Will Workers Be Left Behind in a Green Transition?

By Joe Uehlein
> - May 5, 2009
> As Congress gears up to craft much-needed legislation to protect the
> earth from global warming, many American workers are wondering what it
> will mean for their jobs.
> They may be wondering even more if they hear about the House Energy
> and Commerce Committee's proposal for carbon regulation legislation,
> The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, released March 31.
> It is 648 pages long. But Section 424 on "Worker Transition" has only
> three words: "to be supplied."
> Unfortunately, "transition assistance" in the past has often meant
> little more than a funeral for workers and communities threatened by
> the side effects of globalization, environmental protection and other
> public policies. Without a clear program to protect workers from the
> effects of climate protection, the struggle against global warming can
> all too easily come to be perceived as a struggle against American
> workers.
> Workers have often felt threatened by measures to protect the
> environment. Today such fears are likely to be augmented, especially
> in a time of soaring unemployment, by the large changes necessary to
> protect the planet from global warming.
> Environmentalists have often addressed this challenge by pointing out
> that a transition to clean energy would create far more jobs than it
> would eliminate. While that may be true, it entirely misses the point.
> The fact that some people get new jobs provides little solace for the
> people and communities who have lost theirs.
> As Carl Wood of the Utility Workers Union of America put it at this
> year's Good Jobs, Green Jobs national conference, "Workers are used to
> being ground up and spat out by any change in society. In the United
> States there is no safety net for the victims." He cited mechanics in
> a southeastern Ohio coal-fired power plant represented by his union
> whose jobs would be eliminated by the phasing out of coal as a very
> real example of how climate protection could threaten specific workers
> even if it produced more jobs in general.
> Coal miners and their communities are particularly at risk. In a
> September 2008 op-ed, United Mine Workers of America president Cecil
> Roberts cited a study showing that the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003
> would have reduced coal production by 78 percent by 2025, which would
> have "just about wiped out the coal industry in southern West Virginia
> and elsewhere in Appalachia." He added that the more recent
> Lieberman-McCain bill would have cut Appalachian coal production by 30
> percent or more.
> The current campaign to reduce the use of coal could easily become a
> poster child for the threat posed to workers by climate protection.
> But for that very reason it also provides an opportunity for climate
> protection advocates to paint a picture of themselves as the advocates
> and protectors of miners, railroad workers, utility workers and others
> whose jobs and communities may be threatened by climate protection
> measures.
> Replacing "to be supplied"
> Perhaps surprisingly, some of the best ideas for protecting workers
> and communities hit by the side effects of public policy decisions
> were embodied in legislation championed a few years ago by Republican
> Senator John McCain to protect tobacco workers from the effort to
> reduce tobacco consumption.
> McCain's 1997 Universal Tobacco Settlement Act passed out of committee
> nineteen-to-one but was defeated on the Senate floor. Workers and
> farmers would have received transition assistance from the fund if
> "the implementation of the national tobacco settlement contributed
> importantly to such workers' separation"
> from their jobs. Looking ahead to the next generation, the bill also
> provided education benefits to members of a "tobacco farm family."
> A similar program should be developed for workers who lose their jobs
> because of climate protection policies.
> Rick Wagoner got a cool $23 million for running GM into the ground.
> Coal miners, railroad workers, coal-fired generator workers and others
> displaced by climate protection policies don't expect anything like
> that.
> But they should be able to count on a program like the one McCain
> championed for tobacco workers. And those for whom the program doesn't
> work should at least be guaranteed decent pensions with healthcare.
> Perhaps even more important, the McCain bill provided not just for
> individuals but for hard-hit communities.
> It included a $28 billion industry-funded Tobacco Community
> Revitalization Trust Fund to provide economic development grants over
> a twenty-five year period to create jobs and business opportunities
> for former tobacco workers.
> The same thing could be done now to jump-start the transition from
> coal and other carbon-intensive industries. The stimulus package
> includes an estimated $80 billion for programs that could create green
> jobs.
> A portion of these funds can be used to make eastern Kentucky, West
> Virginia and the rest of the Appalachian coalfield a model of
> job-positive transition from coal to renewable energy and
> conservation. Green jobs can be targeted at the communities that will
> be affected by coal production to create local jobs that will provide
> an alternative source of employment. The statewide network Kentuckians
> For The Commonwealth has spelled out some of the clean energy
> solutions; read the details here.
> 20Solutions%20Work%20for%20Kentucky.pdf
> >
> A green TVA for the green New Deal
> But climate protection legislation should go further.
> During the Great Depression a regional economic development program,
> the Tennessee Valley Authority, transformed one of America's poorest
> regions by means of massive energy development. Seventy-five years
> later, the TVA has lost much of its original vision and become a
> target of environmental protests. But the principle of regional
> economic development through investment in a new energy source can be
> applied to the Appalachian coalfields today.
> A small-scale version of such a post-coal economic development program
> is poised to begin in the Southwest. The closing of a highly polluting
> generating station has provided the owner, Southern California Edison,
> with an estimated $30 million annually in pollution allowances, which
> can be sold under the US Acid Rain Program. The Just Transition
> Coalition, composed primarily of Hopi, Navajo and environmentalist
> allies, developed a plan to use the funds for a transition to
> renewable energy.
> The Just Transition plan would direct 30 percent of the pollution
> credits to local villages to invest in solar, wind and ecotourism; 10
> percent to job retraining; 40 percent to alternative energy
> development and production; and 20 percent to tribal government
> programs previously supported by coal royalties.
> [more information on the Just Transition Coalition:
> ]
> Southern California Edison is regulated by the California Public
> Utilities Commission, which has taken the groundbreaking step of
> ordering that proceeds from pollution allowance sales be put into a
> special account. It then requested proposals from the Just Transition
> Coalition for how the funds should be spent.
> The Hunter Region in Australia is also being proposed as a model for a
> transition from coal to renewable energy. The Greenpeace-funded study,
> "A Just Transition to a Renewable Energy Economy in the Hunter Region,
> Australia," details two scenarios for a renewable energy future.
> n/Just_transition_report_June_30_2008.pdf
> >
> Greenpeace and other environmental organizations have made "just
> transition" a central part of their program for transforming the
> region. According to a Greenpeace publication on Hunter:
> A just transition from coal to renewables requires
> that the federal government support and protect
> coal industry workers as coal-fired power stations
> are phased out. Government support should include
> providing investment in new industries and
> infrastructure, guaranteeing jobs and retraining
> workers so that they can find employment in new
> green industries. With the right government action,
> an energy revolution can provide a way forward for
> coal communities.
> An imaginative program for a transition from coal to green energy
> might win surprisingly wide support. In September three-quarters of
> Kentuckians said they would support a five-year moratorium on
> coal-fired power plants, and 43 percent backed expanding investment in
> clean renewable energy.
> It is a basic principle of fairness that the burden of policies that
> are necessary for society--like protecting the earth's
> climate--shouldn't be borne by a small minority who happen to be
> victimized by their side effects. Unless workers and communities are
> protected against the unintended effects of climate protection, there
> is likely to be a backlash that threatens the whole effort to save the
> planet.
> [Joe Uehlein is the former secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO's
> Industrial Union Department and former director of the AFL-CIO Center
> for Strategic Campaigns; he is a founder and board member of Ceres and
> a member of the National Advisory Board of the Union of Concerned
> Scientists. He is now organizing the Labor Network for Sustainability
> dedicated to rallying trade unionists for economic, social and
> environmental sustainability.]