Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

How Unions and Climate Organizers Learned To Work Together in New York

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Rachel CohenSeveral years before Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) elevated the climate, jobs and justice framework to the national level, a coalition of labor, environmental and community groups joined together to push for a pioneering climate bill in New York.

The idea for the legislation came in the immediate aftermath of the 2014 People’s Climate March, when organizers decided to build on the momentum of the historic demonstration. In 2016 the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) was born, an expansive bill that would require New York to generate half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The bill would also mandate that 40 percent of New York’s climate funding go towards projects in low-income, vulnerable communities, and require all green projects to have high labor standards, including the requirement for a prevailing wage.

“It’s among the most aggressive decarbonization proposals in the nation,” said Arielle Swernoff, the communications coordinator for New York Renews, a coalition of over 170 state groups backing the legislation. “The only state that has really done something comparable is Hawaii.”

New York Renews offers an encouraging example of how labor and environmental groups can work together to act on climate change. The coalition has the backing of unions like 32BJ Service Employees International Union—a property service workers union, the New York State Nurses Association, the New York State Amalgamated Transit Union, Teamsters Joint Council 16 and the Communications Workers of America Local 1108. It also has the support of a vast number of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates of New York and GreenFaith.

The bill’s strong language around labor—such as requiring that government contracts include mechanisms for resolving disputes and ensuring labor harmony—has helped quell opposition from building trade unions that typically fight robust climate proposals. The New York AFL-CIO, a labor federation representing 3,000 state affiliates, has notably stayed quiet on the bill.

Nella Pineda-Marcon, the chair of the Climate Justice and Disaster Relief committee with the New York State Nurses Association, told In These Times that it was an easy decision for her union to back the CCPA. Her union, which represents 43,000 nurses statewide, got very involved with the climate crisis following Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The following year, Pineda-Marcon traveled to the Philippines as a first-responder to Typhoon Haiyan. “We are on the front lines of this crisis, we see first-hand the destruction it has,” she explained. “And the massive amounts of pollutants in our air are driving up rates of chronic asthma in our most vulnerable communities… We need to lead now and the rest of the world can follow us.”

The politics of the CCPA are coming to a head as the deadline for passage ends June 19. The bill passed the state Assembly in 2016, 2017 and 2018 — and last year a majority of state senators signed on in support. But the Senate Leader never allowed it to come to the floor for a vote. After the 2018 midterms, however, when progressive Democrats ousted a group of centrists who often caucused with Republicans, advocates felt the stars were aligning more favorably for the CCPA’s passage this year.

Indeed, in January the new Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins released a statement calling the CCPA “the main vehicle through which we will address climate change.” The state senate held its first-ever hearing on climate change in February, led by Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D), the new Environmental Conservation Committee chairman.

Various scientists testified, including Mathias Vuille, a professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at the University of Albany and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Vuille explained that the most significant impact resulting from a changing climate in New York so far has been the rise of intense storms, which have increased in frequency in the Northeast more than any other region in the United States. Sea levels along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts have also risen much higher than the global average, he said, pointing to a rise in New York sea levels by 280 millimeters over the 20th century, compared to a global average increase of 170 millimeters.

While Vuille cautioned that he’s neither a renewable energy specialist nor an economist, he said “we owe it to future generations” to continue leading the transition off fossil fuels, and emphasized a need to reduce emissions in the transportation sector in particular. “I think this can be done if we really have the will,” he said.

Some labor advocates, like Mike Gendron, the executive vice president of Communications Workers of America Local 1108, also testified in support of the CCPA. “As we transition from fossil fuel based energy to renewable energy, we must make sure that the jobs created, are good paying union jobs with proper training, for both new workers and transitioning workers,” he said. “The New York State Climate and Community Protection Act will help make that happen.”

Other unions offered more qualified support, endorsing specific sections of the legislation. Ellen Redmond, representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), testified that her union does in fact believe the CCPA contains commendable language around workers’ rights. “We do believe the labor protections are strong,” she said, though suggested it could be even better if there were more teeth and real dollars behind it. IBEW represents about 50,000 members in New York, many of whom work in the utilities industry.

Mark Brueggenjohann, a spokesperson for the IBEW, told In These Times that his union didn’t have anything new to add to Redmond’s February testimony and doesn’t “anticipate any further statements” this month.

State senators also heard from industry groups that raised concerns, like Mitch Paley, testifying on behalf of the New York State Builders Association. Paley said while his colleagues support some aspects of the CCPA, they object to the prevailing wage requirements which would, by their own estimate, increase residential projects by 35 to 45%. The mandated solar requirements for new homes, he added, could increase the cost of each project by $10,000. This would “dramatically affect the ability to promote affordable homes in our region,” he argued.

Darren Suarez, the senior director of government affairs for the Business Council of New York State testified against the bill, arguing that the proposed legislation would “increase energy costs, operational costs, and create uncertainty, compromising the global competitiveness of energy-intensive, trade-exposed industries.” He insisted the bill’s goals are not practical, and that the manufacturing sector should be included in developing the state’s climate policies.

A study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst found that New York transitioning to a 100 percent renewable economy could support 160,000 direct and indirect jobs initially and an average of about 150,000 in each year over the first decade. The institute also estimates that New York’s fossil fuel workforce is relatively small, comprised of roughly 13,000 individuals, out of a statewide workforce of around 9 million.

A threatening factor for CCPA supporters is that the state’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has introduced his own more moderate climate bill—the Climate Leadership Act. His legislation calls for the electricity sector to be carbon-free by 2040, but does not lay out a concrete plan for other sectors that emit greenhouse gas, like transportation. The two bills are dividing Democrats in Albany. Advocates for CCPA say Cuomo’s bill does not go far enough, and it’s imperative to legislate specific climate goals, so they are not “at the whim of the executive” anymore.

Swernoff of New York Renews says the governor’s office has expressed discomfort specifically with the prevailing wage standard for all green projects, the 40% investment into vulnerable and low-income communities, and setting a timeline for the whole economy, as opposed to just for electricity.

New York federal legislators are ramping up pressure on state lawmakers to pass the CCPA. On June 4, eleven Congressional representativesfrom New York, including Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Velázquez, sent a letter in support of the bill. “We believe the people-led Climate and Community Protection Act before you in Albany presents…an opportunity for New York,” they wrote. “An opportunity to cure the injustices of the past and to secure, with intent, a just transition into the future.” On June 5, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand sent her own letter in support of the bill.

Maritza Silva-Farrell, executive director of ALIGN, a steering committee member of New York Renews and the New York affiliate of Jobs with Justice, said she knows lawmakers are taking the CCPA very seriously right now, and she’s “hopeful this year its passage will become a reality.”

When it comes to the governor signing the bill, Silva-Farrell says she is less sure. “You never know where he’s going to be on an issue,” she said. “But one thing that is very clear is that if he wants to leave a strong legacy for his family, for his kids, and his grandkids, he should get behind this.”

This article was originally published by In These Times on June 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel M. Cohen is a journalist based in Washington D.C. Follow her on Twitter @rmc031

Why Unions Must Bargain Over Climate Change

Wednesday, March 13th, 2019

Union contract negotiations include mandatory and permissive subjects of bargaining. Employers are required by law to negotiate over mandatory subjects—wages, benefits and working conditions. Permissive subjects, such as decisions about which public services will be provided and how, have historically been the purview of management. We only negotiate over how managerial decisions affect members’ jobs. Employers may voluntarily agree to negotiate permissive subjects, but unions can’t legally strike over them.

In recent years, some unions have embraced “bargaining for the common good,” which use the union campaign to win broad, righteous public benefits. The best current example of this is the Los Angeles teachers’ strike, which opposed the underfunding, privatization and overcrowding of schools—all of which hurt students. Common good goals often bump against the constraints of what is legally bargainable. For instance, does a demand from teachers’ unions that school districts use district-owned property to fund and build affordable housing for teachers affect working conditions? While shortages of affordable housing affect teachers very directly, how school districts use their land and invest their money is normally considered a managerial prerogative.

But last fall’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a game-changer. It concludes that humanity has 12 years to cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius—and avoid civilization-threatening consequences of climate change. There is a lot of space between projected best- and worst-case future scenarios. It’s the difference between bad and apocalyptic. That space represents hundreds of millions of people dying. Avoiding worst-case scenarios, in strictly scientific terms, requires everyone to do everything, immediately.

The looming timeline of the IPCC report means unions must have a right to bargain over climate change, especially in the public sector. What good is it to negotiate the assignment of overtime when the sky is on fire? Does a public employer really want to claim that its direct complicity in the potential collapse of civilization has no bearing on working conditions? Can government claim that abandoning its workforce to die or flee their homes doesn’t affect working conditions? If employers don’t accept that every choice made today affects the near future, they’re denying science. Local and state governments in Democratic strongholds may find it politically challenging to posture about resisting Republicanism nationally while denying the local implications of that stance.

Thanks to the Sunrise Movement and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the Green New Deal provides a framework for us to declare our part in everyone doing everything immediately. The Green New Deal calls for a government-funded jobs program to carry out a just transition to a carbon-free economy at the rates called for by the IPCC report. This is a perfect common good framework for unions to respond to the most urgent challenge of our time, while simultaneously promoting a high-functioning public sector as antidote to neoliberalism’s degradation of public services.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021, the union where I work, supported the campaign to divest the San Francisco pension plan from fossil fuels and to stop a new coal shipping terminal at the Port of Oakland. In my union, we advance our goals on parallel tracks via collective bargaining and public policy, using each to reinforce the other. The nexus between the functions of local government, climate change and jobs goes even further. San Francisco has already made significant commitments on many of these initiatives, and plans to do more. A local government Green New Deal collective bargaining platform would include climate mitigation strategies to reduce emissions:

  • Divest pensions from the fossil fuel industry.
  • Convert to 100 percent renewables for utilities.
  • Retrofit public buildings for energy efficiency and disaster resilience.
  • Immediately transition to renewable energy vehicles for public buses, transit and car fleets, which could achieve that critical 1.5 degrees Celsius target.
  • Plant trees and expand parks and bike infrastructure.
  • Fund and expand public transit.
  • Reduce carbon emissions in food procurement by public agencies by encouraging local, real food, and reducing meat.

It would also include climate adaptation strategies to prepare vulnerable communities to survive coming floods, fires, droughts and diseases:

  • Mandate inclusion of climate change in land use and planning.
  • Build climate-adaptive infrastructure.
  • Develop procedures and train personnel on emergency response, especially to care for our unhoused neighbors.

Perhaps the best climate policy is transit-oriented, high-density affordable housing. It reduces commute times, and helps public workers and the people who depend on their services. In San Francisco, public services suffer from housing costs as workers move away and commute further distances. Housing drives teacher turnover, makes buses late because the Municipal Transportation Authority can’t hire drivers, and compromises emergency response when many first responders live far away.

For unions dealing with State governments, a Green New Deal platform might also include:

  • Funds for wildfire response and prevention, including forestry, strengthening oversight of utility regulators, and firefighters, all of which are carried out by public workers. Since wildfires are both the consequences of climate change and the cause of more accelerating carbon emissions, state government needs greater investments in rapid response.
  • Funds to support indigenous people to do forest management.
  • The transformation of private utilities into public agencies.
  • Funds for climate research at public universities.
  • The promotion of unionization in green jobs like electric car manufacturing and solar.

One obstacle to bargaining the Green New Deal is buy-in from members. Union members, like a lot of us, worry about climate change but are demoralized that it is too vast for them to do anything about. They’ve taken it on the chin from neoliberalism for a long time, so have urgent goals about fighting to protect public services from privatization and their jobs from being dragged yet further down in a race to the bottom. Tackling the Green New Deal can understandably feel like one more burden added to an already stuffed agenda.

Unions have long been waging defensive fights to maintain basic workplace protections in an era of austerity, but we’re changing. Where common good strategies succeed, most recently showcased with the Los Angeles teacher strikes, the membership’s readiness to strike for the community resulted from lengthy deep internal education, organizing and coalition-building. Union leadership would need to see the Green New Deal as a tool against austerity politics. We’d need to educate members about their collective power to make a difference on the most fundamental crises of our time—and raise expectations of what an expanded public sector could do.

The Green New Deal is basically the reverse of Naomi Klein’s concept of the “shock doctrine,” which refers to the process whereby capitalists take advantage of crises to reorder policies in their interests. Civilization is menaced by the Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse: climate change and inequality. Inequality is so bad that the richest 400 Americans own more wealth than the poorest 60 percent. The percentage of young people who will earn more than their parents is plunging. Public workers and their unions belong at the center of the solution to both. The policies of a Green New Deal require a robust and well-funded public sector with good union jobs. Because of the nature of public sector work, an expanded public sector as part of a Green New Deal disproportionately benefitswomen and people of color.

On Friday, the AFL-CIO issued a letter criticizing the Green New Deal, apparently on behalf of building trades unions who work in the fossil fuel business. Those unions are inexplicably concerned that the Green New Deal’s expressed goals of meeting the challenge of climate change with a job guarantee to protect affected workers doesn’t include them. Contrary to labor skeptics who think the labor movement is hopeless, labor critics of the Green New Deal are optimists, believing that there are in fact jobs on a dead planet.

Any seasoned union campaigner worth her salt loves a contract fight because it has a hard deadline that focuses everyone’s attention—expiration and a strike threat. We already know that the ruling class’ answer to climate change is doomsday bunkers for billionaires, while the vast majority become climate refugees. For the rest of us, every labor victory in recent years has involved worker militancy and broad demands that link workers with their communities. Similarly, throughout history, every significant social movement has found an expression in labor struggles. The climate crisis will be no different. Climate science gives us a new deadline and an opportunity to show that we’re up to the task. We have 12 years.

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Nato Green is a standup comedian, writer, and Campaign Coordinator for SEIU Local 1021 in San Francisco.

Groups Petition OSHA to Issue Heat Standard

Wednesday, July 18th, 2018

Peggy Frank, a 63-year-old California postal worker — and also a mother and grandmother — died last week while working her usual route in unusually hot weather. Frank’s heat-related death was not a freak occurrence, nor was it unusual.

“An average of more than 2.2 million workers in the agriculture or construction industries worked in extreme heat each day,” according to according to a report released yesterday by Public Citizen, in support of a petition by more than 130 organizations for an OSHA heat standard.  High heat — and especially working in high heat — can cause serious heat-related illnesses and death. It can also worsen other conditions such as heart disease and asthma.

The report cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics which concludes that “exposure to excessive environmental heat stress killed 783 U.S. workers and seriously injured 69,374 workers from 1992 through 2016,” and these numbers are probably significantly underestimated because many heat-related deaths are registered as heart attacks. Construction workers and farm workers are the occupations most at risk.

Although it seems hard to believe, almost 50 years after OSHA was created, the agency still has no occupational heat standard. High heat has been plaguing workers for a long, long time — pretty much since God said “Let there be light.” We’ve known about the hazards of heat stroke and how to prevent them for a long time as well.

And, of course, the problem has gotten much worse since the beginning of time. The groups petitioning OSHA — which include Public Citizen, Farmworker Justice, Interfaith Worker Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, United Farm Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers Union and several other labor unions —  tied the need for an OSHA heat standard to global warming which is significantly increasing the risk to workers. The petition noted that

Global warming is resulting in more frequent days of extreme heat, and record-breaking summers are now becoming the norm. 2017 was the second-hottest year on record, surpassed only by 2016. Indeed, 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001…. Record-setting years will be common in the coming decades, as temperatures are projected to increase by 2.5°F (1.4°C) for the period 2021–2050 relative to 1976–2005 even if we aggressively reduce greenhouse gas pollution worldwide.

Groups Petition OSHA For A Heat Standard

Yesterday, more than 130 organizations announced a petition to OSHA for a heat standard that would protect workers from the hazards of high heat.  Joining the press conference were former OSHA Directors Dr. Eula Bingham and Dr. David Michaels as well as former California/OSHA Director Ellen Widess. The press conference, which included the passionate statement of a man whose brother died of heat exposure, can be heard here.

Federal OSHA, which concluded that extreme heat was a factor in the deaths of at least six workers in 2017, has been concerned about the problem for many years. The agency launched a national heat education campaign in 2012, following successful efforts to prevent heat-related deaths among workers cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.  OSHA borrowed CalOSHA’s  their “Water, Rest, Shade” campaign and developed a cell-phone heat app, that would analyze the hazards of heat for workers in their geographical area, and recommend measures to protect themselves. (Available from the Apple Store or from Google Play.)  OSHA also increased enforcement under its General Duty Clause, which the agency uses when there is no standard. But, according to former OSHA head David Michaels, the Obama administration declined to launch rulemaking for a heat standard due to lack of time and resources while working on the silica, beryllium and other OSHA standards issued during the last administration.

Three OSHA state-plan states — CaliforniaWashington, and Minnesota (indoor) — have heat standards, leaving 130 million workers in the rest of the country who lack the protections of a national OSHA heat standard. The military also has strict heat standards and in 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)  issued the third version of its criteria for a recommended heat standard “which includes the following elements: heat stress threshold, rest breaks, hydration, shade, heat acclimatization plan, PPE, exposure monitoring, hazard notification, worker training, medical monitoring, injury surveillance, and recordkeeping.”

The report and petition argue that federal OSHA’s current efforts and voluntary activities are not enough. The report points out that an OSHA analysis of heat-related fatality cases show that “17 of 23 fatalities (74 percent) involved workers who were in their first three days on the job, and eight (35 percent) victims were on the very first day of work,” because employer did not follow industry recommendations to allow workers to acclimatize, or get used to the heat for a few days before heavy work.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), who spoke at the press conference,  promised to introduce legislation that would require OSHA to issue a heat standard.

The petition outlined a number of elements of an OSHA heat standard, which would reqiure employers to:

  1. Provide mandatory rest breaks with increased frequency in times of extreme heat and significant exertion.
  2. Provide access to shaded and otherwise cool conditions for employees to rest during breaks.
  3. Provide personal protective equipment, such as water-cooled and air-cooled garments.
  4. Make provisions for adequate hydration.
  5. Implement heat acclimatization plans to help new workers safely adjust to hot conditions.
  6. Regularly monitor both the environmental heat load and employees’ metabolic heat loads during hot conditions.
  7. Medically monitor at-risk employees.
  8. Notify employees of heat stress hazards.
  9. Institute a heat-alert plan outlining procedures to follow when heat waves are forecast.
  10. Train workers on heat stress risks and preventive measures.
  11. Maintain and report records relating to this standard.
  12. Institute whistleblower protection programs to ensure that employees who witness violations of the heat stress safety standard are free to speak up.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on July 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

Workers Want a Green Economy, Not a Dirty Environment

Monday, June 5th, 2017

To justify withdrawing from the Paris climate change accord, President Trump said during his press conference yesterday, “I was elected to represent the city of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” From terrible experience, Pittsburghers know about pollution.

Before Pittsburgh’s renaissance, the streetlights Downtown frequently glowed at noon to illuminate sidewalks through the darkness of smoke and soot belched from mills. White collar office workers changed grimy shirts midday. To the west 130 miles, the polluted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland burned – several times.

Pollution sickened and killed. It triggered asthma and aggravated emphysema. In Donora, just south of Pittsburgh, an air inversion in 1948 trapped smog in the Monongahela River valley.  Poisonous steel mill and zinc plant emissions mixed with fog and formed a yellow earth-bound cloud so dense that driving was impossible. Within days, 20 people were dead. Within a month, another 50 of the town’s 14,000 residents succumbed.

Some viewed pollution as a blessing, a harbinger of jobs. Air that tasted of sulfur signified paychecks. For most, though, pollution was a curse. It meant scrubbing the grime off stoops daily. It meant children wheezing and gasping for air. It meant early death.

The preventable deaths are why my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), has fought against pollution for decades, long before scientists conclusively linked it to global climate change. That connection made combatting pollution even more urgent. It crystalized our obligation to save the planet for posterity. Signing the Paris Climate Accord last year committed the United States to preserving what we all share, the water and the air, for our children and their children. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement moves the United States, and the world, back in time to rivers so toxic they burn and air so noxious it poisons. Trump’s retreat makes America deadly again.

Don’t get me wrong. The USW supports job creation. But the union believes clean air pays; clear water provides work. Engineers design smokestack scrubbers, skilled mechanics construct them and still other workers install them. Additional workers install insulation and solar panels. Untold thousands labor to make the steel and other parts for wind turbine blades, towers and nacelles, fabricate the structures and erect them. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord diminishes these jobs and dispatches the innovators and manufacturers of clean technologies overseas where countries that continue to participate in the climate change agreement will nurture and grow them.

Eleven years ago, the USW joined with the Sierra Club to form the BlueGreen Alliance because USW members believe Americans deserve both a clean environment and good jobs. The USW believes Americans must have both. Or, in the end, they will have neither.

The Alliance, which now includes more than a dozen unions and environmental groups, has collaborated with industry leaders to find solutions to climate change in ways that create high -quality jobs.

It’s an easy sell to many corporate leaders. Shortly after the election last fall, hundreds of companies and investors, including the likes of Nike and Starbucks, signed a letter asking Trump to abandon his campaign rhetoric about withdrawing from the Paris Accord.

In April, more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, including giants Google, BP and Shell, also wrote Trump urging against reneging on nation’s climate commitment. They said that because the agreement requires action by all countries, it reduces the risk of competitive imbalances for U.S. companies that comply with environmental regulations.

More recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook told Trump that disavowing the accord would injure U.S. business, the economy and the environment. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told Trump that if he turned his back on the accord, Musk would resign from two White House advisory boards.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, also urged Trump to keep the United States’ commitments under the 195-nation pact, rather than joining Syria as an outlier. Syria and Nicaragua are the only non-signatory countries, but Nicaragua declined to sign because its leaders felt the accord was not strong enough.

The streetlights never switch on at noon in Pittsburgh anymore. The Cuyahoga River now supports fish that live only in clean water. Donora’s sole reminder of those dark days in October of 1948 is a Smog Museum.

But the United States remains the world’s second-largest greenhouse gas polluter. It has an obligation to lead the world in combating climate change. Great leaders don’t shirk responsibility.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on June 2, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers.

Trump targets USDA with some of the deepest proposed budget cuts

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017

President Donald Trump ran on a platform of giving a voice to rural voters who felt forgotten by politicians in Washington. But his proposed budget, released on Tuesday, proposes deep cuts to crucial Department of Agriculture programs that many rural residents, and farmers, depend on.

The budget proposes an almost 21 percent cut to the USDA, the third-largest percentage cut proposed for any agency, behind the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. It would cut crop insurance?—?which pays farmers for losses due to extreme weather, or compensates farmers for loss if prices are higher than guaranteed at the time of harvest?—?by 36 percent, far deeper cuts than were proposed under the Obama administration. And it proposes to “streamline” conservation programs, while eliminating the rural development program aimed at bringing infrastructure, technology, and utilities to rural communities.

“The Budget Proposal guts the USDA by 21 percent and makes further cuts to programs, all of which will leave rural and urban farmers, low-income families, and taxpayers more vulnerable,” Mike Lavender, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement.

The proposed budget zeroes out programs like the USDA’s Farm Safety program, which seeks to reduce farm sector injuries by training workers in how to properly use farming equipment. It also eliminates programs like the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s watershed protection projects, which helps both protect sensitive watersheds from environmental degradation, like soil runoff, and helps rural communities respond to natural disasters like floods.

“Agriculture is a risky business, and we absolutely need an adequate safety net for farmers while also providing incentives that will accelerate adoption of conservation practices,” Callie Eideberg, senior policy manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress via email. “Eliminating any program that helps farmers increase resiliency and protect natural resources is a shortsighted decision that can have harmful consequences.”

Key research programs aimed at helping farmers adapt to the changing climate?—?like programs that offer grants to farmers interested in experimenting with innovative conservation techniques?—?would also face deep cuts under the proposed budget. More than $33 million would be cut from agricultural research programs like the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which provides grants for agricultural sciences, and the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SARE), which helps farmers fund conservation projects.

“The budget would slash funding for key agricultural research and conservation programs, undermining the ability of farmers to sustain their land and their livelihoods for the future,” Lavender said.

Cuts to USDA research programs would hardly be the first time the Trump administration showed science to be a low priority for the agency. Trump is expected to name Sam Clovis, a conservative talk-show host that denies the scientific consensus on climate change, to be the USDA’s undersecretary of research, education and economics. That would put Clovis in charge of the USDA’s entire scientific mission, including research programs aimed at helping farmers respond to climate change. Current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also denies the scientific consensus on climate change, calling climate science “a running joke among the public” in a 2014 op-ed published in the National Review.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Trump budget does not specify what will become of one of the Obama administration’s signature climate-focused programs within the USDA, the regional climate hubs, which connect farmers with on-the-ground information about climate science and adaptation in their region. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney did say on Tuesday, however, that the budget at large was aimed at decreasing the “crazy” climate spending of the Obama administration.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on May 23, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Natasha Geiling is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Contact her at ngeiling@americanprogress.org.

Trump’s rollback of environmental rules will fail to bring back coal, report says

Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

“Can Coal Make a Comeback?” asks a new report by Columbia University researchers.

Spoiler alert: In its first few pages, the report states that President Donald Trump will almost certainly fail to bring jobs back to coal country or dramatically boost coal production.

Rolling back environmental regulations, as the Trump administration frantically sought to do during its first 100 days, will not “materially improve” economic conditions in the nation’s coal communities, according to the report.

During Trump’s presidential campaign, he repeatedly vowed to end a “war on coal” allegedly waged by the Obama administration. But as long as natural gas prices remain at or near current levels, U.S. coal consumption will continue to decline despite the Trump administration’s plans to roll back Obama-era regulations, the report says.

“Responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the coal sector?—?including the causes of coal’s decline and unlikeliness of its resurgence?—?rather than offer false hope that the glory days can be revived,” the report says.

The report was released by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. It was authored by Jason Bordoff, the founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy; Trevor Houser, a partner at consulting firm Rhodium Group; and Peter Marsters, a research analyst with Rhodium Group.

The report seeks to offer an empirical diagnosis of what caused the coal industry to collapse. It then examines the prospects for a recovery of coal production and employment by modeling the impact of Trump’s executive order directing agencies to review or rescind several Obama-era environmental regulations and assessing the global coal market outlook.

Even coal industry executives and coal country politicians have dialed down their rhetoric in recent months, according to the report. Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy and a Trump supporter, urged him to set more modest goals during the campaign and has warned post-election that there is little chance U.S. production can return to pre-recession levels.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) also cautioned?—?after the election?—?that ending the “war on coal” might not bring jobs back to his home state of Kentucky.

The Columbia University report isn’t the first to rain on Trump’s coal parade. In a report released earlier this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance emphasized U.S. coal’s main problem “has been cheap natural gas and renewable power, not a politically driven ‘war on coal.’”

But words of caution haven’t stopped Trump from waging a crusade for coal. Two weeks into his presidency, Trump signed a congressional joint resolution eliminating the Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule finalized in 2016 by the Obama Administration that would have limited the amount of mining waste coal companies can dispose into streams and waterways. In late March, Trump signed the executive order that called on the EPA to “review” the Clean Power Plan, the agency’s carbon-reduction plan for new power plants.

“Many of these actions will take months for agencies to implement and will be challenged in the courts. But they are clearly designed to communicate Trump’s commitment to deliver on his campaign promises,” the Columbia University report said. “Indeed, he signed his March 28 [order] at the EPA in front of a group of coal miners, and after signing, turned to them and said, ‘C’mon fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says? You are going back to work.’”

In the report’s best-case scenario for coal that the authors modeled, U.S. production would see only a modest recovery to 2013 levels at just under 1 billion tons a year. In its worst-case scenario, consumption falls from 730 million short tons in 2016 to 688 million short tons in 2020 despite Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama administration climate regulations.

Rather than bet on a recovery in coal production, coal communities, governments, and other private and public sector organizations should work together to “leverage the other assets” that exist in coal country to attract investment in new sources of job creation and economic growth, the study said.

“This certainly isn’t easy,” the authors wrote. “Coal communities in particular are often geographically remote and lack the infrastructure necessary to attract large-scale investment. Miners and others in the local labor market often lack the skills necessary for jobs that offer the kind of compensation available in coal mining.”

The federal government could offer plenty of help to accelerate locally driven economic diversification efforts, according to the report. Infrastructure investment, tax credits, and re-purposing of abandoned mine land that has other economic use can attract new investment and job creation, it says.

“But this all requires a clear-eyed assessment of the outlook for the coal industry and a commitment to put sustainable solutions ahead of politically expedient talking points,” the report says.

This article originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on May 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Hand is a climate reporter for Think Progress. Contact him at mhand@americanprogress.org.

People’s Budget Puts Forward An Aggressive Plan To Green Our Economy

Wednesday, March 16th, 2016

Isaiah J. Poole

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus will formally unveil their fiscal 2017 People’s Budget on Tuesday, and when they do one of the key features they will tout is an aggressive plan to shift the country to a green energy future.

“Climate change is no longer just a problem for a future generation — it is here today,” the budget document says, adding that the nation needs “to take bold action to fight climate change and invest in a clean-energy economy that supports green jobs with good wages.”

The policies embodied in the People’s Budget closely track the policies that the Campaign for America’s Future, along with partners National People’s Action, Alliance for a Just Society and USAction, called for in their progressive policy platform last year. The budget even echoes the platform language: “Catastrophic climate change is a clear and present danger. The United States should lead the global green revolution that builds strong and resilient communities.”

The People’s Budget would impose a tax on carbon polluters that would start at $25 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions and increase at a rate of 5.6 percent a year. Much of the money raised from that tax would be used to fund a range of renewable energy initiatives and to help low-income individuals cope with any increases in their energy bills that might result from the combination of the carbon tax and the switch to renewables.

This carbon tax would, according to the Energy Information Administration, lead to the U.S. cutting its carbon emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels within five years. That would be a significant contribution toward the United States’ pledges during the Paris climate talks last year to help limit global warming to no more than 3 degrees Celsius (about 5 degrees Fahrenheit), and preferably much lower.

The budget would also eliminate about $135 billion in fossil fuel subsidies over 10 years. These tax expenditures, combined with other loopholes fossil fuel companies typically exploit, enable these companies to pay a tax rate that is on average only about 11 percent of their profits, according to one study by the conservative-leaning Taxpayers for Common Sense. By shutting down these subsidies, the People’s Budget is able to pour resources into helping communities protect themselves from the consequences of climate change that are already beginning to unfold.

Lukas Ross of Friends of the Earth called the People’s Budget “the greenest option in Washington” in a post on DailyKos. Ross noted that in addition to what the budget proposes to do that is directly related to climate change, it includes $12 billion to cover the public financing of elections. That’s important to the environmental movement because so far this election season, “Big Oil has already poured over $13 million into Congressional races and over $100 million into the presidency. Climate solutions require politicians who aren’t beholden to Big Oil, and even though public financing can’t guarantee direct climate results, it can guarantee a more level playing field for candidates not drowning in oil money.”

The People’s Budget is a comprehensive road map for economic reform that will stand in sharp contrast to what Republican congressional leaders will propose this week as they launch their own 2017 budget debates. As the National Priorities Project outlines, the budget “includes a $1 trillion in much-needed investment in our national infrastructure …. fully funds Early Head Start, giving kids a strong start early in life, and adopts the president’s proposals for universal preschool … provide[s] federal matching funds to states so that students could go to college debt-free … does away with the Pentagon slush fund after fiscal year 2017 (Overseas Contingency Operations), saving $761 billion over ten years … [and] If you earn a billion dollars or more each year … the People’s Budget would assign you a tax rate of 49 percent [that] is still lower than the highest individual tax rate during most of the presidency of conservative hero President Ronald Reagan.”

The budget also serves as a standard for what a presidential or congressional candidate should be willing to embrace in order to earn progressive support. In that regard, a coalition of grassroots organizations are telling Democratic house members that their vote on the People’s Budget, expected the week of March 21, will be a key vote in weighing their support.

To declare yourself a citizen co-sponsor of the People’s Budget, and to show Congress that the ideas in the People’s Budget have broad support, sign this petition that will be delivered to Congress when the House begins floor debate.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on March 14, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.

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