No climate, no deal: The importance of the Civilian Climate Corps

On June 14, I met up with a group of 20 young people as they marched from Sonoma County to the Marin Headlands. Many of these trekkers started their journey from Santa Rosa, while a select few started their journey in Paradise, California, the site of the deadliest fire in California history. Even though everyone’s feet were hurting by the end of the day and the fog brought a chill to our campsite, the excitement for the next day was palpable. Together, we planned to walk from Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco — the final leg in the 266-mile march from Paradise.  

There, more than 100 of us made our demand clear outside Speaker Nancy Pelsoi and Senator Diane Feinstein’s homes: Pass legislation to create the Civilian Climate Corps (CCC). 

Sunrise Movement Generation on Fire March

Photo by Janina Turner / The Climate Center.

For two years, I’ve been organizing with the Sunrise Movement in Sonoma County. Sunrise is a youth-led movement working to halt the climate crisis by calling on politicians to enact Green New Deal policies, transitioning the United States away from a fossil fuel economy, toward renewable energy, and creating millions of good-paying jobs in the process. The Sunrise Sonoma County hub works to bring the pillars of the Green New Deal — such as climate justice, livable wages, affordable housing, and green jobs — to life at the local level.

The launch of a Civilian Climate Corps would put 1.5 million people to work over five years. These are jobs that move us toward a regenerative, green economy, creating a world of opportunity for Americans struggling to find stable employment in the wake of COVID and helping to curb climate change at the same time. As we transition away from fossil fuels, the Corps can provide jobs in the energy sector as well as opportunities focused on restoration, decarbonization, and community revitalization. In California, the Corps could also provide jobs that focus on wildfire prevention, renewable energy, habitat restoration, public transportation, and affordable housing. 

The Civilian Climate Corps is inspired by the Civilian Conservation Corps of the New Deal era, which put people to work by planting trees, developing recreation areas, and upgrading infrastructure. But this updated version is designed to be more equitable and inclusive. New Deal programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps discriminated against African American and Indigenous men, who were segregated from their white counterparts in the workforce. And women, regardless of race, were not even allowed to join the corps and were sent instead to women-only work camps. This time around, we want to ensure that the communities that have been harmed the most by climate change and fossil fuel pollution are the first to benefit. We’re demanding that 50 percent of job opportunities go to environmental justice communities and half of all projects are happening in these communities.

Furthermore, it’s vital that the jobs created by the Corps pay at least $15/hour, come with good health care benefits, provide education grants to help pay off student debt, and offer long-term career opportunities so workers can afford to take care of themselves and their families. 

The movement for a Civilian Climate Corps took to the streets again on June 28, this time in front of the White House. There, more than 500 Sunrisers demanded that President Joe Biden include the Civilian Climate Corps in the infrastructure package Congress is negotiating right now — and 13 activists were arrested for peacefully blockading the entrance to the White House. A contingent of California-based Sunrisers marched to Speaker Pelosi and Senator Feinstein’s D.C. homes for another protest on June 29. 

https://twitter.com/sunrisemvmt/status/1409633324671246341

Knowing that climate catastrophe is hovering over my future and that of my generation is why I fight for Green New Deal legislation like the Civilian Climate Corps. Knowing that a better future is possible but watching critical climate resolutions be tossed away is what ignites my generation to organize and protest. Experiencing record-breaking wildfires year after year, as well as drought, heatwaves, and floods in my backyard, I have no choice but to continue the fight for a safe future. To see that future come into fruition, it is crucial that we see mass mobilization in support of a Green New Deal and Civilian Climate Corps. The CCC is only one part of a larger vision for a just and livable future, and it’s time for our elected leaders to understand that we will not accept compromises or excuses.

The federal infrastructure package must reflect on the urgency of the crises we are in. 

California’s budget surplus is a historic opportunity for climate-safe investments

We live in an extraordinary time for California’s budget. Despite previous predictions of a major COVID-induced deficit, the state instead is currently sitting on an unprecedented budget surplus to the tune of nearly $100 billion. This presents a massive opportunity to invest in climate resilience, clean energy, green jobs, and more.

The legislative budget process is an evolving, months-long, and often opaque process (learn about it in more detail here). Right now, we’re nearing the end of that process. In accordance with the state’s June 15 deadline, lawmakers voted to adopt a budget earlier this week. However, negotiations between the legislature and the governor are ongoing, and the state’s final budget won’t be revealed until later in the month. Typically by now, lawmakers are debating which pieces of the budget to cut, but that’s not the case with this year’s historic surplus. Instead, they’re debating where to invest

This year’s budget includes several items that we at The Climate Center are excited to see. Due to the enormity of the surplus and unresolved negotiations on the specifics of allocating funding, many of the key items of interest for The Climate Center are in the form of packages. 

Some of the packages to take note of include:

  • $1.2 billion for climate resilience 
  • $2.2 billion for zero-emission vehicles 
  • $835 million for clean energy

These are, without a doubt, historic investments. But there are more details to work out before we can get too excited. How these packages are implemented, how investments are directed, and who controls the money will all be hammered out through additional legislation called trailer bills. It’s vital that the money we invest in climate solutions be doled out equitably, that communities already enduring climate impacts get their fair share, and that we support oil and gas workers as we transition to renewable energy sources. 

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but there’s one thing you can do today. Out of that $1.2 billion resilience package, The Climate Center and our members are pushing to secure funding for community energy resilience. With much of the state already experiencing extreme heat and grid operators warning about the need to curtail power usage, we need solutions that allow our communities to keep power going without relying on fossil-fueled generators. That’s what community energy resilience projects can do — take a moment to write your legislators about community energy resilience today

Finally, while this budget includes significant investments in climate programs, it still falls short of what we need to comprehensively address the climate crisis. The costs of waiting — more devastating fires, burdens on the healthcare system, and more — are so much higher than the costs of taking bold action today. We look at this year’s budget as a downpayment. California is beginning to invest in the kinds of programs that will stave off the worst impacts of the climate crisis, but this can’t be a one-time thing. Creating the safe, healthy, just future all Californians deserve requires sustained, significant investment from our leaders in Sacramento. 

A unanimous mistake for Kern County

On Monday, March 8th, the Kern County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a revised ordinance supported by oil industry interests to approve over 2,700 new oil wells per year. This amounts to 40,000 new wells by 2036. 

Hundreds of constituents and community leaders spoke out against the ordinance in a daylong board meeting. Many environmental leaders argued that the ordinance would only increase health impacts to surrounding communities as well as cause detriment to the local environment.

Oil wells and hydraulic fracking chemicals contaminate the ground water and drinking water for neighboring communities. These chemicals can potentially lead to cancer, birth defects, and liver damage. In regard to air quality, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides are released into the air and most families living near these sites experience asthma, and other respiratory illness. These families are experiencing long time exposure and it’s non-occupational, just living day in and day out near these wells is harmful. The development of oil and gas can also cause long-term damage to our public lands by disturbing the land, increasing erosion, and stripping vegetation.

Kern County produces 80% of California’s oil and gas. These vested industry interests hold financial clout in the region and that was very apparent with the unanimous decision made by the Kern County Board of Supervisors. 

However, there is hope on the horizon with new legislation: Senate Bill 467 introduced by Senator Scott Wiener and Senator Monique Limón. This bill would halt the renewal of permits for hydraulic fracking starting on January 1, 2022. The bill also restricts all new or modified permits for oil and gas production creating a 2,500 feet buffer zone from any school, community residence, or healthcare facility. 

The Climate Center’s Climate-Safe California campaign includes the equitable phase-out of fossil fuels with a Just Transition for workers as the first step toward a healthy and vibrant climate-safe future for all Californians. We are working with partners to secure more legislation to this end. We continue to build support for our Climate-Safe California campaign to show that across the state, Californians want an equitable clean energy future. Show your support today by endorsing Climate-Safe California.

Kern County residents who have been failed by their elected representatives and other Californians on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction, production, and use are counting on us all to support an end to our fossil fuel reliance. Let’s not let them down.

 

The data debunks the denial: Bold climate action sooner costs less in dollars and lives

In reaction to a historical day of climate policy action by the Biden Administration, some loud political and media voices continue to claim that climate action is too costly.

These claims are idiocy.

At this moment, we must remind naysayers that study after study shows the huge costs of waiting to act and points not only to the feasibility of doing so, but also to the moral imperative as fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts hit the poor the hardest.  Especially here in California– a massive oil-producing state– we must continue to pressure our legislators to prioritize an equitable phase out of fossil fuels with a Just Transition.

A new report from Energy Innovation shows that the cumulative cost of delaying the decarbonization of our economy until 2030 are 72% higher than the cost of starting now ($4.5 trillion vs $8 trillion). This should come as no surprise considering that in 2020 alone, the estimated cost of wildfires just in the U.S. is $130 to $150 billion.

Two other recent reports also illustrate the economic advantages of moving to net-zero emissions sooner rather than later.

New research published by the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), the University of San Francisco (USF), and the consulting firm Evolved Energy Research indicates that rebuilding U.S. energy infrastructure to run primarily on renewable energy can be done at a net cost of about $1 per person per day.

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says that achieving net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2050 is feasible and would not only help address climate change, but also build a more competitive economy, increase high-quality jobs, and help address social injustice in the energy system. The committee that wrote the report emphasized that immediate action and proactive innovation are required. The Climate Center agrees, but supports a target date of 2030 to better align with the science and current climate reality.

Starting the transition to all renewables right now also makes a lot of sense if we want to avoid getting stuck with expensive and worthless infrastructure. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry recently warned that continuing to build out natural gas infrastructure runs the risk of creating stranded assets in the future.

Climate action has already helped some fossil fuel-dependent communities weather the COVID-19 recession. When the pandemic hit Cheyenne, Wyoming, the city’s treasurer, Robin Lockman estimated that the city might lose up to 25% of its budget as tax revenues slowed and the prices of oil, gas and coal plummeted, eliminating royalties the city usually receives from the extraction of those resources. But the huge deficit never arrived. Between July and September, the city instead saw a 20.5% increase in tax revenue compared to 2019. In September alone, the increase was $1.4 million or 83% due to the Roundhouse Wind Project. Over the last decade, investors have laid the groundwork for wind farms across Wyoming.

California’s own rich solar and wind resources are not being fully utilized yet, but once they are, the development of these renewable energy resources will protect the state against dry coffers when fossil fuel demand dries up. Communities such as Kern County rely heavily on income from oil extraction– despite terrible health impacts for community members. This explains the resistance to renewables in those communities, but if the state were to prioritize rapid fossil fuel phase-out with Climate Justice and a Just Transition, these communities would be able to weather economic downturns and protect their most vulnerable from adverse health impacts. A recent study found that in 2018 alone, fossil fuels caused 8.7 million premature deaths globally.

Whether you ask an economist or a doctor, the answer is the same– fossil fuels must go and sooner is better. Endorse our Climate-Safe California platform today and support a vibrant, healthy, and just future for all.

 

CPUC Approves $200M Investment in Microgrids for Vulnerable Communities

Reliable Clean Energy for Those Who Need it Most

On January 12, 2021 the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a new decision in the CPUC microgrid proceeding. While the decision did very little to advance microgrid commercialization as required by SB 1339, it did include $200 million in utility ratepayer funding for a new incentive program to support microgrid development in vulnerable communities. These funds will not be enough to meet the magnitude of the need but the decision is an important policy step in the right direction.

Prioritization of vulnerable communities is a primary objective of The Climate Center’s Community Energy Resilience (CER) initiative. We are working with many partners to create a better electricity system for California that is clean, affordable, reliable, equitable and safe– prioritizing microgrid development in lower-income communities that suffer the most from air pollution and power outages.

The CPUC action followed through on recommendations from The Climate Center and Vote Solar as well as allied parties in the microgrid proceeding including Grid AlternativesSierra Club California and the California Environmental Justice Alliance.

During the discussion on the decision , CPUC President Batjer noted that “there remains work to do.”  We strongly support key points in the letter sent by Reclaim our Power to the CPUC highlighting the need to invest in disadvantaged communities, allow local communities to define critical facilities, develop a microgrid incentive structure to address historical inequities, focus on clean energy microgrids, and provide opportunities for community ownership.

The forward movement of this new decision, as well as the CPUC decision issued last June which recognized the pivotal role of local governments in energy resilience planning, was driven in part by comments filed by The Climate Center and filing partner Vote Solar in the CPUC proceeding over the past year.

As highlighted in our filings (e.g., January 4th and December 28th), as well as in The Climate Center’s CER Policy Summit last August, California’s clean energy programs have not sufficiently benefited lower-income customers who face higher cost burdens and are disproportionately impacted by power shutoffs.

Rather than leaving such decisions to a remote utility-centered policy-making process, local communities need to be empowered to plan their own energy future. Local empowerment is a core objective of The Climate Center’s flagship CER legislation, SB 99, the Community Energy Resilience Act, as introduced by Senator Bill Dodd in late December.

To learn more, please visit www.theclimatecenter.org/microgrids

Upcoming Climate Center webinars to focus on climate science and fossil fuel phaseout

The Climate Center is kicking off its Climate Safe California winter webinar series with the first two webinars focused on climate science and a just transition away from the fossil energy era.

Webinar 1. What the Science Requires

The first titled “What the Science Requires” will take place on Tuesday, January 26th, 10am – 11am.

In this webinar Ben Santer, an atmospheric scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, will discuss the most recent climate science, explore some of the implications of what we face, and address the urgent need for accelerated action. Mr. Santer is an award winning climate scientist who has stood up to the Trump administration’s attempts to muzzle him and his colleagues by speaking truth to power and just conduct good science.

Jason Barbose, Senior Policy Manager, Western States at Union of Concerned Scientists, will address some of the legislative and regulatory campaigns underway in California to meaningfully address the climate crisis, focusing on clean energy and sustainable transportation.

Ellie Cohen, The Climate Center CEO, will offer a brief overview of the Climate-Safe California suite of policies that address the climate crisis at the speed and scale required. After what we have all been through in 2020, it is clear that climate impacts are more severe than anticipated and are happening faster than we thought. We hope you can join us for this webinar.

Register HERE for webinar #1.

Webinar 2: Phasing Out Fossil Fuels: A Just Transition in the Oil & Gas Drilling and Refining Sectors

In this webinar, scheduled for a special 90-minutes on Tuesday, February 23rd from 10am to 11:30am, we will explore how to ensure a just transition in two key facets of the fossil energy industry – extraction and refining. How do we move away from fossil fuels while ensuring a just transition for workers and communities that are economically dependent on these activities? Speakers will discuss the current impacts of fossil fuel production on frontline communities and what needs to be done to address them, a plan for decommissioning California refineries, and the possibility of enacting a fracking ban. What does the clean –and just– energy future look like?

Ingrid Brostrom of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment and Gustavo Aguirre, Jr. of the Central California Environmental Justice Network will cover the oil & gas extraction side. Ms Brostrom will address efforts at the state policy level to accelerate the phaseout with an emphasis on hazardous waste, oil and gas, and Just Transition. Mr. Aguirre Jr. will bring us to the oil fields in Kern County to convey the realities of frontline communities and the need for a transition to a safe and healthful environment, but not leaving the workers behind.

Greg Karras, Principal of Community Energy reSource and Steve Garey, a retired refinery worker, will cover the oil refining sector. Mr. Karras will summarize the key recommendations about how to implement policies to ensure a just transition for communities and workers in his 2020 report “Decommissioning Refineries: Climate and Health Paths in an Oil State.” Mr. Garey, who served as President of United Steelworkers local 12-591 from 2010 until his retirement in 2015 and who now serves on the executive committee of the Washington State Blue Green Alliance and on the steering committee of the Climate Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy in Washington, will offer us a labor perspective.

Register HERE for webinar #2.

We hope you can join us for these first two webinars in the series, and please check back at The Climate Safe California Webinar Series to find out about more coming up!