Jun 012014

onaschoutsmall  by Bill Onasch

War On Coal
The Senate Minority Leader is bravely putting his reelection campaign in Kentucky on the front line of defense against the War on Coal he alleges has been launched by the Obama administration. Let me be up front–I have no belligerent feelings toward coal, nor to its fossil cousins petroleum and gas. On the contrary, I want to see them left securely under ground in their natural state rather than burning them up as quickly as possible as favored by the husband of former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

Upon what evidence does Senator McConnell base his war charge against the White House? Coral Davenport opens a New York Times article,

“President Obama will use his executive authority to cut carbon emissions from the nation’s coal-fired power plants by up to 20 percent, according to people familiar with his plans, which will spur the creation of a state cap-and-trade program forcing industry to pay for the carbon pollution it creates.”

Cap-and-trade is a hearty perennial. It was planted globally at the insistence of then Vice-President Al Gore representing the USA at the landmark Kyoto climate conference in 1997–though never submitted by Gore’s boss to the U.S. Senate for ratification. It has been a central climate strategy of most other industrialized countries since–and we know how well that’s worked.

Regional state C&T entities have been designed in this country, largely initiated by former Republican Governors such as Mit Romney (who recanted during his Presidential bid) and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The introduction of these carbon credit markets that have been slowed by legal challenges could hit the ground power walking as soon as the new White House order is implemented, expected tomorrow.

The electric utilities are not showing as much alarm as Senator McConnell. The Times article quotes a vice-president of one with coal-fired plants in eleven states,

“We view cap and trade as having a lot of benefits. There’s important design considerations that would have to be factored in, to consider each state’s circumstances. But we think it’s definitely worth looking at. It could keep the cost down. It would allow us to keep coal units running for a more extended period. There are a lot of advantages.”

Market forces with no need of government intervention have already reduced coal usage in power generation. Environmentally destructive fracking has flooded the energy market with a glut of cheap natural gas that is marginally cleaner than coal. Coal is still tops but now produces only 37 percent of electricity. Natural gas is up to 30; nuclear 19. Only 14 percent comes from clean renewables such as hydro, wind, and solar.

This bargain gas bonanza is an unsustainable trend in the long run but will likely last beyond the present administration in Washington–unless Vice-President Biden’s son can win some new opportunities for gas exports to compete with Russia in Ukraine.

Already we are seeing a spike in domestic gasoline prices as the surge of fracked North Dakota oil, that has helped make America the world’s number one producer of fossil fuels, is finding its way in to the export of refined gasoline. Emissions through the refining process remain part of our new found “energy independence” but end use greenhouse pollution will be charged to some other country.

The President’s resurrection of cap-and-trade is restricted to electric power plants. There’s no initiative in the works for dealing with greenhouse emissions from transportation or manufacturing–not to mention the military.

The advertised twenty percent cut is limited to coal emissions. And that percentage starts not from the goals of the expiring Kyoto Protocols but from a very high 2005 level. It’s a deal we might once have said gives us snow in the wintertime–but global warming has pulled the punch on such sarcasm today.

While calling this Obama plan a war on coal is hyperbole, there will be some collateral damage to coal industry workers, their families, and their communities. If we were to adopt what’s really needed to take on climate change–a rapid reduction in use of all fossil fuels, with a goal of their near total replacement as we transition to a sustainable economy based on clean renewable energy–millions across various sectors of the economy could see existing jobs eliminated.

The President shows no more consideration about the plight of such workers than he did about the 100,000 jobs he and Rahm Immanuel eliminated during his “saving the auto industry” dictated bankruptcy at General Motors and Chrysler. Those car companies are again making robust profits. It’s just the jobs and the city of Detroit that didn’t get saved. Nor has America’s CEO exhibited any remorse about the tens of thousands of Middle Class jobs at the US Postal Service he has ordered axed. He relies on the Free Market Job Creators.

But we should not accept job elimination in the name of Austerity in the public sector, or to make private businesses competitive, or as an inevitable consequence of taking action–or more accurately, pretending to take action–to save our biosphere.

There is no need for austerity in the richest country in history. The public sector is the only avenue for taking charge of the key components of the economy responsible for creating the climate crisis and instead running them according to an ecologically sound plan of sustainable restructuring. And when we do that we will create many more good jobs than the number we will have to phase out.

We live in a time of crisis where the same old, same old won’t do. We can no longer be content with “less than perfect” gestures. We need bold alternatives and even bolder actions that will shake things up.

Regular readers have heard all this before. But there are always new readers not yet familiar with what we mean when we speak of class and climate justice. And a little repetition now and then doesn’t hurt. More on this topic next time.

Is the World Turning Right?
Some pundits have written that the results of the recent local and European Parliament elections across that continent are the harbinger of a global political shift to the right. But closer examination indicates this is largely wishful thinking.

To be sure, the success of some far-right groups advancing anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic bigotry is troubling and needs to be confronted. But there were other countervailing trends not so well publicized.

In Greece, the leftist Syriza party, riding a popular wave of anti-austerity sentiment, won big time.

The New York Times reported, “Ireland has taken a decisive step to the left in local and European elections, where early returns on Saturday showed that the big winners were Sinn Fein, formerly the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, and Socialist independent candidates.”

Even in Britain, where the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party made an impressive showing, it was mostly at the expense of the governing coalition Tories and Liberals. Labor and the Greens actually registered modest gains.

Meanwhile in the USA, where the cracked tea-pots have politicians of both parties trembling with fear, a Gallup Poll shows fewer Americans identify themselves as conservatives than during the last two election cycles.

The global trend seems to be instability. Where the left aggressively campaigned around working class issues and solidarity they mostly prevailed over far-right purveyors of hate.

On Hold
Al Jazeera America reported on Wednesday,

“President Barack Obama has ordered the postponement of a review of U.S. deportation policy until the end of summer, hoping to give legislative reform a better chance in Congress, officials said Tuesday.”

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka soon issued a brief statement entitled “Act Without Delay to End the Deportation Crisis.”

On Thursday, the New York Times reported,

“On the same day that White House officials revealed that President Obama had delayed for two months making any decisions on changing his deportations policy, enforcement agents fanned out in immigrant neighborhoods in Milwaukee, detaining 21 foreigners in homes and workplaces….some immigrants who were detained were longtime Milwaukee residents with no criminal histories other than migration violations because they had entered the country illegally.”

The previous week, a Times story reported,

“As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.”

Another reform from the si se puede President.

Silver Anniversary For Radio That Talks Back to the Boss
The award-winning Heartland Labor Forum has been a weekly mainstay on KKFI Community Radio in Kansas City for 25 years and it’s time to celebrate. Pacifica commentator Jim Hightower, and labor troubadour Anne Feeney are coming to town Saturday, June 14 for a festive event at the IBEW Local 124 Hall, 301 E 103 Terrace. There is a VIP Dinner at 6PM followed by a Program featuring Hightower and Feeney at 7. Tickets cost 30 dollars for both dinner and program, 15 for the program alone, and can be obtained from Brown Paper Tickets.

That’s all for this week.

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Check out our digest of news stories about working class and climate issues, posted Monday-Friday by 9AM Central. on our companion Labor Advocate blog.

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Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

Bill Onasch is a paid up NWU member

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