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.

AFL-CIO Energy Committee releases letter opposing the Green New Deal

A  letter, dated March 8, was addressed to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez, and signed by  Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America , and Lonnie Stephenson, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, on behalf of the  AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee.  The letter  states :   “..the Green New Deal resolution is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy. It is not rooted in an engineering-based approach and makes promises that are not achievable or realistic.”  “…We want to engage on climate issues in a manner that does not impinge on enacting other labor priorities, especially much-needed infrastructure legislation…”

IBEW congress logoHow they would engage and what they would propose is contained in a position paper posted on the IBEW website, and drafted by the IBEW, UMWA, and five other unions in the electric utility, construction, and rail transport sectors.  The position paper,  Preliminary  Labor Positions on Climate Legislation , states their opposition to carbon tax legislation and grave concerns about the Green New Deal . It calls for comprehensive, economy wide climate legislation which would include an national emissions trading scheme, to be introduced no earlier than 10 years after enacting legislation, to allow for development of Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS)  technologies.  It also calls for worker transition protections, including compensation and retraining.  The policy document was submitted to the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee for the record of their  February 6th meeting:  “Time for Action: Addressing the Economic and Environmental Effects of Climate Change“.

Reaction:  The Washington Post reported:  “AFL-CIO criticizes Green New Deal, calling it ‘not achievable or realistic’” (March 12)  and  in a follow-up piece , “Labor opposition to Green New Deal could be a big obstacle” ( March 14).  The United Mine Workers re-posted the Washington Post article .  Friends of the Earth, in its reaction to the March 8 letter, states “one-fifth of the unions that make up the AFL-CIO energy committee commented on the Green New Deal”,  and,  “With the energy committee’s position, the AFL joins climate deniers like the Koch brothers, the Republican Party and Big Oil. We encourage the AFL and other unions within it to rethink this position.”