Climate 411

New report: How economic development policies can support fossil fuel communities in the move to a clean economy

This first report in a new joint research series by Environmental Defense Fund and Resources for the Future examines US federal economic development programs and policies that can revitalize communities that have been historically reliant on fossil fuels. Daniel Raimi, Wesley Look, Molly Robertson of RFF and Jake Higdon of EDF contributed to the report described in this blog post.

For a long time, Boone County, West Virginia was a vibrant coal community at the center of Appalachia, ranked consistently as the top county for coal production in the state. At one point, the county was able to capitalize on a surplus of revenue, derived largely from the state’s coal severance tax, to fund new sports fields and judicial buildings. But the decline in US coal production over the last decade, driven by increasingly competitive energy alternatives, including wind and solar, led to mine closures in West Virginia — and an exodus of coal workers and their families. Boone County’s budget diminished along with the closures: Its General Fund Revenue fell by half in the last five years.

In 2019, local officials faced a $2.5 million budget shortfall, forcing them to make difficult cuts to essential community services.

The surrounding communities reliant on coal as an economic driver, including the families of workers, local business owners, teachers, nurses, and more, have struggled to find new opportunities in the wake of its downfall. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated this trend in the short term. And in the long run, the necessary move to a clean economy will not only disrupt coal communities, it will impact communities reliant on oil and gas and other industries reliant on fossil fuels. Economic development policies can be a lifeline for these communities, putting them on a path to diversify and revitalize local economies through public and private sector funding. 

Our first report in this research series on fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities aims to give federal policymakers an understanding of the tools at their disposal to generate new economic opportunities in communities affected by transition to a clean economy. This entails examining both existing federal economic development programs and proposals. In our analysis, we divide economic development programs into those that explicitly target regions where natural resources (particularly fossil fuels) underpin the local economy, and those that have a broader geographic scope. We then categorize each set of programs into two types of intervention: capacity building and financial support. Capacity-building programs provide organizations with technical assistance, research support, and other skills that can help them implement successful local economic development programs. Financial support involves funding federal, state, and local programs, non-profits, and private entities through grants, loans, or other mechanisms.

Key insights

Our review of these programs, and our examination of the empirical literature on their effectiveness, yields five key insights into how federal economic development policy can be utilized to ensure a fair transition to a clean economy.

  1. First and foremost, we find that federal intervention can help support medium- and long-term economic development in numerous local contexts. The available empirical studies, while limited, show that both geographically targeted programs and those with a broad geographic and economic scope can lead to increased employment, greater business stability, and other local economic benefits.
  2. The existence of many federal, state, and local economic development programs means that any successful attempt to deliver fairness for workers and communities will require substantial coordination across governmental bodies and with local stakeholders. A lack of coordination across federal programs has been highlighted as a potential challenge by numerous researchers, and recent efforts have sought to better coordinate and streamline the array of existing federal economic development programs.
  3. Existing economic development programs can be augmented or redirected to support fossil fuel-dependent communities and workers, even if a given program was not originally designed for that purpose. Numerous programs examined in our report have offered support to communities facing economic challenges for over half a century or more. For instance, the POWER Initiative, which leverages an array of existing programs to deliver economic development and other programming in close partnership with energy communities, could be an important model for federal policy that invests in workers and jobs.
  4. Federal programs explicitly targeting economic development have limited funding, with just $80 million designated to support economic development in fossil energy communities. This level of spending would need to grow considerably to support the many workers and communities affected by the shift toward clean energy.
  5. Finally, because the transition to a clean energy economy will have geographically concentrated economic effects, policies supporting economic development in the most affected communities will most likely need to be geographically targeted. But policy design matters. Some geographically-targeted programs, such as Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grants, have seen success in delivering long-term income and employment growth in natural resource dependent communities. Others, such as the Secure Rural Schools program, have failed to support their intended beneficiaries (i.e., schools) and created planning challenges for local governments, businesses, and residents due to uncertain funding levels. Policymakers should design and implement geographically-targeted policies carefully and with these divergent experiences in mind.

What’s next?

Supporting economic development in fossil fuel dependent communities and regions comprises one category of solutions in the complex set of challenges associated with the transition to a clean economy. Over the next few months, we will publish more reports, blogs and materials in this series to address other key policy mechanisms that can support workers and communities in transition, including investments in environmental remediation, infrastructure, workforce development programs, labor standards, clean energy, and public benefits, such as unemployment compensation and public health care. EDF’s aim is to complement the work that groups like Just Transition Fund and BlueGreen Alliance have been leading in this space, by sharing useful insights on existing policies and programs designed to deliver on the promise of fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities.

Read the full economic development report here.

Learn more about this series here.

Also posted in Energy, Green Jobs / Leave a comment

New research series: Ensuring fairness for workers and communities in the transition to a clean economy

EDF and Resources for the Future (RFF) partner on a new research series to inform policymaking on fairness for fossil fuel workers and communities in transition.

Coal burning plant in Conesville, Ohio.

Coal burning plant in Conesville, Ohio.

The shockwaves from the COVID-19 pandemic continue to reverberate across the United States, with tens of millions unemployed and workers in every sector in need of support. The energy sector is reeling from the impact — especially the many workers and communities living in coal-dominated regions already grappling with job loss.

In Northeast Wyoming, the Powder River Basin region experienced the largest round of coal mine layoffs in years. In West Virginia, Longview Power — cited as the most efficient coal-fired power plant in the country — filed for bankruptcy. And in Somerset County, Pennsylvania a local coal mine went “indefinitely idle” and laid off 100 workers. These are just a few examples from this spring that reveal how the steep drop in energy demand, largely a result of shutdowns to contain the spread of COVID-19, exacerbated loss in the coal industry. But they don’t capture the whole story.

The loss of these coal jobs will cause a ripple effect beyond the workers: these families will see a drop in income, making it harder to make ends meet, and may also lose health care and other critical benefits. Surrounding businesses — from restaurants to gas stations — will see a drop in customers and the communities and towns dependent on taxes from the coal industry for building roads and schools face an uncertain future too.

But well before the coronavirus outbreak, coal-dependent regions were already facing chronic job loss, public health crises, and other hardships. The rise of cheaper energy alternatives, including the dramatically improving costs of wind and solar power, has been steadily moving the needle toward a low-carbon economy in the US.

For years, many coal communities anticipated the gradual decline in jobs and revenue; few were prepared for the free fall from coronavirus.

As policymakers consider the best way to get the economy going again, hard-hit energy communities can be crucial workers in the clean economy of the future. Fortunately, implementing science-based policies that can get us on a safer path to a clean economy and avert the worst impacts of climate change can go hand-in-hand with generating well-paying jobs and economic security. By making fairness for workers and communities a primary goal, policymakers can ensure that communities where the economy is heavily dependent on the production, transformation, and use of fossil fuels are not only protected in this transition – but prepared to play a central role.

Introducing a New Research Series

As the US accelerates the shift to a low-carbon economy, all forms of climate, environmental, and energy injustice should be dismantled – and that includes tackling the disproportionate burdens working people may face as economic opportunities shift. These principles have been brought together by labor groups, the environmental community, and policymakers to varying degrees over the years in the concept of “just transition.” EDF and Resources for the Future (RFF) are partnering to analyze policies in one strand of this greatly needed area of solutions: addressing the needs of fossil fuel workers and communities in this transition. 

While labor groups have been discussing fairness policies for fossil fuel workers for quite some time, conversations in the policy community are just starting to gain traction: the Just Transition Fund and numerous groups across coal communities recently released the National Economic Transition Platform to support coal communities facing crisis. And the BlueGreen Alliance, a coalition of labor unions and environmental organizations, released its Solidarity for Climate Action platform in 2019, where it outlines the principle of “Fairness for Workers and Communities” to address the needs of working people affected by the transition. These platforms provide a critical policy framework for economic transition.

At the same time, in the broader US policymaking and advocacy arena, there is limited understanding of the existing policies and programs designed to deliver on this promise – and how effective they have actually been. To help fill that gap and arm policymakers and advocates with the tools they need, EDF and RFF are conducting a systematic review of policy models and mechanisms that can support workers and communities in regions where fossil fuels – coal, oil, and natural gas production and/or consumption – have been a leading employer and driver of prosperity. These reports will be released throughout fall 2020 and will cover the following key policy topics: economic development; energy, environment, and infrastructure; workforce development; and public benefits. These will culminate in a final synthesis report and be accompanied by additional domestic case studies and international policy analyses.

To be clear: this series does not intend to suggest that the solution is matching every fossil fuel worker with a clean energy job. The reality is much more complicated. Preparing these workers for job opportunities in clean energy, efficiency, and manufacturing – or in other viable industries that may be a better fit – is just one part of the solution. The insights drawn from this series will address many crucial aspects of ensuring fairness for workers and communities that may be overlooked – from providing financial support for local businesses to worker benefits like reliable pensions and health protections.

Why this Research Matters Now and Beyond COVID-19

Although this series reviews policies that were implemented prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of this crisis on the energy sector make these findings even more relevant, as shown by the three coal communities in Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. To understand why that is, policymakers must factor in the pandemic within the larger trajectory for energy growth in the US:

  • Coal: Coal mining jobs have declined by two-thirds since 1985, and hundreds of heavily-polluting coal-fired power plants have closed in the last decade, out-competed by cheaper renewables and natural gas in the power sector. US coal power generation is expected to plunge another 25 percent in 2020, according to the EIA.
Coal mining jobs

Coal mining jobs have declined by two-thirds since 1985. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

  • Oil & Gas: Even before the pandemic, investors were pushing oil and gas companies to rethink their business models and set net-zero emissions targets. After experiencing a price free-fall in 2020, some analysts predict that peak oil consumption may come sooner than expected.
  • Clean Energy: Conversely, the clean energy industry has moved well ahead of total U.S. employment growth over the last five years, adding jobs 70 percent faster than the overall economy. Like other energy sectors, clean energy has experienced acute job loss from COVID-19, but unlike the others, it was poised to expand in the long-run and become an integral part of the low-carbon economy that scientists agree is necessary to avoid costly climate impacts.

Regardless of how transition and economic redevelopment looks in different regions, a fully decarbonized economy must deliver well-paying, family-sustaining union jobs that propel us toward a clean future. This research can give policymakers the insights they need to ensure that fossil fuel workers and their communities, who have powered our country for decades, are fully prepared to build a stronger and more equitable 21st century clean economy.

Learn more about the full series on fairness for workers and communities here.

For more background on how the clean energy transition affects workers and communities, visit this page.

Also posted in Energy, Green Jobs, News / Comments are closed

As Amazon deforestation rises, so does the need for urgent action

Deforestation in the Amazon. iStock.

The year 2020 was expected to be a “super year” for global action on climate change. Instead, it’s become an “extraordinary year” for a global community trying to cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amidst this backdrop, deforestation throughout the Amazon has been rising steadily, jumping 55% in the first four months of 2020 compared to the same period last year. This is no coincidence. Loggers, miners, land-grabbers and individuals clearing land for soy and livestock are taking advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to illegally clear the forest.

Enforcement of forest protection was already severely weakened across the Amazon, due in part to anti-environmental leadership and rhetoric, such as that of President Bolsonaro in Brazil. The virus has forced many of the field agents responsible for keeping forest invaders out to retreat, making it virtually impossible to enforce environmental laws and leaving these areas open to destruction. As we enter fire season, deforestation could get much worse due to warmer than average sea surface temperatures which could exacerbate the spread of fires. It all makes for a “perfect storm” that is threatening the Amazon forest and is already having disastrous impacts on the Indigenous communities who depend on forests.

Increased deforestation will jeopardize the rainforest’s rich biodiversity and extensive carbon stocks. It’s pushing the Amazon closer to the tipping point where deforestation will be irreversible. And it’s hindering global climate change mitigation efforts.

If the global community is going to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, Convention on Biological Diversity, the New York Declaration on Forests and other frameworks, then countries and companies need to prioritize forest protection.

Read More »

Also posted in Brazil, Forest protection, Indigenous People, International, REDD+ / Comments are closed

Seven Senate Republicans join growing momentum to support struggling clean energy industry

Last week, a group of Republican Senators pushed Congress to support relief for the clean energy industry, even as several of their colleagues from fossil fuel producing states pushed back against these efforts.

The clean energy sector has been hit especially hard during the COVID-19 crisis. According to an analysis of Department of Labor data, more than 620,000 workers in these occupations have been laid off since March, with most of those continuing to seek unemployment. Those numbers account for 15% of the clean energy workforce and are more than double the number of clean energy jobs created since 2017. This loss is a significant change from the pre-COVID economy where clean energy was one of the nation’s strongest sectors, growing 70% faster than the economy as a whole.

The clean energy sector plays a critical role in U.S. energy independence,is a powerful economic tool to reduce climate pollution, and has wide bipartisan support. Read More »

Also posted in Cities and states, Green Jobs, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy / Comments are closed

The broad coalition defending America’s state and national clean car standards in court

The legal battle over America’s Clean Car Standards is now in full swing.

EDF and a broad coalition that includes 23 states from all regions of the country recently filed court documents defending both state and national clean car standards against attacks from the Trump administration.

23 states from across the country have joined the coalition defending our nation’s Clean Car Standards.

The Trump administration recently finalized a rule that would roll back our national Clean Car Standards. This rollback would cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, cost Americans $244 billion at the gas pump, and produce as much climate pollution as running 68 coal plants for five years. The administration has also launched an unprecedented attack on states’ long-standing authority to protect people from vehicle pollution.

EDF and a group of public health and environmental groups, state and local governments, and businesses from across the economy have filed petitions challenging the rollback in court. And we recently filed a brief in a separate lawsuit arguing against the administration’s attack on state authority to limit vehicle emissions.

The broad coalition litigating to defend clean car standards includes:

  • 23 States and several cities that comprise a majority of America’s population and represent every region, from Michigan to North Carolina, Colorado, and California (seen in the map above)
  • Three Air Quality Management Districts responsible for maintaining safe, healthy air in their regions
  • 12 Public Health, Consumer, and Environmental Organizations including EDF, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Communities for a Better Environment, Conservation Law Foundation, Consumer Federation of America, Environment America, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists
  • Dozens of Major Businesses from across the economy, including Advanced Energy Economy (whose more than 70 members include Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, Lyft, Cummins, Bloomberg Energy, Comcast, Trane, and Apex Clean Energy), National Coalition for Advanced Transportation (whose 17 participating members include Tesla, Rivian, Chargepoint, and Plug In America), and 20 major power companies

In litigation over the attack on state clean car standards, our coalition has been joined by a dozen amici curiae, who have filed briefs as “friends of the court” in support of state authority. These amici include:

  • 147 Members of Congress from 32 states and the District of Columbia
  • Five Former Department of Transportation Secretaries and Four Former EPA Administrators from both Democratic and Republican administrations, as well as former EPA officials Michael Walsh and Margo Oge and Clean Air Act architect Thomas Jorling
  • Leading Researchers and Professors including University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman, New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity, and seven climate science professors at California universities
  • Five Major Medical and Public Health Organizations including the American Thoracic Society, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, American Public Health Association, and California Medical Association
  • Four State and Local Government Organizations including the National League of Cities, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and International Municipal Lawyers’ Association, as well as the National Association of Clean Air Agencies
  • Two National Parks Organizations including the National Parks Conservation Association and Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
  • Edison Electric Institute, the trade association representing all U.S. investor-owned power companies
  • Lyft, which has recently committed to providing 100% of its rides using electric vehicles by 2030

Additionally, six major automakers – Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW, Rolls Royce, and Volvo – have independently entered into voluntary frameworks with California for continued nationwide pollution reductions from their vehicles, in recognition of California’s authority under the Clean Air Act and the continuing need for state leadership.

Protecting well-established state authority

Last September, the Trump Administration purported to withdraw California’s authority to set vehicle pollution standards at a more protective level than the federal government, as well as other states’ authority to adopt these California standards. The Clean Air Act has always recognized California’s authority, which is based on the state’s historic leadership in setting vehicle standards and the need to address its serious pollution problems.

California has used this authority to set pathbreaking standards like its Zero Emission Vehicle standards, which 11 other states have adopted. Most recently, Nevada has joined New Mexico and Minnesota in announcing its plans to adopt these standards. This is just one recent example of states and businesses leading the way to lower transportation emissions. Others include California’s ongoing work to develop Advanced Clean Car 2.0 standards, its recently-finalized Advanced Clean Trucks standards (which will lead to electrification of all new medium- and heavy-duty trucks in the state by 2045), a clean trucks agreement by 15 states representing 35% of the national truck fleet (which aims to electrify 30% of new trucks in these states by 2030 and all of the states’ new trucks by 2050), and Lyft’s announcement that, in partnership with EDF, it will reach 100% electric vehicles by 2030. Defending California’s authority will be key in maintaining this momentum.

EDF and our allies have brought a legal challenge to the Trump administration’s attack on state authority. We recently filed briefs arguing that the administration’s reckless departure from longstanding precedent is arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to applicable law. The dozen amicus briefs added further breadth and depth to our coalition’s legal support for state authority.

Defending the Clean Car Standards from a rollback that harms public health, the economy, and the environment

On April 30, the Trump Administration finalized a rollback that would eviscerate the national Clean Car Standards, cutting the required annual reduction in fleetwide climate pollution from about 5% to just 1.5%. Analysis by EDF and others shows that the rollback will result in an additional 1.5 billion tons of climate pollution, cause more than 18,000 premature deaths, cost Americans $244 billion at the gas pump, and lose as many as 200,000 jobs.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel told the New York Times that the rollback will be especially harmful to auto industry jobs in her state, so it’s no surprise that many automakers disagree with the administration’s approach. Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW, and Rolls Royce have declined to defend the rollback in court and reaffirmed their voluntary frameworks with California. And electric vehicle manufacturers Tesla and Rivian are among the businesses challenging the rollback.

The rollback is based on massive technical and economic errors and fails to meet core statutory requirements to reduce pollution and maximize fuel economy. In fact, by the Administration’s own analysis, the rollback will result in net harm to Americans.

Protective clean car standards deliver critical climate, health, and consumer benefits, and EDF – along with our many partners and allies – will continue working to defend them.

You can find all the legal briefs in the cases on our website.

Also posted in Cars and Pollution, Cities and states, Clean Air Act, EPA litgation, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Partners for Change, Policy / Comments are closed

Getting 100% Clear on 100% Clean

Scientists agree that to maximize our chances of averting the worst impacts of climate change, we must stop adding climate pollution to the atmosphere by soon after mid-century. As one of the world’s most advanced economies, the U.S. must reach that goal no later than 2050 – which means transitioning to a 100% clean economy. If this sounds like an ambitious goal, that’s because it is. But it is also what’s needed to protect our economy, our health and our kids’ future.

Why a 100% Clean Economy?

For decades, scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change will result from continued unchecked greenhouse gas emissions. And for decades, our emissions have continued to grow.

Last fall, a Special Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body made up of leading scientists from around the world and responsible for assessing the science related to climate change, found that to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, it will be necessary for the world to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions (adding no more pollution to the atmosphere than we can remove) by soon after midcentury. We also need to achieve deep reductions in other greenhouse gas pollutants like methane. Continued delay will only deepen the challenge, and require us to reduce our emissions even more rapidly.

We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in communities across the country from record flooding, devastating wildfires, scorching heat waves, and bigger and more damaging storms. Although the impacts are local, climate change is a global problem – which is why the IPCC outlined a global goal. But there are several reasons why the U.S. should strive for achieving a 100% clean economy as soon as possible.

First, the U.S. is the second largest emitter in the world, behind only China. Reaching net-zero emissions globally will only be possible with U.S. leadership. Second, over our history, the U.S. is responsible for by far the most emissions of any other country, more than 85% above China, the second biggest emitter. (Check out this Carbon Brief animation to see the relative emissions contributions of top emitting countries since 1750.) The U.S. has played a major role in creating this problem – we must also play a major role in the solution.

Furthermore, tackling the climate challenge is also just good business. By transitioning as rapidly as we can to 100% clean energy across our economy – including the power sector as well as transportation and industry – we will unleash the power of American innovation to develop cheaper, more efficient clean energy technologies. As global momentum on climate action continues to build, clean energy manufacturing will be an increasingly important industry. Innovative solutions developed by American entrepreneurs can be deployed around the world, helping lower the costs of global emissions reductions while strengthening American industries.

What Exactly Does 100% Clean Mean?

As we substitute zero carbon energy sources like wind and solar for fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, we reduce emissions. We’ve made a lot of progress on this front: according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, from 2007-2017, renewable electricity generation more than doubled, and wind and solar generation went from less than 1% of our electricity mix to more than 8%. But we can – and must – do a lot more.

Other sectors of the economy, however, such as air travel, or steel, cement and chemicals manufacturing, are very likely to be difficult and expensive to decarbonize with the technologies we have available or are developing today.

That’s where carbon dioxide removal technologies (CDRs) can play an important role. In comparison to technologies like solar or wind, which generate carbon-free energy, CDRs actually remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As long as we remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as we put into it, we’ll have achieved net-zero emissions – or a 100% clean energy economy.

There are many different types of CDRs, from natural approaches like increasing the amount of forest land and adopting sustainable farming practices, to technologies like direct air capture (DAC) that can suck pollution directly out of the air and store it underground or reuse it in products like fuel, fertilizer, or concrete.

How Do We Do It?

That’s a good question. We know that we are going to need to rapidly shift to cleaner sources of generation in the electricity sector, expand the use of clean electricity in sectors across the economy, advance energy efficiency – and also remove carbon from the atmosphere. The strategies we’ll need to pursue will vary by sector, and given the rapid pace of technology development over the last several years, it’s hard to know which zero-carbon technologies will end up being the most cost-competitive and easy to scale by 2050.

That’s why it’s important that the 100% clean economy goal is focused squarely on environmental results – cutting the pollution that causes climate change without specifying specific technology solutions. This allows for maximum opportunities to deploy a portfolio of technologies and approaches while providing incentives to innovators to find new effective and efficient low-, no-, and negative-emission technologies.

We can achieve this goal, but it will require policies that set declining limits on greenhouse gas emissions; account for the real cost of that pollution; stimulate the research, development and deployment of innovative technologies; and incentivize rapid action, especially in the sectors of the economy that look most challenging to decarbonize.

Climate change is an urgent problem that demands an urgent solution. The time is now to commit to a 100% clean economy that will be cleaner, safer, and more prosperous for all Americans.

Also posted in Energy, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Health, News, Policy, Science / Comments are closed