S., and the Green Bank is prepared work with other states and NGO’s to establish their own Green Banks.

AFL-CIO Convention adopts historic Climate Change resolution

afl cio sealThe 2017 Convention of the AFL-CIO   took place in St. Louis from October 22 to 25.  In a breakthrough, Resolution 55 on Climate Change, Energy and Union Jobs  was adopted, putting the AFL-CIO “on the  record” as  recognizing the threat of  climate change and acknowledging the need to move to a sustainable alternative energy system.  The resolution also calls for workers impacted by the energy transition to be protected.  The floor debate is available on YouTube , showing supportive speeches by members of  the Utility Workers, IBEW, LIUNA, USW, the Boilermakers, CWA,  AFA, the Montana AFL-CIO and the Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council.  Speaking strongly against the resolution was the General President of the UA, which represents workers in the plumbing and pipefitting trades, including pipeline and energy industry workers. He objected to the exclusion of the UA in the process of drafting the resolution. Resolution 55 was, in fact, a compromise version arrived at by the Executive Council from several resolutions submitted.

From the text of Resolution 55 :  “ THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will fight politically and legislatively to secure and maintain employment, pensions and health care for workers affected by changes in the energy market; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO supports incentives and robust funding for research programs to bring new energy technologies to market, including renewables, carbon capture and advanced nuclear technologies; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO will support the passage of key energy and environmental policies with a focus on ensuring high labor standards, the creation of union jobs and environmental sustainability; and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED,  that the AFL-CIO will continue to urge the United States to remain in the Paris Agreement and to work to ensure that all nations make progress on emissions reductions; and BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the AFL-CIO believes that the United States Congress should enact comprehensive energy and climate legislation that creates good jobs and addresses the threat of climate change.”

The full list of Adopted Resolutions from the 2017 AFL CIO Convention is here. The Labor Network for Sustainability has archived past resolutions by U.S. labour unions to their own conventions here .  LNS President Joe Uehlein stated: “The resolution certainly could have gone further to support climate protection but it is an important and historic step for the U.S. labor movement” .  And from the full statement of reaction by LNS,   The New AFL-CIO Stand on Climate Change: What Does It Mean for Labor and for the Climate?  , which concludes: “Overall, this resolution represents a powerful statement of labor’s stake in protecting the climate.  However, it retains many of the assumptions and approaches that have often put unions at loggerheads with concrete climate protection efforts. Whether it actually represents a new beginning or just old wine in new bottles will largely depend on the growing sector of the labor movement that is committed to putting labor “at the center of creating solutions that reduce emissions while investing in our communities, maintaining and creating high-wage union jobs, and reducing poverty.”

Long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy of the U.K.-missing the workplace viewpoint

The British Government released its Clean Growth Strategy on October 12, outlining  how  it intends to reduce the country’s carbon emissions  by 57 percent between 2020 and 2032. The Guardian summarizes the main provisions in “Draughty homes targeted in UK climate change masterplan” – describing it as “about 50 policies supporting everything from low-carbon power and energy savings to electric vehicles and keeping food waste out of landfill.”  Highlights of the plan are £3.6 billion in funds to support energy efficiency upgrades for about a million homes, and subsidies for offshore wind development.  Also included: £1 billion is promised to encourage use of  electric cars,  £100m to fund research on carbon capture and storage (CCS) and £900 million for energy research and development, almost half of which will go to nuclear power.  The controversial issue of fracking is omitted completely.  For reaction and context, read   “UK climate change masterplan – the grownups have finally won” in The Guardian, or the Campaign against Climate Change response, which  notes that the policies will be insufficient to reduce emissions enough to stay within the UK’s carbon budgets after 2023.

The Secretary General of the Trades Union Congress reacted with this statement: “It has a bunch of targets, but lacks the level of public investment in low carbon infrastructure needed to achieve them. And there is a major blind spot towards working people who will create the clean economy.

“It doesn’t say how workers will get support to retrain if their job is under threat from the move to a low carbon economy. And it doesn’t set out how the government will work in social partnership with trade unions and business – this will be vital to a successful industrial strategy, building carbon capture and storage, and generating green growth.”