The EPA’s Clean Power Plan: How Unions and Allies Can Protect Affected Workers

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The EPA’s Clean Power Plan: How Unions and Allies Can Protect Affected Workers

Climate change is a here-and-now threat to workers as to all of us. A transition plan for a new economy and new energy system that does not include working people and labor unions, is no plan at all. (Image: via Labor Network for Sustainability)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just issued the final text of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a regulation whose purpose is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) that climate scientists say are causing global warming. EPA and independent studies indicate that the CPP will create far more jobs than it eliminates. However, some jobs will be lost as a result of the plan, almost entirely concentrated in coal mining and electrical utilities. Affected workers and their communities should not have to bear the burden of environmental protection that benefits all. Public policy can and should provide a “just transition” that protects their wellbeing.

The EPA has released a “regulatory impact analysis” of job and other effects of the CPP. Dr. Josh Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) conducted a further analysis to evaluate and extend the EPA findings and has produced the recently-released study “A Comprehensive Analysis of the Employment Impacts of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.”

Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained

Between now and 2020, the CPP will require large investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. It will also reduce jobs in power plants and mining. The new “direct” jobs created by 2020 will outnumber the jobs lost by 96,000 jobs.

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Despite the overall job gains, the CPP will also cause job losses for two groups of workers.

Coal mining jobs:

  • 12,600 fewer in 2020
  • 15,300 fewer in 2025
  • 17,300 in 2030

Electric power generation, transmission, and distribution jobs

  • 11,633 fewer in 2020
  • 20,425 fewer in 2025
  • 24,300 fewer in 2030

The jobs lost as a result of the CPP are relatively well-paid and are held disproportionately by unionized older white male workers with relatively little formal education. Industries losing jobs are 16.7% unionized whereas those gaining jobs are 9.7% unionized. The biggest job loses will be concentrated in a few states, most of them relatively low-income.

Jobs for coal miners have been decreasing for decades and will no doubt continue to decrease with or without the CPP. The Obama administration’s 2015 budget proposed a “Power+ Plan” to provide new investments for economic transition in central Appalachia. It includes:

  • $1 billion over five years to restore lands and waters degraded by decades-old mining and support related sustainable development projects.
  • $56 million to invest in job training for laid-off miners and to support economic development efforts in Central Appalachian mining communities. This figure includes an additional $20 million in job training for miners and power plant workers; an increase of $25 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission’s annual budget, to be directed at “communities most impacted by coal economic transition”; $6 million more to the Department of Commerce for “place-based regional innovation efforts,” including grants to economically distressed communities; and $5 million more for the EPA’s brownfields program to help communities deal with the closure of coal-fired power plants.
  • $3.9 billion over 10 years to shore up health and retirement benefits for many retired miners.

The Power+ Plan can serve as a starting point for a comprehensive plan to counter the negative job effects of the CPP. A possible model would be the highly successful process that helped local communities adjust to the disruption and job shifting that resulted from the closing of military bases under the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC). Those communities were provided a wide range of Federal assistance, including planning and economic adjustment assistance, environmental cleanup, Community Development Block Grants, and Community Service Grants.

Workers dislocated by base closings also received extensive support. The Department of Defense itself provided advance notification of a reduction in force; pre-separation counseling; a hiring preference system with federal agencies to re-employ qualified displaced DOD employees; financial incentives to encourage early retirement of those eligible. Workers affected by base closings were also eligible for help under National Emergency Grants, “Rapid Response” programs, comprehensive assessments and development of individual employment plans, and job training.

Communities and individuals adversely affected by the CPP could be similarly targeted for assistance from such existing programs as the Department of Labor’s Rapid Response Services and the National Emergency Grants of the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, as well as funding for economic development and industrial efficiency and modernization from the Departments of Energy and Commerce.

Because the needed resources are scattered among many different government agencies, the first step might be to establish an interagency task force composed of US agency officials overseeing issues of employment, energy, and the environment. Their first task could be to create a transition package for coal miners, utility workers, and other affected workers that would provide robust financial and training support and preferential access to the new jobs created by environmental protection policies. That could be combined with vigorous support for economic planning and investment in the communities affected by the CPP, focusing on the development of new clean energy industries.

The struggle in the states

According to the New York Times, “If the regulation survives the lobbyists and lawyers intact, the battles will move to state capitals as businesses, environmentalists and lawmakers joust in 50 separate arenas over the scope of the resulting rules.” The arenas of those battles will include state legislatures, governors’ offices, and utility regulators. Unions and their allies have both an interest in and an opportunity to participate in shaping state CPPs.

Unions can encourage state plans that provide the maximum number of good jobs. That is likely to mean plans with a high level of clean energy investments. Clean energy investments require more labor than equivalent fossil fuel investments – they are more labor intensive. They also use a higher proportion of labor within the US – they have a higher domestic content. Each “direct job” creating clean energy will produce .7 “indirect jobs” for suppliers and .4 “induced jobs” that result from the wages workers spend. Energy efficiency investments produce the most jobs of all. Indeed, increases in energy efficiency investments account for more than half the CPP’s direct job gains for 2020 and all the gains for 2025 and 2030. The also account for a large proportion of the indirect job increases. Unions have an interest in promoting state CPPs that emphasize clean energy and particularly energy efficiency investments.

Unions can push for state CPPs that provide a “just transition” for coal and utility industry workers and their communities. This can include state programs and legal and regulatory requirements on electric utility companies.

Unions can encourage CPPs that promote environmental justice for working class and poor communities. Coal-fired power plants are heavily concentrated in less affluent communities, so downsizing or closing them will immediately improve those community’s health and environment. But because such communities are often politically weak or disfranchised, there is always a risk that CPPs will emphasize programs that leave them as or even more vulnerable to health and environmental threats.

Finally, unions can support CPPs that protect their members, their communities, and their posterity by ensuring genuine, effective, and rapid cuts in GHG emissions to protect the global climate. Climate change is a here-and-now threat to workers as to all of us. CCPs that effectively protect the climate are a protection for workers and their unions against unimaginable catastrophe.

Unions can pursue CPPs that reflect jobs, just transition, environmental justice, and climate protection objectives by building alliances among environmentalists, labor, and environmental justice advocates. Such plans are likely to emphasize renewable energy, energy efficiency, manufacturing, and conservation. With strong alliances built around effective unifying plans, unions can be a powerful force in shaping state CPPs.

Jeremy Brecher

Jeremy Brecher

Jeremy Brecher is an historian, author, and co-founder of the Labor Network for Sustainability. A new edition of his most recent book, Climate Insurgency: A Strategy for Survival, is available for free download at his personal website. His previous books include: Save the Humans? Common Preservation in Action; Strike!; Globalization from Below; and, co-edited with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt).

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