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Is There No Commitment To A “Just Transition”?

The early moves from the Biden Administration raise serious questions about the commitment to the so-called “just transition” for energy workers.

The executive orders to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline and ban new leasing for oil and natural gas development on federal lands has resulted in tens of thousands of workers and hundreds of small businesses facing economic devastation at the single stroke of a pen without any type of support.

These orders fly in the face of the campaign pledges made last year by candidate Joe Biden, fringe Democrats, and progressive activist groups who promised a smooth change transition to gainful employment in other sectors of the energy industry.

The orders have faced bipartisan criticism, including from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) who sent a letter this week in opposition to the Keystone XL cancellation. For those workers who lost their job overnight, these actions raise the serious question of whether the “just transition” talking points are merely lip service.

The Campaign Talk Was Clear

Throughout the 2020 campaign, the American public was told over and over again that supporting energy workers is a priority. As a candidate, Biden’s Climate Plan plainly stated:

“Fulfill our obligation to workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution and subsequent decades of economic growth. This is support they’ve earned for fueling our country’s industrial revolution and decades of economic growth. We’re not going to leave any workers or communities behind.”

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced her Green New Deal in 2019, the plan said it was the duty of the federal government to:

“Achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.”

Speaker Pelosi and Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a plan last year that would create a Just Transition Advisory Committee and stated:

“This federal commitment must provide comprehensive financial support and care for the displaced workers, including wage replacement, health care, and job retraining and placement.”

The Sunrise Movement, League of Conservation Voters, National Resources Defense Council, World Resources Institute, were among the many activist groups that have talked about making a “just transition” a priority of their energy and environmental plans.

Jobs Gone Overnight

Despite these assurances, the orders to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline and ban leasing on federal lands occurred without a plan to support workers.

The New York Post detailed the grim realities faced by workers and small businesses in light of these orders. Laurie and Wally Cox, who ran the Stroppel Hotel in Midland, South Dakota, saw their newly thriving business cease to exist within 48 hours of Biden taking office after the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline:

“Our whole world turned upside down with the stroke of a pen… the entire town became an instant ghost down.”

John Waters, executive director of the Carlsbad Department of Development, lamented how the ban on federal leasing will impact New Mexico:

“This hurts across the board. It’s literally kicking a state that’s already down while they’re down.”

CBS News talked to workers who said the Keystone XL decision “makes you want to give up,” and others who said the future is “gloomy” and that they are at a “crossroads” and “feel left behind.”

TC Energy, who owns the existing sections of Keystone XL, announced it would lay off more than 1,000 construction jobs. Additionally, the Association of Oil Pipes Lines criticized the executive order, explaining that it would eliminate even more jobs and wages:

“Building the Keystone XL pipeline would create 10,000 good-paying American union jobs during construction. U.S. employment wages would exceed $2.2 billion under a Project Labor Agreement with four American labor unions. The pipeline’s builder was ready to award over $3 billion in contracts awarded to U.S. contractors and suppliers in 2020 with all new steel pipe for Keystone XL is Made in America.”

In Colorado, state Sen. Bob Rankin said the federal leasing ban will have terrible impacts on the Western Slope:

“I believe the gas industry in Western Colorado may just collapse. Many of the operators, he says, are small business owners who employ thousands of people in Garfield. These are small companies. Many of them will just cease, go bankrupt, go out of business.”

Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said, “I know of families who are leaving for jobs elsewhere,” while Politico reported that “GOP lawmakers warn of communities left behind in energy transition” in light of the recent orders:

“[Rep. David] McKinley (R-W.V.) said he feared the Biden climate plan would leave workers with the choice of being underemployed, having to commute hundreds of miles for new work or move to new communities.”

On the Gulf Coast, the Acadia Advocate reported “Louisiana energy experts anticipate job loss, high energy costs amid Biden oil regulations.”

True Colors Already Displayed

While rhetoric continues to assure that a smooth transition will occur as the country decarbonizes, the recent executive orders and reactions to job losses raise many questions over the credibility of these statements.

For instance, Ocasio-Cortez infamously tweeted (and then deleted) that “You absolutely love to see it” in response to falling oil prices that would put workers out of a job. Activist groups, many who tout a “just transition” have celebrated the cancellation of various pipeline projects around the country that led to immediate job losses with no support for those workers and also mocked recent college graduates struggling to find employment amid the pandemic and economic downturn.

A group of fringe Democrats even introduced legislation that would have stopped CARES Act funding from going to oil and natural gas companies, threatening the jobs of the workers at those company without providing any alternative means of employment.

Conclusion

Whatever type of “just transition” the Biden Administration and its allies envisioned, there appears to be no plan to support the thousands of unemployed energy, construction, and small business employees.

Top climate officials John Kerry and Gina McCarthy recently held a press briefing claiming that there will be abundant jobs in the renewables and energy infrastructure sectors but outlined no clear timeline or plan for that transition to happen.

That will be little solace for workers who are out of a job today.

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