Case Studies


TransAlta: Labor Backs a Transition Beyond Coal

In 2011 environmental, labor, and other groups reached an agreement to phase out the state of Washington’s only coal-fired power plant. The process by which they reached agreement embodies many of the key elements for including the concerns of workers and their unions in transitioning beyond coal.

For more than half a century, the state of Washington has received the bulk of its electricity from the Grand Coulee Dam and other hydroelectric sources. But in 1973 the Centralia Power Plant was opened and began burning coal from the nearby Centralia Mine. In 2000 the complex was bought by the Alberta-based TransAlta corporation, which closed the mine in 2006, laying off several hundred workers.

As early as 2004, Public Citizen ranked Centralia as the thirty-sixth most polluting power plant in the United States for carbon dioxide emissions. [xi] Stephanie Kodish of the National Parks Conservation Association noted that “Every year, millions of visitors to Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks are unable to see the postcard views they expect because they have been obscured by haze pollution largely caused by the TransAlta power plant.” [xii] Emissions from the plant were also an embarrassment to Gov. Chris Gregoire, who had staked out a national and international role as an advocate for clean energy and had promoted a pioneering state law restricting greenhouse gases.

In April 2009 TransAlta secretly negotiated a deal with Governor Gregoire and the state Ecology Department to modestly reduce mercury and nitrous oxide emissions. Washington environmentalists blasted the deal and even the National Park Service’s Don Shepherd, who reviews regulations for factories that pollute air near national parks, said, “We have some major concerns about this.” [xiii] The Ecology Department promised hearings, but over the next year no hearings were held.

In September 2009 a coalition that included Earth Justice, the Sierra Club, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center filed an appeal to pull an air pollution permit granted to TransAlta by state regulators. Calling the plant the number-one source of global warming, mercury, and haze pollution in Washington State, the coalition expressed dissatisfaction with the governor’s deal with the company.

Meanwhile, the Sierra Club, together with public health, labor, and faith-based groups, launched a campaign to close the plant by 2015, with job retraining for its three hundred workers. [xiv] Doug Howell, director of the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Washington campaign, proposed also to end a $5 million tax exemption for TransAlta and use the funds to retrain TransAlta workers in green-energy technology. [xv]

At an April 2010 forum in Vancouver, one of the speakers was longshoreman Cager Clabaugh, who worked at the Port of Vancouver. The port handles imported wind turbine components, and Clabaugh reported that the port’s International Longshore and Warehouse Union had gained nearly two hundred members since 1995 when the “wind rush” began.

Clabaugh also pointed out that clean-energy advocates needed to take into account the potential loss of three hundred jobs if the Centralia plant were to close. “There are three hundred workers that rely on that plant to provide for their families. They make two and a half times the county average wage. What I would like to see happen is get some infrastructure in place so those folks have some place to transition to.” [xvi]

Another forum in Olympia drew two hundred people. According to a blog for the Sierra Club’s campaign,

Things got interesting during the Q&A session. There were about a dozen people from the Boilermakers Local, one of the unions represented at the plant, who asked some really good questions about the future of their jobs. It’s obviously something everyone is concerned about, and the discussion could have gotten ugly, but everyone remained respectful and there was a very lively, back-and-forth conversation about Centralia, green jobs, and what should be done to make sure that we meet our climate goals while also protecting jobs.

And even after the Q&A ended, the discussion continued, with clumps of Sierra Club activists and union members talking for a good hour, until we finally had to clear the room. [xvii]

At the state legislature in February 2011, the environmental groups supported a bill that would transition the Centralia plant off coal by 2015. They also agreed to support a substitute bill that would push the deadline back to 2020.

The company asked to continue till 2025 to protect jobs and maintain the electricity supply. Bob Guenther, president of the Centralia Central Labor Council and a lobbyist for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represented the largest group of the Centralia plant’s employees, was formerly a TransAlta mechanic for thirty-four years; he testified in support of the company’s position that the plant should be kept open. [xviii] Several hundred Centralia area residents, plant employees, and union members rallied on the steps of the state capitol to support the company’s position. Centralia mechanic Patrick Conaway said he was worried about losing a good-paying job that supports his family. He said the company had added pollution controls and that “they’re doing everything they can on their part.” [xix]

In the face of potential deadlock, Governor Gregoire initiated negotiations between the environmental groups and TransAlta. The IBEW was not included in the negotiations—whereupon the environmentalists made a strategic decision to advocate for TransAlta’s workers. [xx] “They insisted that the plant’s workforce be retained throughout its closure and cleanup; that workers be trained in the technologies that would replace coal, especially energy efficiency, and that the company, not the taxpayers, subsidize the transition.” [xxi] The result was an agreement that one of the plant’s coal boilers would be shut by 2020 and the other by 2025. Forty percent of the plant’s 250 employees will reach retirement age before the closing, and the rest will have at least eight years in their current jobs. [xxii]

The company also agreed to provide $30 million to a community investment fund and $25 million for an energy-technology transition fund. [xxiii] TransAlta was allowed to sell long-term contracts for coal-fired power, but also agreed to install pollution control technology.

According to the Seattle Times, “Labor groups backed the deal because of the fifteen-year phaseout and the company’s financial contribution.” [xxiv] Guenther notes that “When we saw that a smooth transition was on the table and that we were going to keep this community healthy, we saw that as an opportunity to make this happen.” Without the transition guarantee, “we’d have been fighting that to the nth degree.” [xxv]

A spokesperson for the Sierra Club observed, “We were pushing for a faster retirement, but this agreement allows for a smooth transition in the community and time to reconfigure the electrical grid to integrate the region’s abundant wind and solar resources instead of rushing to gas.” [xxvi] K. C. Golden of Climate Solutions called the plan an example of all parties agreeing to make the transition away from coal. “I’m delighted that it’s going to happen in a way that gives everybody time to make the right investments.” [xxvii]

What made the unexpected agreement possible? According to Kathleen Ridihalgh of the Sierra Club, it was in part because of relationship-building dating back to 1999, when the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle created “one of the first blue-green alliances.” Even while labor and green groups seemed to be at loggerheads over the Centralia plant, environmental, public health, religious, political, corporate, and labor representatives continued meeting and talking. According to Ridihalgh, “Having those discussions was very, very helpful.”

While environmentalists had initially pushed for worker retraining, they learned from these discussions that retraining was not what TransAlta workers—most of whom were fifty or older—wanted. Instead, union officials identified the crucial needs as job security, community reinvestment, and transition time—issues the environmental groups subsequently fought for in the negotiations. [xxviii] Participants in the process emphasize that the $30 million fund for local economic development was crucial to labor’s support for the final agreement.

When the legislature approved the Coal-Free Future for Washington bill embodying the agreement, its advocates stressed its benefits for both jobs and the environment. Doug Howell, director of the Coal-Free Future for Washington campaign said, “This is a win-win-win for our health, the environment, our economy, and the Lewis County community.” The legislation was the result of “environmentalists, labor unions, health experts, faith leaders, the local community, the corporation, the governor, and legislators all working together.” Earth Ministry executive director LeeAnne Beres said, “This bill will transition our state off of coal while providing much-needed investment in energy efficiency and economic development in Lewis County.” It was a step toward a future in which “all God’s children have clean air and water and the opportunity to earn a living wage.” [xxix]

The success of the campaign to retire Washington’s TransAlta coal-fired power plant was aided by three critical strategies. It addressed the jobs and economic development needs of the affected local communities. It protected the livelihoods of the power plant workers directly affected. And it involved the affected workers and unions in forging a solution that would work for them. The rest of this manual explores how to implement these three strategies.


The Jobs Story: Coal vs. Alternatives

. A variety of studies have found that renewable energy and conservation produce substantially more jobs than fossil fuels, although the precise numbers vary somewhat from study to study and each local situation is unique. Renewable energy and energy efficiency tend to be labor-intensive and local. They contribute to job growth in manufacturing, construction, operation, and maintenance. In addition, dollars saved through energy efficiency tend to be spent and respent locally, creating further jobs.

A study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts examined the number of jobs created by spending the same amount on different forms of energy. [iv] It found the following results for spending $1 million:

Fossil fuels like coal and natural gas are the least job-intensive energy solutions. A dollar invested in energy efficiency and alternative energy creates more than twice as many jobs as the same amount invested in coal or gas. Energy efficiency and alternative energy also produce little or no environmental pollution or climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Natural gas produces less pollution than coal. Their relative effect on climate is still under debate. Coal is slightly more job-intensive than natural gas.

There are many kinds of biofuels. Some cause serious environmental effects, do little to reduce greenhouse gases, and raise food prices by diverting crops from food production. Others, such as new algae-based fuels, provide promising alternatives.

The relative cost of different energy sources varies depending on location and the ups and downs of the markets. A 2012 study by the Michigan Public Service Commission found that new renewable energy generation is now cheaper than new coal generation in Michigan. [v] Over time, renewable energy and energy efficiency will almost certainly become progressively cheaper relative to fossil fuels.

TVA Required to Fund Local Economic Development

After an eleven-year struggle by environmental groups and state governments, in April 2011 the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reached agreement to phase out eighteen coal-fired power plant units and to install new pollution controls on thirty-six others. The agreement settled a suit brought by the National Parks Conservation Association, Our Children’s Earth Foundation, the Sierra Club, the states of Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The settlement requires TVA to spend $350 million on environmental mitigation projects to address the impacts of past emissions. Communities near TVA facilities will directly benefit from this investment in environmental projects designed to reduce harmful air pollution and advance environmental justice issues.

Under the settlement with EPA, TVA will spend $290 million for the following projects:

  • $240 million as part of the Energy Efficiency Projects that are designed to increase efficiency in transmission and demand-side supply to displace utilization of coal-fired electricity generation.
  • TVA’s Smart Energy Communities project will focus on energy efficiency, including: high-efficiency air-conditioning or water heating, lighting upgrades, and grid-integrated renewable energy.
  • As part of the Smart Energy Communities, TVA will provide “Extreme Energy Makeovers” for at least two communities in the Tennessee Valley. This project will retrofit low-income housing with the most cost-effective energy-reduction packages, thereby reducing energy consumption by as much as 25 percent, and thus power generation and associated criteria and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Additionally, TVA is offering incentive programs for residential, commercial, and industrial energy efficiency projects.
  • $40 million to reduce greenhouse gases and other pollutants through the Clean/Renewable Energy Projects. These projects include: waste heat recovery, electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid electric charging stations, solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, and landfill or waste treatment methane gas capture and generation.
  • $8 million for a Clean Diesel Retrofit and Electric Vehicle Project that requires TVA to either retrofit in-service, public diesel engines with emission control equipment designed to reduce emissions of NOx and volatile organic compounds or to replace such vehicles with electric or hybrid-electric vehicles.
  • $1 million each to the National Park Service and the National Forest Service to improve, protect, or rehabilitate park and forest lands that have been injured by emissions from TVA’s plants. [vi]

TVA will also distribute $60 million to Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee for these states to implement projects of their choosing from a list of categories in the consent decree.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson noted that in addition to saving lives and preventing billions of dollars in health costs, the agreement will “help create green job opportunities that will reduce pollution and improve energy efficiency.

Delaware: Coal to Wind


A promising effort to integrate employee and community jobs needs with transition from coal to clean, renewable energy was about to reach fruition in Delaware when changes in federal energy law blocked their progress. While the plan is now on hold, it illustrates some of the key elements for a job-friendly transition beyond coal.

In July 2010 the state of Delaware announced a consent agreement with NRG Energy, Inc., that would permanently close the third of four coal-fired electrical generators at the Indian River Power Plant. NRG was already at work on the Bluewater Wind Project, and as part of the agreement, NRG committed to focus its negotiations for offshore wind turbines for the project on companies that present a significant economic development and manufacturing opportunity for Delaware.

NRG also agreed to develop job-training programs in partnership with Delaware colleges to provide training opportunities for current employees and the local labor force for clean-energy jobs, including the company’s planned offshore wind park, electric vehicle infrastructure, and solar technology. NRG said it expected to close the coal-fired plant without layoffs through retirements, retraining, attrition, and redeployment.

Gov. Jack Markell said, “This agreement will be a significant step forward for environmental quality and to restore the health of the Inland Bays. The agreement also includes a strong economic development component that provides critical workforce training for jobs in a clean-energy economy.”

Secretary Collin O’Mara of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control added, “NRG’s plan for an offshore wind park, which will require five hundred construction jobs, and now their commitment to provide specialized training for current employees and local workers for those jobs and other alternative-energy programs, makes this a major step forward for Delaware’s improving public health and growing our clean-energy economy.”

The consent order included the following commitments by NRG:

  1. Offshore Wind Manufacturing: NRG will be negotiating over the next six months with offshore wind turbine manufacturer(s) that would offer significant economic development and job opportunities for Delaware in connection with the NRG wind park or other offshore wind projects.
  2. DelTech Training Program: In partnership with Delaware Technical and Community College, NRG will help develop and provide $150,000 for a Wind Turbine Technician training program in the construction and operation trades for any offshore wind project. Graduates will be trained in time for work on the Mid-Atlantic Wind Park.
  3. Construction Training for NRG Wind Park: NRG will provide tuition reimbursement to qualified existing NRG employees who enroll in the DelTech technician training program to be developed. NRG employees will be offered wind park construction jobs first, to the extent possible and consistent with state and federal employment laws.
  4. Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Jobs: NRG and the University of Delaware expect to develop a program to train electricians to install home, commercial, and public electric car charging stations as part of discussions for electric vehicle infrastructure development in Delaware.
  5. Solar Infrastructure Jobs: NRG will work with DelTech, University of Delaware, and Delaware State University programs to train installers and service technicians of solar technologies. NRG will also evaluate developing large-scale solar projects with attention to supporting local job creation in the areas of production, installation, and maintenance.

In December 2011 NRG put all of its offshore wind development projects on hold for the near term. In explaining the decision, it noted:

Two aspects of the project critical for success have actually gone backwards: the decisions of Congress to eliminate funding for the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program applicable to offshore wind, and the failure to extend the Federal Investment and Production Tax Credits for offshore wind which expire at the end of 2012 and which have rendered the Delaware project both unfinanceable and financially untenable for the present.

The company said it would “preserve its options by maintaining our development rights and continuing to seek development partners and equity investors. If and when market conditions improve and the company is able to find partners, NRG will look to deploy the Wind Park and explore other viable offshore wind opportunities in the Northeast.” [viii]

The Navajo Nation: A Just Transition from Coal

The Navajo Nation is a Native American–governed reservation roughly the size of West Virginia located in northeastern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. Its economy has traditionally been based on agriculture, crafts, and extractive industries; average family income is $7,500 per year and the unemployment rate typically exceeds 40 percent.

The reservation, occupied by Navajo and Hopi Indians, includes some of the richest coal deposits in the world. A complex of mines and power plants provides the great majority of the Navajo and Hopi tribal budgets [ix] and is the main source of on-reservation jobs. They also provide high levels of air pollution, asthma, lung damage, water pollution, and chemical damage to farms and ranches.

Desert Rock

When plans became known to build a new coal-fired power plant at Desert Rock on the New Mexico side of the reservation, the proposal divided the reservation. The builder promised the Navajo Nation $50 million a year. The Tribal Council voted 66–7 for the deal. Many residents hoped the plant would be a source of good jobs. But grassroots opposition soon emerged. Local residents crowded public hearings to oppose the plant; the group Diné [Navaho] Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE) sued to prevent mine expansion for the plant; [x] a new group called Dooda Desert Rock (No to Desert Rock) blockaded surveyors.

Opponents of the plant, and of the reservation’s dependence on coal, understood that it was not enough to oppose coal plants; they also had to address the economic and energy needs of the reservation’s impoverished, job-deprived, and culturally abused residents. Diné CARE worked with Ecos consultants to prepare a study that provided not only a critique of the Desert Rock proposal, but detailed alternatives for wind, solar, gas, and conservation (see “Energy and Economic Alternatives to the Desert Rock Energy Project”).

Black Mesa

Meanwhile in the Black Mesa region on the Arizona side of the reservation, the Black Mesa Water Coalition and other grassroots and environmental groups had successfully ended the abuse of reservation water resources by Peabody Coal. They recognized, however, that the economically deprived people of the Navajo Nation needed something more than simply blocking sources of pollution. So they established the Just Transition Coalition, whose purpose was to “justly transition Navajo employment sources off of coal mining and into renewable energy.” Composed primarily of Hopi and Navajo and environmental justice allies, including Indigenous Environmental Network, Honor the Earth Foundation, Apollo Alliance, Black Mesa Water Coalition, To’Nizhoni Ani, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Sierra Club, the coalition developed a plan for economic development based on tribally owned wind and solar projects. [xi]

The coalition took advantage of a unique situation. The closing of a highly polluting generating station had provided its owner, Southern California Edison, $30 million annually in pollution allowances which could be sold under the U.S. Acid Rain Program. The Just Transition Coalition asked the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the company, to devote that money to implementing a just transition plan for the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe.

The plan would direct 30 percent of the pollution credits to local villages and tribal governments to invest in solar, wind, and ecotourism; 10 percent to job retraining; 40 percent to alternative-energy development and production; and 20 percent to tribal government programs previously supported by coal royalties. While the plan did not claim to replace the jobs already lost because of the plant shutdown, it did aim to provide jobs and economic development in the region around the plant.

The California Public Utilities Commission took the groundbreaking step of ordering that all proceeds from pollution allowance sales be put in a special account to fund renewable energy investment. It thereupon requested proposals from the Just Transition Coalition for how the funds should be spent. The outcome remains tied up in a lengthy regulatory and legal process.

The Just Transition Coalition revealed the need for a way for Navajo communities to build and support local green-job initiatives. The Black Mesa Water Coalition therefore launched a Navajo Green Jobs campaign to support green economic initiatives including both “traditional economic activities such as weaving, farming, and raising livestock” and “modern technologies such as wind and solar projects, energy efficiency, green construction, and green manufacturing.” That developed into Diné Binaanish Yá’át’éehgo Noosééł (Navajo people working together to build positive and healthy jobs for all).

The Black Mesa Water Coalition developed and won passage of the first green-jobs policy to be adopted by a tribal nation. It defined green jobs as “well-paid jobs created by sustainable businesses and/or industries that are low- or nonpolluting; and green jobs respect the traditional Diné culture and Mother Earth.” In 2009 the Navajo Nation established two new agencies, the Navajo Nation Green Economy Commission and the Navajo Nation Green Economy Fund. They aim to work across tribal departments to help tackle unemployment and poverty through green-jobs creation.

Despite having established a green economy sector within the Navajo Nation’s government, the Navajo Green Jobs campaign decided to continue as a vehicle for community empowerment. Much of its work has involved presenting its green-jobs plan to local communities and getting their input to adapt it to their needs. The campaign has run summits for experts, community members, and youth; workshops for Tribal Council members; sustainability fairs with live music, sustainability demonstrations, and farmers markets; and a network to connect with tribal members at universities and off-reservation towns. It is also creating programs and materials to support the development of small-scale green enterprises on the reservation (see “Green Toolkit”).

The Black Mesa Water Coalition is now working on two green economic development pilot projects. The Navajo Wool Market pilot project is conducting a prefeasibility study on the traditional Navajo wool industry and case studies of applicable experiences from community enterprises elsewhere. The Black Mesa Solar Initiative is exploring the possibility of a community-owned solar energy cooperative. The project will begin with a solar photovoltaic installation that includes a community benefits agreement with a small equity ownership stake for the residents, local hire provisions, and home solar PV systems for families in the area. [xii] Much of the solar energy collection will take place on reclaimed land previously damaged by coal-mining processes.


The Future of Coal in the Navajo Nation

Today the reservation continues to be divided over the future role of coal in its economy. The EPA has proposed to require significant pollution reduction at the Navajo Generating Station, a major power plant with an associated coal mine whose owner has threatened to shut down the plant if the proposed regulations are implemented. The tribal governments and the local government in the community where the plant is located are asking that the proposed regulations be withdrawn. But the reservation’s environmental organizations argue for a transition to a sustainable alternative, preferably solar (see “Explaining the Power Plant Debate”). [xiii]

In 2009 the EPA acknowledged that the air permit it had awarded to the Desert Rock project was based on an inadequate analysis of its particulate matter, mercury, ozone precursor, and carbon dioxide emissions, and a failure to consult with other agencies; in September 2009 the EPA withdrew the permit. Thereupon the Bureau of Indian Affairs withdrew an opinion in support of the plant; the Tribal Council declined to confirm investment in the project; industrial revenue bonds to finance the project expired; and the developer stated it has no plans to resubmit its air permit application to the EPA. [xiv] Meanwhile opinion on the reservation had shifted: Both top candidates for president of the Navajo Nation opposed the project. [xv] In August 2010 Diné CARE treasurer Lori Goodman declared, “Desert Rock is dead.” [xvi]

Alternatives for Desert Rock



Summary of Energy and Economic Alternatives to the Desert Rock Energy Project Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment HC 63 Box 263 Winslow, Arizona 86047 505.801.0713 / 928.380.7697 January 18, 2008

Explaining the Power Plant Debate

Michigan: Framing Clean Energy as a Jobs Issue

This webpage from the Michigan Sierra Club illustrates many of the ways that jobs and economic development can be framed as a positive part of the clean energy message.


Clean-Energy Future

The shift to clean energy in Michigan is well under way—our biggest challenge in 2011 is to make sure that politicians in Washington, in Lansing, and in our hometowns don’t block our clean-energy future. Michigan became a national leader in clean-energy investments in recent years. More than 100,000 jobs have been created and $10 billion invested in solar component manufacturing, advanced batteries, wind turbine construction, energy efficiency, and more. But Governor Snyder and Michigan Congressional and Legislative leaders seem determined to turn back the clock—threatening not only new and expanding good clean-energy jobs and our competitiveness as a state, but promoting dirty energy like coal and nuclear power that threaten our children, the Great Lakes, and Michigan’s future.

Michigan needs a clean-energy future that starts with increasing our energy efficiency so we can do more with less dollars. We need to build more clean-energy components here, and deploy them here to produce our own renewable energy here instead of sending train carloads of dollars out of state to buy dirty coal and oil. Michigan has some of the best wind power opportunities in the country, and a huge potential for solar power as well. Our children need Michigan to get Beyond Coal now, from transitioning away from MSU’s coal plant, the largest on-campus coal plant in the country, to dumping the expensive and dangerous plans for new coal plants in our state. And it is well past time for Michigan to say no to a new nuclear power plant.

Michigan has a good head start in making the transition to a clean-energy economy that will eliminate toxic mercury and global warming gases and protect our health, while making our energy of the future affordable and keeping good jobs in Michigan. There are many ways for you to get involved, from adopting clean energy yourself to joining our lobby days at the state capitol!

Please join us in the effort to build a clean-energy future for Michigan.


Holland Beyond Coal

Holland Board of Public Works is pursuing expansion of the municipal utility’s coal-fired power plant. Sierra Club members in Holland are working to advance clean-energy alternatives that will protect the health and well-being of the residents for generations to come. Learn more about our work here.

Biofuels and Biomass in Michigan

Sierra Club calls on state and federal agencies to stop funding the Frontier Renewable Resources project. Michigan is fortunate to have abundant forests and farmland. As such, our state is of keen interest to developers of biomass and biofuel projects. While our country needs to move forward with research and development of appropriate biofuel-based energy sources, it must be done with care and a guarantee of sustainability. Currently, however, Michigan is rushing forward to use tax dollars to subsidize projects that are both economically and environmentally unsustainable.

Stop the Michigan Coal Rush

Starting in 2007, Michiganders saw one of the most aggressive efforts to build new coal plants of any state in the nation. Through the extraordinary hard work of a wide coalition of energy, faith, tribal, health, and environmental organizations, in August of 2010 every one of the eight proposed coal plants was canceled, was put on indefinite hold, or had been denied a needed air pollution permit by the state of Michigan. Several proposals are back on the drawing board. Find out how you can help Michigan reject old, dirty coal, and to secure an efficiency-first renewable clean-energy future!

Clean Energy

In October Michigan took its first, long-overdue step toward a green-energy future and fighting climate change. Gov. Granholm signed into law Public Acts 286 and 295 establishing requirements for energy efficiency and renewable electric generation of all electric providers in Michigan. While this was a good start, Michigan has much more to do to assure that we are creating both a clean-energy future and the economic benefits this can bring. Find out more and how you can get involved in Energy 2!

Global Warming

Global Warming is already affecting Michigan in many ways, and the threat is growing. But our state is far behind many of other states when it comes to controlling our contributions of greenhouse gases that threaten our children’s future. Even though slow progress is being made, our Michigan leaders must be convinced to move faster and smarter to prevent worse damage to the planet. Learn what you can do and join our campaign!

Cool Cities Initiative

The Cool Cities campaign is a grassroots campaign designed to help citizens encourage their mayors to sign on to the U.S. Mayors climate protection agreement.

Clean, Renewable Energy

Michigan is currently at a crossroads to secure our economic and energy future. Bold, immediate leadership is required to bring new industries to Michigan—including clean, alternative energy sources like advanced batteries, wind and solar power—before other states position themselves as leaders and draw investment in these emerging industries. By acting now, we can make Michigan a leader and make clean energy the profitable kind of energy.

Michigan: Making a Clean Energy Program a Program for Jobs

This “campaign platform” for the Sierra Club’s ReEnergize Michigan campaign illustrates many ways that specific clean energy initiatives can be presented as means to create jobs and economic development.


During the 2007–2008 legislative session, a package of bills was passed that begin to put Michigan on a path to a cleaner energy future. However, Michigan’s incentives for clean-energy investments are not as strong as our Midwestern neighbors. Michigan has the resources to lead the nation in clean-energy innovations that have the power to transform our economy. But we must put stronger policies in place to encourage far greater investments. In addition, current law does not do enough to address the need for rapid investment in energy efficiency, which has proven to be a simple, cost-effective policy that spurs immediate job creation, reduces energy consumption, and saves business and residents money.

The ReEnergize Michigan! campaign champions progressive legislation to make Michigan a leader in the jobs of the future by investing in clean, alternative-energy industries, like advanced batteries, wind, and solar power. The campaign is also addressing the need to protect Michigan consumers from home foreclosures due to energy bill nonpayment and shutoffs, as well as increasing investment in low-income home-weatherization projects.

The public is hungry for bold policies that provide incentives for immediate job growth with an eye toward sustainability. Increasing investment in clean, alternative energy and energy efficiency demonstrates to the public that Michigan’s legislature is willing to do what it takes to change the direction of our state’s economy.

ReEnergize Michigan! Campaign Platform

Create powerful incentives for clean, alternative energy production and manufacturing:

Michigan must create and expand tax incentives for clean, alternative energy production and manufacturing, with the goal of luring clean-energy industries to the state and creating thousands of good jobs for our skilled workers. Michigan must also promote a clean-energy economy with groundbreaking programs helping residential customers and businesses become alternative-energy entrepreneurs. Utilities must pay a fair price, including a return on investment, for electricity generated and put onto the grid. This policy is often referred to as a feed-in tariff, but the bill that has been introduced to meet this policy objective is called the Renewable Energy Sources Act, HB 4137.

Encourage immediate investment in clean, alternative energy like wind and solar power:

Michigan must raise the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) to at least 30 percent by 2025 to create the needed incentives for clean, alternative-energy industries to locate in Michigan. With one of the strongest and cleanest renewable-energy standards in the nation, our state will become a magnet for the development of advanced batteries, wind, and solar power. Michigan must send a signal to the rest of the world that Michigan will spearhead the new-energy economy while doing our part to reduce the impacts of global warming. This bill is currently being drafted—no bill number yet.

Make Michigan a leader in building “green”:

Michigan should improve building codes so that new construction is as efficient as possible. The state should also provide incentives and education to transform Michigan’s construction industry so that buildings become part of the solution to energy conservation and efficiency as well as energy production. A number of bills have been introduced to meet this objective, including HB 4756, which raises our building-efficiency standards, and HB 4575, which allows communities to set higher building-efficiency standards than the state.

Maximize investments in energy efficiency, saving money, and creating thousands of skilled jobs:

Michigan must continue to promote innovations in energy efficiency by increasing the energy savings requirements from energy efficiency to at least 2 percent annually. Energy efficiency is the cheapest energy resource and has the potential to create thousands of good jobs in all corners of the state that can’t be outsourced. Maximizing energy efficiency eliminates investment risks because of its proven effectiveness at capturing baseload power at the lowest possible cost. It also saves money for all ratepayers. This bill is currently being drafted.

Create incentives for sustainable biofuels and advanced battery production:

Michigan must enact a low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) to reduce the carbon-intensity of transportation fuels, on a life cycle basis, by 10 percent by 2020. An LCFS will pave the way for Michigan to become a leader in the advanced battery storage industry and sustainable biofuels. Environmental safeguards and sustainability standards for biofuel production must be enacted to ensure protection of air and water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, soil fertility, and forest health. This bill is currently being drafted.

Protecting Michigan Residents

Prohibit home foreclosures due to energy bill nonpayment:

The foreclosure crisis is hitting Michigan harder than other parts of the country. Michigan must protect homeowners from foreclosures resulting from nonpayment of electricity and gas bills.

Prohibit complete electricity shutoffs for vulnerable populations:

Michigan must not let vulnerable citizens, including seniors, people with disabilities, and low- or no-income householders, to be exposed to dangerous weather conditions by complete energy shutoff for bill nonpayment.

Fully invest in low-income home-weatherization projects:

Michigan must maximize weatherization of low-income homes to help families slash utility bills and stay comfortable in their homes. Michigan must take full advantage of weatherization funds made available to states by the federal government.

Numerous bills have been introduced to meet the above three policy objectives.

COAL POWER vs. NEW POWER in Eastern Kentucky

A significant portion of electricity in eastern Kentucky is provided by the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC), a rural electric co-op made up of sixteen distribution co-ops and serving eighty-seven counties. [xvii]

In 2005 the Kentucky Public Service Commission approved an EKPC proposal to build the Smith coal plant in Clark County. [xviii]

On October 29, 2009, a public interest coalition of individuals and organizations filed a formal complaint with the Kentucky Public Service Commission asking that the approval be revoked. They argued that changes in demand for energy and the development of renewable alternatives made the plant unnecessary. The coalition included Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), the Sierra Club, and the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. [xix]

The coalition knew that the issue of jobs and economic impacts would be crucial in impoverished eastern Kentucky. They therefore commissioned a study by the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies (see “Power Studies”) showing that far more jobs would be created and electric rates would be lower if EKPC invested instead in energy efficiency, weatherization, hydropower, and wind power.

KFTC, a group with chapters in communities throughout Kentucky, issued educational materials specifically directed to the impact of energy decisions on workers and their jobs (see “8 Reasons Workers Should Say ‘YES’ to Clean Energy and ‘NO’ to Smith “). They held community meetings around the Ochs Center report. Community leaders attended air and water permit hearings. They met with EKPC board members to encourage them to support the alternative to the Smith plant.

In June 2010 the Kentucky Public Service Commission started an investigation of the need for the Smith plant and ordered the EKPC to provide extensive information regarding the plant. [xx]

That set the stage for negotiations among the parties. On November 18, 2010, EKPC reached an agreement with the public interest coalition. EKPC agreed to immediately halt plans to build the Smith plant and to stop seeking permits to proceed with construction. Even more remarkably, it committed $125,000 toward a collaborative effort in which EKPC and its member co-ops would work together with public interest groups to evaluate and recommend new energy-efficiency programs and renewable-energy options in Kentucky. [xxi]

The Clean Energy Collaborative is now meeting for quarterly roundtables. It involves a wide range of partners, including the EKPC and its member co-ops, the public interest coalition members, and housing and economic development groups.

Power Studies


William Tharp, Ph.D. Lori Quillen Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies July 2009


As an alternative to building the proposed Smith #1 plant, an investment in a combination of energy efficiency, weatherization, hydropower, and wind power initiatives in the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) region would generate more than 8,750 new jobs for Kentucky residents, with a total impact of more than $1.7 billion on the region’s economy over the next three years. This alternative approach would meet the energy needs of EKPC customers at a lower cost than the proposed coal plant.

Unlike projected economic activity that would result from construction of a new coal‐burning power plant, investing in renewable energy, efficiency, and weatherization would result in jobs and benefits across the region rather than in a smaller geographic area around the site of the proposed coal-burning power plant.

Over a three-year period of construction and implementation, energy-efficiency and weatherization initiatives would create nearly $1.2 billion in economic activity and more than 5,400 jobs. The development of small-scale hydropower generation at 20 sites in the region would create more than $500 million in economic activity and more than 3,300 jobs.

8 Reasons Workers Should Say YES to Clean Energy and NO to Smith


  • A clean-energy solution will create thousands MORE JOBS: An efficiency and renewables plan will create thousands of jobs, rather than only hundreds of jobs created by the Smith plant. Over a period of 3 years, a clean-energy job plan creates nearly 4,600 direct jobs. Smith will create only 700 temporary and 60 permanent jobs.
  • Jobs will be created FASTER: Within the first three months of ramping up the clean-energy solution, more than 300 jobs could be created; the Smith Plant will create less than 100 jobs over this same period.
  • These are GOOD jobs: Clean-energy jobs will be good, well-paying jobs for plumbers, carpenters, and electricians—resulting in over $370 million in new income for KY workers directly working these jobs.
  • These are LOCAL jobs: Jobs in efficiency, weatherization, and renewables are safe, stable, and community-based. They can’t be shipped overseas, and are spread across many sectors.
  • The clean-energy jobs will BENEFIT KYs ECONOMY: The net economic benefits for Kentucky will total $1.7 billion over a 3-year period.
  • This is OUR OPPORTUNITY to create good green jobs in KY: All around the country, plumbers, steelworkers, electricians are leading the charge for a new clean-energy agenda. They are retrofitting thousands of buildings in Boston and New York, installing wind and solar in Ohio, California, and elsewhere! Now’s our chance to fight for good, green jobs to ensure KY workers don’t get left behind.
  • Green jobs are the FUTURE of KY: In KY green jobs are growing faster than other sectors of the economy. From 1998–2007 clean-energy jobs grew by 10 percent compared to 3.6 percent in overall job growth in KY.
  • The clean-energy solution will SAVE FAMILIES MONEY: Cost of electricity from the Smith coal-burning plant: $74.73 per megawatt-hour. Cost from efficiency and renewables: $62.10 per MWh—17 percent less expensive.

Support Good, Green, Union Jobs for KY!

Renew Eastern Kentucky


Strengthened by the effort to block the Smith coal-fired power plant, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) began developing a broader economic plan for addressing the needs and utilizing the strengths of eastern Kentucky.

Eastern Kentucky is an economically depressed area. Some counties in eastern Kentucky have an official unemployment rate over 23 percent. Overall rural poverty is over 25 percent; some counties have poverty rates near 45 percent. [xxiii]

To address these realities, KFTC calls for an “Appalachian transition”:

a web of complementary efforts that will facilitate a deliberate transition to a new, sustainable, mixed economy, driven by strategies rooted in interdependent sectors ranging from local agriculture to arts, sustainable forestry to new energy sources.

The East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) has agreed to collaborate to pursue new energy-efficiency programs and renewable energy options in eastern Kentucky. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) has started a campaign called “Renew Eastern Kentucky” to make such a new-energy strategy the basis for an “Appalachian transition” in eastern Kentucky.

The campaign is based on a Renew Eastern Kentucky plan for an “aggressive, well-funded, five-year initiative in the EKPC service area in cooperation with local, state, and national agencies and organizations.”

Elements include:

  • investment in residential efficiency and weatherization programs
  • local renewable energy projects, such as small-scale hydroelectric at existing dams
  • on-bill “pay as you save” installment financing (see “On-Bill Financing”)
  • funding through low-interest loans from the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service
  • coordination with affordable housing efforts
  • workforce development for green-energy jobs

The plan would produce thousands of job-years, far more than fossil fuel energy. And it would make energy more affordable. Jobs would be concentrated in eastern Kentucky communities, including some of the most impoverished.

The campaign also aims to help restore the democratic character of the energy co-ops by such reforms as contested elections, open meetings, and member access to records.

The campaign aims to develop a “cooperative leadership based on a vision of a brighter future” including partners “from community colleges to labor unions, housing nonprofits to community action agencies.”

First steps are already under way:

  • KFTC is holding meetings between its local chapters and their local EKPC distribution co-ops.
  • The Mountain Association for Community Economic Development (MACED) has initiated a pilot program for on-bill financing of residential energy efficiency for 200–300 houses in four co-ops. The program has won the approval of the Public Utilities Commission.
  • KFTC members have met with members of Congress to encourage support for the Rural Star bill that would provide funding for such programs.
  • KFTC has met with training and workforce development organizations to explore job training possibilities.

Kentuckians For the Commonwealth's Campaign to Renew East Kentucky


Renew East Kentucky is an organizing campaign to move Kentucky’s rural electric co-ops toward cleaner energy, increased energy efficiency, and more open and democratic governance.

Our goal is to create good, local jobs, ensure affordable electricity for those most vulnerable, and begin shifting power from the hands of the few to the hands of the many.

Renew East Kentucky will be an important step in transitioning our region to a sustainable and healthy economy that is good for all of us.

The 16 cooperatives in the East Kentucky Power Cooperative service area

We are Kentuckians. We love our families. We care about our communities. And we want what everybody wants: more affordable energy; good jobs that don’t do damage to our land, air, or water; a say in the important decisions that affect us; and healthy communities.

Today we have the best opportunity in generations to build the Kentucky we deserve. KFTC members are now at the table with electric co-ops, looking for ways to bring about more energy efficiency and renewable energy. Energy-saving pilot projects, including the new How$martKY program, are taking place throughout the area. And people are stepping up more and more to participate in the decisions their co-ops are making.

But we must keep working. We are facing real economic hardships. We have to organize our communities and convince the co-ops that helping their members save energy and save money should be a top priority. We need to lobby our decision-makers to get behind clean energy, energy efficiency, and job training. And we need to communicate a vision of what is possible: that together we can renew east Kentucky.

We have a vision. We’re taking action.

To renew east Kentucky, we propose that the East Kentucky Power Cooperative and its sixteen distribution cooperatives launch a strong energy-efficiency and renewable-energy program that is well-funded and long-lasting in the EKPC service area.


KFTC members are currently participating in the Clean Energy Collaborative with EKPC with a goal of developing and recommending a well-researched energy-efficiency and clean-energy plan to the EKPC Board of Directors.

Grants and loans from USDAʼs Rural Utility Service (RUS) and other funders could fund a large part of this initiative, allowing the co-ops to implement these significant energy-efficiency and renewable-energy solutions.

On-bill financing is also an important part of the plan. How$martKY, a program now in the pilot (or testing) stage, will allow co-op members to upgrade their homes and pay for improvements with their utility savings.

Implementing this plan will also require its adoption by the EKPC board, approval by state regulators, as well as a region-wide commitment to workforce development.

And we will need committed and energetic partners, both established and unlikely, from the community colleges to labor unions, housing nonprofits to community action agencies

KFTC members have begun taking action and, over the coming years, we will work to Renew East Kentucky in the following ways:

  • Organize in our communities by hosting house parties, talking with neighbors, etc.
  • Participate in the Clean Energy Collaborative with EKPC & the co-ops
  • Help promote the How$martKY on-bill financing program
  • Work to reform the local distribution cooperatives
  • Lobby for legislation to bring clean energy to Kentucky and funding for on-bill financing
  • Develop leadership skills related to clean energy and democracy
  • Create and use strategic communications tools and materials

Renew East Kentucky


Renew East Kentucky is a campaign by Kentuckians For The Commonwealth to move Kentuckyʼs rural electric co-ops toward cleaner energy, increased energy efficiency, and more open and democratic governance. Our goal is to create good, local jobs, ensure affordable electricity for those most vulnerable, and begin shifting power from the hands of the few to the hands of the many. Renew East Kentucky will be an important step in transitioning our region to a sustainable and healthy economy that is good for all people.

Sign below if you want to learn more or get involved:

Name ____________________________ Address ____________________________ City ______________________________ State ______ Zipcode _____________ Phone __________________________ Email ____________________________ Electric Utility ____________________

Optional:Please answer the questions in this right-hand column if you are interested in energy-savings programs. KFTC may share this information with organizations who are working to provide affordable energy efficiency and clean energy options to utility customers.

House size in square feet? _________________________ Highest bill amount? ___________ When? ____________

Type of heating system(s)? _________________________ How old is your heating system? _____________________ Do you stay comfortable in winter?___________________

Return this petition to: Kentuckians For The Commonwealth 140 Mini Mall Drive, Berea, KY 40403

For more information contact Sara Pennington at or (606) 276-9933

On-Bill Financing

If residents can weatherize their homes or add solar hot water heaters, their monthly electric bill goes way down. But all too often they can’t afford to make the investment. With “on-bill financing,” residents get a low- or no-interest loan and pay it off out of what they save on their monthly electric bill. The proposed Rural Energy Savings Program Act would provide zero-interest loans from USDA for “pay-as-you-save” on-bill financing.

Such a program is already under way in rural western Kansas. Midwest Energy in Hays, Kansas, has developed a program called How$mart that provides money for energy-efficiency improvements such as insulation, air sealing, and new heating and cooling systems for residential and small business consumers. Customers—whether owners or tenants—don’t have to put up any money up front. Customers repay the funds through energy savings on their monthly power bills.

Customers start with an energy audit to determine potential savings. The power supplier develops an individualized conservation plan. Customers choose a contractor. If the customer moves or sells the property, the deal passes to the next customer at that location.

The program started with a pilot in four rural counties in the summer of 2008; it then spread through rural western Kansas. A year later it had invested $1 million in more than two hundred rural homes and businesses. It is estimated that customers will save more than 400,000 kilowatt hours per year, enough to power forty homes. That will put 13,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide into the environment over the next twenty years. The Environmental Defense Fund recently recognized How$mart as one of America’s best energy innovations.

The Kansas Energy Office is using $37 million in stimulus money to start a statewide program called Efficiency Kansas based on the principles of How$mart. It is already creating new green jobs and training. The Wichita Area Technical College, for example, is offering scholarships for an energy-auditors program, and the state is offering $250,000 in scholarships for auditor programs. The state is also providing $250,000 in equipment that students can rent after graduation to get started in the business.



A Just Transition in Madison

The importance and benefits of building a long-term relationship between energy industry workers and clean-energy advocates, even though their interests are not always identical, is illustrated by the way Madison, Wisconsin, is transitioning beyond coal.

In 2003 Madison’s Mayor Dave Cieslewicz convened the Mayor’s Energy Task Force and charged it with “making Madison a green capital city and creating a city that is a national leader in energy efficiency and renewable energy that also supports the city’s economic vitality.” One of the members of the task force was the president of Madison’s IBEW Local 2304, which represents workers in the Madison Gas & Electric company. The inclusion of utility worker representatives in the city’s planning process laid the groundwork for continuing cooperation in moving beyond coal in the city’s power generation.

MG&E’s century-old Blount Street power plant in downtown Madison was the largest single-point source of emissions in Dane County and among the most polluting power plants in the Midwest. By the mid-1990s, the company faced spending tens of millions of dollars to modernize pollution controls at the plant.

The plant was also a target of environmental protests. In December 2005 nearly two hundred residents attended a public meeting of the city’s Environmental Commission and complained that it was causing asthma and dangerous ozone levels.

In 2006 MG&E issued a ten-year plan titled “Energy 2015.” The plan would downsize the plant and stop using coal as a fuel source within six years and would increase its use of natural gas, wind energy, energy efficiency, and cleaner coal from more modern facilities. In the longer run it also planned to reduce use of natural gas to less than one-third by 2015.

The company told employees that about seventy jobs would be cut over the six-year downsizing and coal phaseout. Union president Dave Poklinkoski said that fifty-three of them would be union positions. However, the union did not oppose the plan and Poklinkoski noted the value of the extended timeline for the phaseout. “It’s not a sixty-day or a ninety-day notice, it’s a six-year notice. So we think both parties can put our heads together and figure out a humane way to address this.” He noted that the company and the union would discuss how to structure the job cuts as part of regularly scheduled collective bargaining. [ii]

In fact, according to the IBEW local newsletter, the company and the union

reached an agreement in both 2006 and 2009 negotiations for a new contract on an employment and transition policy entitled “Energy 2015 Plan—Blount Employees.” Over the course of the last five years the plan largely successfully addressed IBEW members’ issues, as we went from approximately seventy-three members down to twenty-three. Given our collective history, that’s no small feat. [iii]

Only one person was laid off, and he retired at sixty-one with supplemental unemployment benefits (see “Appendix: A Job-Protecting Labor Agreement”).

In March 2010 MG&E announced that it had converted the Blount St. plant to run on natural gas ahead of schedule. Although the company had warned in 2006 that seventy jobs would be lost, there were only five layoffs when the plant finally converted. [iv] The company also increased its wind capacity from 80 to 418 kW in the previous three years and expanded conservation programs for its customers. [v] However, at the final stage of the transition in 2011 the company announced that four union members would be laid off; the union proposed instead that they be employed to fill positions that would soon be opening in the plant or elsewhere in the company. The issue is currently under negotiation. [vi]

Meanwhile, cooperation between utility worker unions and renewable energy advocates continued in other spheres. In 2008 Gov. Jim Doyle announced that two coal-fired heating plants would be shut down and replaced by cleaner-fueled cogeneration facilities. IBEW local president Poklinkoski stated,

This is a big step toward making Madison a model for an environmentally sound energy future. At the beginning of the process to find solutions for our aging power plants, I agreed with the University that we must take a transformational approach. Indeed, this is the first step toward an energy future where we create energy cleanly, use energy wisely, and provide family-supporting jobs for decades to come. [vii]

In September 2010 a coalition that included union, business, and renewable energy organizations called for building the 150-mile Badger Coulee Transmission Line to carry electricity, largely from renewable sources, from the LaCrosse area to Dane County. The group argued that the line would provide improved reliability, cost savings, and improved access to renewable energy resources, notably wind power from Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. The group included renewable-energy advocate RENEW Wisconsin, five local utility unions, and the Utility Workers Coalition, representing 28,000 workers in the Wisconsin energy industry. [viii]

When Gov. Jim Doyle, with strong support from renewable energy groups, submitted legislation for a shift to cleaner energy, the bill was framed as the Clean Energy Jobs Act. According to the Journal Sentinel, “supporters say that moving toward more energy efficiency and renewable energy is an economic-development strategy the state needs to take.” A state analysis found the bill would create a minimum of 15,000 jobs over the next ten years, mostly for constructing wind farms and retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency. When the bill was tweaked to provide even more investment in energy conservation, Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Phil Neuenfeldt wrote,

We are excited about the proposed modifications to the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The working families that we represent appreciate the improvements made to increase and to speed up job creation. The provisions added to allow job-creating conservation and efficiency to count toward the Renewable Portfolio Standard and the clarification to the nuclear language are both positive changes.

Wisconsin has no natural gas, no coal, and no oil. We currently send $16 billion out of our state every year to meet our energy needs.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act will create clean energy that works for Wisconsin, and is made in Wisconsin. This is a huge opportunity to reduce our dependence on foreign fuel and make sure that Wisconsin doesn’t lose green jobs to countries like China.

The jobs created by this legislation are good, family-wage jobs. This is the right choice for the environment and our economy. [ix]

Wisconsin’s labor-environmental cooperation reached a high pitch in 2011 as both movements joined to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s savaging of both labor rights and the environment.

The Base Closing Model

Job reductions often affect not just individual workers but whole communities, and a just transition needs to address those impacts. Coal transitions can emulate the highly successful process that helped local communities adjust to the disruption and job shifting that resulted from the closing of military bases under the Base Realignment and Closing Commission (BRAC). Those communities were provided a wide range of federal assistance, including planning and economic adjustment assistance, environmental cleanup, community development block grants, and community service grants.

Individual workers dislocated by base closings also received extensive support. The Department of Defense itself provided advance notification of a reduction in force; preseparation counseling; a hiring preference system with federal agencies to reemploy qualified displaced DOD employees; and financial incentives to encourage early retirement of those eligible. Workers affected by base closings were also eligible for help under national emergency grants, rapid response programs, comprehensive assessments and development of individual employment plans, and job training programs.

Communities and individuals affected by coal plant transitions could be similarly targeted for assistance from such existing programs as the Department of Labor’s Rapid Response Services and the national emergency grants of the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration, as well as funding for economic development and industrial efficiency and modernization from the Departments of Energy and Commerce.

Just Transition Policies

Transition assistance in the past has often meant little more than an economic hospice for workers and communities threatened by the side effects of globalization, environmental protection, and other public policies. Without a clear program to protect workers from the effects of coal plant closures, the struggle for clean energy can all too easily come to be perceived as a struggle against American workers.

Perhaps surprisingly, some of the best ideas for protecting workers and communities hit by the side effects of public policy decisions were embodied in legislation championed in 1988 by Sen. John McCain to protect tobacco workers and farmers from tobacco control policy. McCain’s Universal Tobacco Settlement bill, which passed out of committee 19–1 but was defeated on the Senate floor, would have created an industry-funded $28 billion trust fund to help tobacco growers, cigarette factory workers, their families, and their communities adjust to the reduced purchase of American tobacco.[x]

Workers and farmers would have received transition assistance from the fund if “the implementation of the national tobacco settlement contributed importantly to such workers’ separation” from their jobs. Several tobacco states subsequently developed their own programs to help with the transition away from tobacco, such as Kentucky’s Bill 611, which allocates half of the state’s tobacco settlement funds for agricultural diversification. Because the McCain bill received such wide bipartisan support, we will reference it where possible in this discussion as an instructive example.

Protecting individual workers

The principle that the cost of policies that benefit society shouldn’t be borne by those who are adversely affected by their side effects was recognized in the Trade Act of 1974 and subsequent programs for trade adjustment assistance, which provide compensatory benefits to workers who lose their jobs as a result of U.S. trade policies. The eligibility requirements, benefits, and administration of trade adjustment programs are widely recognized as inadequate, however.

The eligibility requirements, benefits, and administration of trade adjustment programs are widely recognized as inadequate, however.

A similar but better program can be developed for coal-fired generator workers and others affected by energy transition policies. Specifically, workers who lose their jobs because of coal transition should be eligible for:

  • full wages and benefits for at least three years
  • up to four years of education or training, including tuition and living expenses
  • decent pensions with healthcare for those ready to retire

The opportunity for individuals to access higher education and advanced training will also mesh with the need to develop new labor force capabilities for the emerging green economy.

Protecting communities

The McCain tobacco bill provided not just for individuals, but for hard-hit communities. It created a Tobacco Community Revitalization Trust Fund to offer economic development grants over a twenty-five-year period. They would support:

Business development and employment-creating activities “to provide a more viable economic base and enhance opportunities for improved incomes, living standards, and contributions by rural individuals to the economic and social development of their communities.”

Activities that “expand existing infrastructure, facilities, and services to capitalize on opportunities to diversify economies in tobacco communities that support the development of new industries or commercial ventures.”

Initiatives and technical assistance designed to “create or expand locally owned value-added processing and marketing operations in tobacco communities.”

Preference in employment under the program would be given to former tobacco workers and members of tobacco worker communities.


How Organized Labor Is Organized

American unions have a two-hundred-year history that has created a structure that can be difficult for outsiders to decode; indeed, even insiders often have detailed knowledge of only their own part of the forest. The best way to understand your local labor movement is to develop relationships with people in a variety of unions and allied institutions. Here are some things to be aware of.

Since the nineteenth century, the most powerful unit in organized labor has been the national union. The first unions represented workers in individual crafts, such as carpenters and printers, and such craft unions continue to this day. In the twentieth century, a new form of industrial union aimed to represent workers throughout a major industry, like the auto industry or the mining industry. More recently, union and corporate mergers have resulted in many unions representing diverse workers in largely unrelated occupations and industries—what is sometimes called general unionism.

As a result, workers in the same occupation, industry, or workplace may be represented by many different unions. For example, utility workers are represented not only by the Utility Workers Union, but by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the Boilermakers, and the United Mine Workers, among others.

Although most unions are members of the large federation the AFL-CIO or the smaller Change to Win, each national union is largely autonomous and sets its own policy, even if it differs from its federation. The federations play a role in speaking for the broader interests of their members and of working people in general, but they devote much of their work to providing support for their member unions. Both national and local union officials are elected by their individual members or their members’ representatives, but officials of the federations and their state and local affiliates are elected by their member unions.

At a local level, workers are represented by local unions, which are affiliates of national unions. A workplace may be represented by one local or by different locals from different unions. A local may represent workers in one workplace or in many. Local unions bargain with their employers and take public policy positions under the general guidance of their national union but often on their own initiative.

Most unions in a particular area are represented by a central labor council (CLC). CLCs typically used to represent a single city, but they have increasingly merged to form regional councils. State labor councils represent most unions in each state. Local and state labor councils are affiliated with the national AFL-CIO, but they often also include unions that are members of Change to Win. Local and state labor councils speak for the broader interests of working people, but they also are responsible for mobilizing support for the particular concerns of their member unions. Often unions, especially the larger and more powerful ones, operate more on their own in the political and public policy arenas than they do through central labor councils.

What Unions Are Up Against

One reason unions fight so hard to hold onto existing jobs is the intense resistance they meet trying to organize in sectors where they are not already strong.

While as many as 58 percent of American workers would like to be represented by unions, less than 8 percent of workers in the private sector actually have union representation. [iv]

While American law guarantees workers the right to be represented by unions, when they try to form unions they are regularly met by harassment and intimidation. A study of 562 union election campaigns found that:

  • 63 percent of employers interrogate workers in mandatory one-on-one meetings with their supervisors about support for the union
  • 54 percent of employers threaten workers in such meetings
  • 57 percent of employers threaten to close the worksite
  • 47 percent of employers threaten to cut wages and benefits
  • 34 percent of employers fire workers [v]

Ensuring Green Jobs Are Good Jobs

To ensure that green jobs are also good jobs, the AFL-CIO recommends the following standards:

  • Neutrality in any union organizing campaign (companies agree to let workers decide without interference whether they want a union)
  • Comprehensive Davis-Bacon prevailing-wage coverage applied to all facets of federal construction assistance (wages aren’t cut below established local standards)
  • Bona fide apprenticeship programs with a record of compliance with apprenticeship hiring requirements (apprenticeships that meet established standards)
  • Joint labor-management partnerships (cooperation between management and union in addressing common concerns)
  • Health and retirement benefits
  • Employer-based training, including on-the-job training and skill upgrading
  • A record of compliance with federal laws, including prevailing wage laws, OSHA, antidiscrimination/antiharassment, and environmental laws
  • Compliance by subcontractors

(For further information on labor standards for green jobs, see the report “High Road or Low Road: Job Quality in the New Green Economy” by Good Jobs First at )

Colorado: Workers at the Table?

Colorado provides an example of how a proposal to close a coal-fired power plant initially led to significant labor opposition, but an established pattern of cooperation between labor and environmental movements defused the conflict and ultimately supported a successful transition beyond coal.

As early as 2000, Colorado environmental groups began to push for renewable energy standards (RES) for electric utilities. In 2004 the first citizen-based ballot initiative in the country established a state RES. Soon after a coalition was formed under the aegis of the Colorado Apollo Alliance to bring together unions, environmental groups, farmer organizations, and business associations around the idea of linking clean energy and good jobs. In 2009 labor and environmental leaders held a dozen meetings “to brainstorm ideas, share needs and interests, and iron out differences.”

The result was proposed legislation to increase the RES to 30 percent, one of the highest in the nation. The bill included unusual provisions to ensure that green jobs were good jobs. For example, it required that a proportion of workers on solar installations be certified solar installers, creating a green career path. And it required the consideration of the availability of long-term career opportunities and wages, health care, and pension benefits in approving RES proposals. The bill passed in 2010. One advocate said it showed that “By working together, labor and the environmental community have proven that we can build a new cleaner energy economy and ensure that working families thrive at the same time.[vi]

Colorado produces both coal and natural gas, and a more difficult issue arose in early 2010 when Gov. Bill Ritter proposed a bill that would encourage Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, to shift its aging coal plants to natural gas and renewables. The legislation was called the Clean Air Clean Jobs bill, and supporters emphasized its worker-friendly characteristics. In an op-ed supporting the bill, Roger Singer, of the Sierra Club, and Robert Richardson, M.D., of Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote,

The transition to lower carbon-emitting, cleaner sources of energy won’t just reduce pollution; it will create new green jobs in the design and construction trades and in plant operations. The job transitions will require highly skilled labor and working family wages, and we hope that the utilities will craft a work plan in collaboration with the power plant employees to ensure that workers are able to transition comfortably.[vii]

The proposal was supported by Xcel itself, the natural gas industry, and environmental groups. It was opposed by the coal industry, the railroads—and initially by organized labor. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Railway Workers Union, representing utility and railroad workers, opposed the bill in the House. They also won support from the Colorado AFL-CIO. Mike Cerbo, executive director, said the bill put 200–300 jobs at risk because gas-fired plants use fewer workers than coal-fired units. “Working families whose livelihoods are based on the existing economy weren’t at the table,” he testified.[viii] Despite framing the bill in terms of future jobs, clean-energy advocates apparently had not persuaded Colorado labor they had adequately addressed the jobs of those currently at work.

Cerbo’s statement was widely quoted in the media. But within a few days, organized labor’s position began to shift. By the time the bill came up in the Senate, the AFL-CIO had moved from opposition to neutrality—and the bill overwhelmingly passed.

Meanwhile, the community of allies that had supported previous clean-energy measures reached out to address labor concerns. A coalition that included the Sierra Club, the Colorado AFL-CIO, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Colorado, and the community group FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities began pressuring Xcel for a community workforce agreement that would provide labor protections similar to those in the RES legislation. A delegation brought handwritten testimony from dozens of unemployed construction workers supporting the proposal. Jonah Fruchter, of the Sierra Club, testified to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that “By negotiating a community workforce agreement to adequately address these jobs issues, Xcel can help uplift Colorado workers while at the same time addressing the environmental, air quality, and health needs of our state.”

Labor-environmentalist cooperation grew even stronger as the PUC held a series of hearings on implementation of the new law. In the PUC implementation process, the building trades encouraged a positive approach to a shift that would likely result in construction jobs. After Xcel reached an agreement with the union on relocation, retirement, and transitioning workers to new jobs, the IBEW likewise became a cooperative partner in implementing the change.

Worker Protection Demands for Coal Retirement Campaigns

Here are key protections for workers and their communities that coal-retirement campaigns can demand from coal power plant employers and public officials and agencies who negotiate with them:

  • Negotiate a jobs agreement with unions representing affected workers.
  • Find jobs for affected workers who want them.
  • Ensure job retraining for those who need it to fill new jobs.
  • Provide decent pensions with healthcare for workers who are not provided other jobs and who do not opt for retraining.
  • Create jobs restoring the site.
  • Reutilize facilities to replace losses in tax base.
  • Fund job-creating community economic development.

Protections should apply to all affected workers, including those in supply and transportation.