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This morning, 112 organizations across 20+ states called on the Environmental Protection Agency to refer the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)’s decision to construct a new fossil gas plant and pipeline to the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The organizations call for the CEQ to review the serious public health and environmental impacts of fossil fuel expansion. Read their letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan here.
“This is a matter in which the Biden Administration has power — and no required 50th Senate vote as a roadblock — to make good on its promises to tackle the global climate emergency. It is an issue of legacy where the EPA can either use its legal power to advance the clean energy economy, or, given the alternative of no action, can needlessly sign off on dangerous fossil fuel expansion,” the organizations wrote.
The organizations include environmental, faith, labor, and political activism associations at the national, statewide, and local levels. Organizations from states which receive their power from the TVA signed on, including groups based in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, and North Carolina. They were joined by national organizations such as Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Friends of the Earth.
In their letter, the organizations point out that Section 309 of the Clean Air Act requires the EPA Administrator to refer government actions to the CEQ if agency heads fail to fully consider the public health and environmental impacts of their actions. The EPA’s own review of the TVA’s draft environmental impact statement on the issue found that it “does not fully quantify or adequately disclose the impacts of the GHG emissions from the proposed action and alternatives.” The CEQ can, in turn, refer a decision to the President.
The decision to replace two TVA coal plants with a new gas plant and pipeline was made by TVA CEO Jeff Lyash, who was a fossil fuel CEO for 17 years before joining the TVA. Under his leadership, Duke Energy leaked toxic chemicals into the sole source of drinking water for nearly one million North Carolina residents. Lyash’s TVA still generates 21 percent of its energy from coal and 26 percent from methane gas. It projects that it will emit over 34 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2038.
Revolving Door Project Climate Research Director Dorothy Slater said: “The enormous response to this letter from the TVA’s own customers, and across the country, shows that Jeff Lyash does not have anything like a popular mandate to expand fossil fuels at the TVA. Administrator Regan needs to step up and faithfully execute the laws, as is his mandate.”
The Revolving Door Project (RDP), a project of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), scrutinizes executive branch appointees to ensure they use their office to serve the broad public interest, rather than to entrench corporate power or seek personal advancement.
"The energy sector should be looking to the future of justly sourced renewable energy, not pushing outdated technology that exploits people and the planet."
More than a dozen groups intervened in a case in Wyoming on Wednesday to defend the Biden administration's decision to postpone the sale of oil and gas leases in the state, arguing that numerous court ruling and settled laws have affirmed the U.S. Interior Department is free to determine when such sales will go forward—or whether they will at all.
The legal groups Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center are representing 17 national and local groups in the case, in which the state of Wyoming and two industry trade groups sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in December over its postponement of sales that had been planned for 2021 and 2022.
The BLM currently has several sales scheduled for 2023, covering nearly half a million acres, but as Friends of the Earth (FOE) said in a press statement Wednesday, the groups "want the court to order the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the BLM to hold lease sales every three months across the West"—despite warnings from energy experts and scientists that fossil fuel extraction must be phased out in order to avoid the worst effects of the climate emergency.
"Today's filing demonstrates that we refuse to sit back and allow Big Oil to push for policies that perpetuate dirty energy," said Hallie Templeton, legal director for FOE. "The law is crystal clear: the federal government holds broad authority over whether, when, and how to lease public lands for oil and gas development. The energy sector should be looking to the future of justly sourced renewable energy, not pushing outdated technology that exploits people and the planet."
FOE is joined by groups including the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, Citizens for a Health Community, and the Western Organization of Resource Councils in defending the Biden administration's decision.
A U.S. District Court ruling in Wyoming in September 2022 affirmed that the administration can postpone the sales, and the U.S. Supreme Court has also ruled that the agencies "have broad discretion to determine the timing and scope of lease sales, including not holding them at all," FOE said in the press statement.
\u201cNEWS RELEASE: Conservation groups to defend @POTUS administration postponement of oil, gas lease sales. Again.\n\nWe won this case last year, too.\n\nhttps://t.co/pN5NO55VgM @Earthjustice @Wilderness @foe_us @CenterForBioDiv @MTEIC @PRBResCouncil @NPCA @WildernessWork @SierraClub\u201d— Western Environmental Law Center (@Western Environmental Law Center) 1675882076
Bob LeResche, a Powder River Basin Resource Council board member and chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, noted that the industry has already "stockpiled" more than 9,000 approved federal drilling permits.
"Forcing Interior to lease without fully weighing public impacts is industry’s attempt to continue looting public resources by accumulating excess leases at bargain basement prices," said LeResche. "The industry could continue drilling and producing as normal for decades even with no new leases."
The postponement represents a correction of BLM's longtime practice of "blindly" leasing public lands for oil and gas drilling "without actually understanding the impacts of development," said Peter Hart, an attorney with Wilderness Workshop.
"Now the agency is working to reevaluate its oil and gas management and to assess impacts, like those that new development will have on the climate," he added. "It just makes sense to pause new leasing until the program is brought into this century, and it is well within the agency’s authority."
In response to organizing efforts, "the $122 billion-dollar corporation has fought their workers every step of the way, including refusing to bargain a first contract in good faith, delay tactics, and a significant escalation in union-busting."
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Tuesday invited Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to testify about the coffee giant's "lack of compliance with federal labor laws."
All 10 Democratic members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) joined Sanders, who chairs the panel, in inviting Schultz to a hearing scheduled for March 9.
The letter—signed by Sanders and Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), and Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—gives Schultz until February 14 to confirm his attendance at the hearing.
"We greatly appreciate your assistance to the HELP Committee," the lawmakers told Schultz, whose wealth increased by $800 million during the pandemic to nearly $4 billion.
\u201cToday, I joined with my Democratic colleagues on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee to invite Starbucks CEO @HowardSchultz to testify at a hearing on his company's labor practices.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1675884960
Since December 2021, when baristas in Buffalo made history by forming the first unionized Starbucks in the United States, workers at nearly 280 of the coffee chain's locations nationwide have voted to unionize. Organizers have won more than 80% of their campaigns despite the company's unlawful intimidation and retaliation tactics.
In response to mounting demands for better wages, benefits, and conditions, "the $122 billion-dollar corporation has fought their workers every step of the way, including refusing to bargain a first contract in good faith, delay tactics, and a significant escalation in union-busting," Sanders' office noted in a statement.
"There have been 500 unfair labor practice cases filed against Starbucks and its affiliates," the statement continued. "The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued 75 complaints in response to those charges and has sought emergency preliminary injunctive relief in five cases in the federal courts."
"Sanders has sent three letters to Schultz in the last year calling on the CEO to end the egregious union-busting campaign the company has deployed against its own workers," the Vermont Independent's office added. "Schultz has not yet responded to or provided the documents requested in the most recent letter Sanders sent in January 2023."
"Now it's time for the entire rail industry, which made over $26 billion in profits last year, to provide at least seven paid sick days to every rail worker in America," said Sen. Bernie Sanders in response.
After sustained pressure from organized workers and their allies, freight rail giant CSX Transportation agreed Tuesday to provide 5,000 employees in two unions with four days of paid sick leave each year—an industry-first move progressive said should serve as an example for other companies to follow.
The agreement reached between Jacksonville, Florida-based CSX and two unions—the Brotherhood of Railway Carmen (BRC) and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes Division (BMWED)—will provide four days of fully paid sick leave each year, while allowing union members to take up to three personal leave days annually. Additionally, employees can apply their unused paid sick days to their 401K retirement accounts or take payouts.
"We are extremely proud that BRC is one of the very first unions to reach this type of an agreement," said Don Grissom, president of the BRC—which represents mechanical workers—in a statement. "This agreement is a significant accomplishment and provides a very important benefit for our members working at CSXT. The other carriers should take note and come to the bargaining table in a similar manner."
\u201c\ud83d\udea8 This paid sick leave agreement with CSX is certainly welcome but long overdue. We look forward to other rail crafts reaching similar agreements with CSX and other railroads following suit. \n\n#PaidLeaveforAll\u201d— TTD | America's Transportation Unions (@TTD | America's Transportation Unions) 1675817167
"Today's agreement is a huge win for our members at CSXT," Grissom added, "and we will continue the fight to secure paid sick leave for our members working on other railroads."
Referring to the classification for railroad companies with annual revenue exceeding $250 million, BMWED president Tony D. Cardwell said in a statement that "the other Class I railroads just reported extremely healthy earnings for 2022, many of which were record-setting."
"Other than absolute greed, there is no reason why the other Class I railroads cannot enter into an identical paid sick leave agreement."
"The workers are responsible for these profits," Caldwell added. "Other than absolute greed, there is no reason why the other Class I railroads cannot enter into an identical paid sick leave agreement with BMWED, or any other rail union for that matter, especially in light of what CSX and the BMWED have done today."
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an outspoken supporter of railroad workers, tweeted that "now it's time for the entire rail industry, which made over $26 billion in profits last year, to provide at least seven paid sick days to every rail worker in America."
\u201cLet me congratulate @BMWEDIBT and @TCUnionHQ for guaranteeing paid sick days for 5,000 rail workers at CSX. Now it's time for the entire rail industry, which made over $26 billion in profits last year, to provide at least 7 paid sick days to every rail worker in America.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1675872420
On the other hand, labor advocates have called out Republicans, many Democrats in Congress, and the Biden administration for siding with corporations and billionaires over workers.
Paid sick leave was a key issue in last year's contract negotiations between a dozen rail worker unions and railroad companies. While eight of the unions voted in favor of a tentative agreement negotiated by the Biden administration—a deal that had no paid sick days—four unions rejected the proposal.
Congress subsequently intervened to compel the four holdout unions to accept the contract, while House Democrats passed a concurrent resolution adding seven days of paid sick leave to the agreement.
On Thursday, Sanders will join with unions in a joint press conference where they will make a fresh demand for paid sick leave across the industry.