Colorado Office of Just Transition defers actions for worker protection in new Final Action Plan

In 2019, the State of Colorado established the first state-level Office of Just Transition (OJT)  through House Bill 19-1314 .  As required by that legislation, the OJT  submitted its final Just Transition Action Plan on December 31, 2020, based largely on the Draft Plan submitted by its Just Transition Advisory Committee (JTAC)  in August 2020.  (The structure, mandate, and documentation from the consultation process are  accessible here; an excellent summary is provided by the State press release here .

The December Just Transition Action Plan offers discussion and strategy recommendations organized in three sections: communities; workers; and financing. The estimated cost is $100 million, and the time frame calls for actual closures to finish in 2030. (Perhaps the leisurely schedule will be reviewed in light of events: the Denver Post reported on January 4 that Xcel- Energy announced it will close its Hayden coal plant significantly earlier than planned –  beginning in 2027).  The December Action Plan strategies are dominated by concerns for communities, with six detailed strategies outlined. Recognizing that some communities are more dependent on coal than others, and that average wages are also different across communities, the plan designates four communities as priority Tier One communities, and others as Tier Two communities, as defined in an Appendix. The Hayden plant is located in a Tier One community.

Actions for workers’ benefits, environmental justice are deferred 

Regarding workers, there are 3 action strategies. The Just Transition Advisory Committee made recommendations to provide displaced workers with  temporary benefits related to “wage and health differential” and “wage and health replacement” in  the Draft Plan in August, but the final Plan states: “too much uncertainty remains around cost and scalability for us to feel comfortable advancing this recommendation — especially in the midst of the COVID pandemic and resulting economic downturn.” Instead, the Office for Just Transition:  “will drive a serious process to gain more certainty about costs, scalability, potential sources of funding, and possible alternatives at the state level. And we will engage a broad range of stakeholders in a dialogue about whether the State should implement such a strategy — and how it might do so.” This includes discussions with coal-related employers regarding their willingness to provide severance and retirement benefits.

This Plan also discusses and ultimately deflects and defers responsibility for the environmental justice concerns expressed in the 2019 enabling legislation  , which recognized “a moral commitment” to “the disproportionately impacted communities who have borne the costs of coal power pollution for decades”. This December Plan states: “we agree with the JTAC that these issues are best addressed in that broader context, which is why we are following its suggestion that OJT participate actively in emerging interagency efforts — led largely by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — rather than creating our own independent (and potentially isolated) approach….. OJT will continue to rely on the advice of the Disproportionately Impacted Communities subcommittee of the JTAC, and it will play as active a role as possible in broader interagency efforts. As with our work on behalf of transition communities and workers, this is a long-term challenge to which we make a long-term commitment.”

The final report is summarized in an article in The Colorado Sun , which emphasizes the explicit goal for the Office of Just Transition to “Encourage the federal government to lead with a national strategy for energy transition workers”.  This is perhaps thanks to the leadership of Dennis Dougherty, Chair of the Colorado Just Transition Advisory Committee, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, and through them, a representative to the National Economic Transition project – a grassroots organization of representatives from U.S. coal communities.  That ongoing project released a National Economic Transition Platform in the summer of 2020 .

Lobbying Joe Biden for climate action, and what it means for Canada

Despite the chaos in post-election politics of the United States, Joe Biden is the legitimate President-elect of the United States, and his climate change platform was an important factor in his victory.  As his Transition team prepares for inauguration in January 2021, environmental and climate change groups are among those advocating for appointments and policies. Prominent among these: The Climate Mandate, a joint initiative of the Sunrise Movement  and Justice Democrats . On November 11, Climate Mandate issued a statement saying:  “We can unite our nation by solving the crises we have in common: COVID-19, climate change, systemic racism and an economic recession. Joe Biden must command the federal government with fierce urgency and bold creativity….  This is Biden’s FDR moment”.  A top demand of the Climate Mandate movement:  the creation of a Climate Mobilization Office  – “with wide-reaching power to combat the climate crisis — just as we mobilized to defeat the existential threat of Nazi Germany in WWII.”  The CMO “will convene and coordinate across the President’s Cabinet agencies and, ultimately, hold every federal department accountable to the national project of stopping climate change. The Office of Climate Mobilization will deeply embed this mission into all of our spending, regulations, policies, and actions.”  Top picks suggested to lead the Climate Mobilization Office:  Washington Governor Jay InsleeGina McCarthy , now Head of the Natural Resources Defence Council and former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, or John Podesta, founder of the American Center for Progress and a counsellor to President Obama and Chief of Staff to President Clinton.

Other names which appear in the Climate Mandate wish list include Bernie Sanders , their top pick for Secretary of Labor; environmental justice champion Mustafa Santiago Ali to lead the Environmental Protection Agency; and  two union officials:  Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), as an alternate choice for Secretary of Labor, and Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA as a second choice for Secretary of Transportation.

The Climate 21 Project is a second group with proposals for Joe Biden.  A  group of more than 150 people, Climate 21 Project is co-chaired by Christy Goldfuss, a former Obama official and now with the Center for American Progress, and Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University. The Summary of their Recommendations regarding the transition is here  , accompanied by eleven memos for each of the relevant departments and agencies .

Finally, Greenpeace USA released its Just Recovery Agenda on November 17, directed at Joe Biden.  Broader than climate and environmental issues, “the  Just Recovery Agenda includes more than 100 concrete policy recommendations spanning both legislation and executive action aimed at creating a world in which everyone has a good life and where our fundamental needs — including dignified work, healthcare, education, housing, clean air and water, healthy food, and more — are met.” Detailed policy proposals are here .

Here are a few general reactions and assessments of the climate future since Biden’s election: Initial Thoughts on the Impact of the 2020 Federal Elections on National Climate Policy by Joel Stronberg (Nov. 5);  “Election likely hardens political limits of Biden climate agenda” by Amy Harder in Axios (Nov. 5);   “State Climate Leadership Is Coming to the Nation’s Capital in 2021” in a Center for American Progress blog (Nov. 9) and “How Joe Biden plans to use executive powers to fight climate change”  in Vox (Nov. 9); and “Trump Rolled Back 100+ Environmental Rules. Biden May Focus on Undoing Five of the Biggest Ones” in Inside Climate News (Nov. 17) .

Canada greets Joe Biden and his climate plans

The National Observer maintained a Special Report section  about the U.S. election, including an overview of reactions in  “Ottawa welcomes president-elect Joe Biden as climate fight ally” (Nov. 9) -including comments from politicians (Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and former Minister Catherine McKenna, as well as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs ) along with policy experts Blair Feltmate and Sara Hastings-Simon. A good summary of the most important climate issues appears in  “The Biden presidency could change the terms of the climate debate in Canada”  by Aaron Wherry at CBC (Nov. 10).

In  “Five ways the Biden presidency could change Canadian climate policy for the better in CCPA’s Behind the Numbers (Nov. 12), Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood gives an overview, stating:

“For the past four years, a recalcitrant U.S. administration provided cover for Canadian politicians to water down and delay climate policies. With Biden in the White House, the situation may be reversed. Even if the new president only achieves a portion of his ambitious climate agenda, Canada risks falling behind in the transition to a net-zero carbon economy. …. Biden’s plan could energize Canada’s international climate agenda, could accelerate the growth of Canada’s clean economy, curb fossil fuel infrastructure, strengthen Canada’s carbon pricing system, and strengthen Canadian environmental regulations.”

Whether  Canada can compete with U.S. clean technology industry if the U.S. starts to ramp up its spending is a topic raised  in  “Biden’s victory raises the clean growth stakes for Canada”  (Nov. 7) by Sara Hastings-Simon and  Rachel Samson of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices.  In “What Joe Biden’s Climate plan means for Canada” in The Conversation (Nov. 12),  Robert O’Brien of McMaster University focuses on the prospects for the oil and gas industry and the Keystone XL pipeline, flowing from Biden’s remark that “I would transition from the oil industry, yes.”  O’Brien considers the implications for Indigenous communities, workers and communities in that transition.  Will Greaves of University of Victoria focuses on the oil and gas industry and protection of the Arctic in  “What a Biden Presidency means for Climate Change and Canada” in Policy Options  (Nov. 10) .

Another analysis, from a trade perspective, appears  in Behind the Numbers“Biden’s Buy American Plan should inspire – not scare – Canada” (Oct 25) . Author Scott Sinclair argues that Buy American policies are  not likely to go away, and if you can’t beat ‘em, you should learn from them. “ Canadians can no longer afford to disregard or neglect considerable potential of government purchasing for job creation, improved working conditions and environmentally sustainable development. Given our current trade treaty constraints, ambitious “Buy Sustainable” purchasing policies offer the best way forward for Canadian workers and the environment.”

 

Two reports forecast millions of new jobs based on Sierra Club proposals for green investment

A study released by the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C. on October 20 examines the employment impacts of trade and investment policies proposed by the Alliance for American Manufacturing, in combination with a modified version of policies proposed by the Sierra Club – $2 trillion over 4 years invested in  infrastructure, clean energy, and energy efficiency improvements.  The EPI report, Rebuilding American manufacturing—potential job gains by state and industry, Analysis of trade, infrastructure, and clean energy/ energy efficiency proposals, concludes that the combined trade policy reforms and clean economy investments would result in  6.9 million direct and indirect jobs by 2024. Noting that 91.6% of clean energy and energy efficiency investments are for manufactured products, the authors further forecast what industries and sub-sectors would benefit, with state-by-state statistics. They conclude that, of the 6.9 million forecast jobs, 2.5 million would be widely distributed across the U.S. in the manufacturing industry, with 36.4% concentrated in high-wage jobs.

The Sierra Club proposals underlying the EPI scenario were made to the U.S. Congress during their deliberations on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act , in April 2020.  These proposals  were also analyzed by Pollin and Chakraborty  in a report published in September by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at University of Massachusetts Amherst . The Pollin Chakraborty report, Job Creation Estimates Through Proposed Economic Stimulus Measures , used a 10 year time frame, investing  $683 billion per year in infrastructure, clean energy and energy efficiency, as well as agriculture and land restoration programs and, notably, the “Care economy, public health, and postal service” . Their resulting projection of 16 million new jobs appears in the platform of the THRIVE Agenda , an economic renewal plan for the U.S. created in September 2020 by the Green New Deal Network and endorsed by more than 100 climate justice, civil rights and labour organizations.

Final note: Robert Pollin , Noam Chomsky, and C.J. Polychroniou released a new book in September, Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet, published by Verso Press.

Launch of a new research program on Just Transition in the U.S.

In early August, Resources for the Future and the Environmental Defense Fund launched a new research initiative examining Just Transition policies and programs in the U.S., introduced and described here.  A series of reports and blogs are promised, with a final synthesis report, though timing is not announced.  Also in the works, case studies of three US communities in which coal was their economic base: southeastern Ohio (in partnership with Ohio University); Colstrip, Montana (in partnership with Montana State University); and Tonawanda, New York. Some of the questions the research will address: “How is the existing system of interlocking federal workforce development programs structured, and how effective has it been? What have been the environmental and economic effects of clean energy deployment policies? What role can environmental remediation policies play in facilitating a just transition while also addressing the legacy of environmental racism?”

The first report, released on August 11, is Economic Development Policies to Enable Fairness for Workers and Communities in Transition, summarized in this blog . The report describes programs and assesses their effectiveness on local economic development, with programs grouped into two broad categories differentiated by geographic and/or economic scope.  Those examined include programs by the Appalachian Regional Commission, and federal departments including the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, the Department of Interior’s Secure Rural Schools, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, the Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, and the Small Business Administration.  In common with many other studies, the report concludes that “Coordination across government agencies and with local stakeholders is a vital part of an economic development program’s success.”

25 million jobs forecast by electrifying American buildings, industry, and vehicles

Mobilizing for a Zero-Carbon America  was released in July as the  launch to a new project called Rewiring America.  The report details a strategy which would create 25 million jobs over an intense transition period of three to five years, and 5 million jobs in the subsequent maintenance phase.  Likening the intense mobilization phase to World War 2, the authors call for electrification of almost everything: “The grid would need to be expanded because almost everything would run on electricity, and making it so would require a great many workers…..That will need millions of miles of new and upgraded transmission and distribution to get to the end user. Finally on the demand side, we’ll need to electrify our 250 million vehicles, 130 million households, 6 million trucks, all of manufacturing and industrial processes, and 5.5 million commercial buildings covering 90 billion square feet. ” …..The transition can be done using existing technology and American workers. Indeed, work such as retrofitting and electrifying buildings will by necessity have to be done by American workers in America. No outsourcing. The jobs will be created in a range of sectors, from installing solar panels on roofs to electric vehicles to streamlining how we manufacture products. They will also be highly distributed geographically. Every zip code in America has hundreds, if not thousands, of buildings ripe for electrification in the years to come.”  The full report Mobilizing for Zero-carbon America  is here ; the Executive Summary is here .

The report was summarized and analyzed by David Roberts at Vox, in “How to drive fossil fuels out of the US economy, quickly” (Aug. 6). Roberts, a well-respected climate journalist, states: “Griffith’s work is among the most interesting contributions to the climate discussion in ages”. Roberts’ article is a detailed examination of the data, modelling, and political context of the report, and contends that the job projections are not as important as the underlying argument that it is possible to eliminate 70 to 80 percent of US carbon emissions by 2035 through rapid deployment of five existing electrification technologies:   wind and solar power plants, rooftop solar, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and batteries.