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People's World

By Juan Lopez

350BayArea.org, joined by local groups and unions, last week announced plans for a massive protest Aug. 3 at California's Chevron Richmond oil refinery.

Smoke from the Chevron refinery explosion spreads across the bay. Photo by Drew Dellinger, a bay area resident.

The largest greenhouse gas polluter in the state, Chevron, along with the other four Bay Area refineries, is already refining tar sands oil from Canada, brought into the area by rail.

Chevron is among industry giants pressing for presidential approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project that would exponentially increase the flow of "dirty" tar sands oil into refineries, locally and throughout the nation.

The protest announcement came a day after President Obama's precedent-setting speech reframing the national debate on climate change, including measures he intends to take despite strong opposition from oil and coal industrial giants and their congressional "deniers" and apologists.

This summer's protest will take place three days ahead of the anniversary of the Richmond Chevron refinery explosion and fire last August that sent 15,000 workers and local residents to area hospitals.

In response to persistently lax company health and safety practices that led to last year's fire and Chevron's stubborn disregard for the environment, 350BayArea.org and the Bay Area climate movement brought together 5,000 people on Feb. 17, in the biggest climate protest in Northern California history—second only to the Washington, DC, rally that drew 40,000 people.

Meanwhile, thanks to the persistent work of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), labor, environmental groups, progressive Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, several progressive City Council members and others, Chevron has made modest concessions including upping its contributions to non-profits and West County Education and taking steps to make it possible for Richmond residents to get more of the relatively good paying jobs at the refinery.

Mayor McLaughlin and the grassroots campaign led by RPA won the election in 2010 despite Chevron and casinos contributing heavily to the opposition's coffers.

Mayor McLaughlin, RPA and other progressives have put together a comprehensive set of demands requiring Chevron to improve safety and health procedures as well as strengthening the unions' and community's say on Chevron conduct in the plant and towards the community.

The public plan would require Chevron to increase investment in emissions monitoring and control equipment, advanced refining processes and solar energy with a goal of bringing down total emissions by 40 percent by the end of the decade.

Meanwhile, earlier this year a coalition of labor, community and environmental groups came together in Richmond under the banner of the Collaborative on Refinery Safety and Community Health.

It includes United Steelworkers Local 5 representing about 1,500 Bay Area refinery workers, the national labor-environmental coalition BlueGreen Alliance, and the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California Berkeley. Also participating are one national and two Bay Area-based environmental groups: Natural Resources Defense Council, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network.

The collaborative has drawn the attention of the Chemical Safety Board, Cal/OSHA and Governor Jerry Brown, who put together a state-level refinery safety task force last year following the August fire. The task force met with collaborative representatives several times to discuss "regulatory and statutory changes" regarding government oversight of the refinery industry.

The August fire in Richmond "provided some opportunities for our immediate focus," Greg Karras, senior scientist at CBE, told Richmond Confidential earlier this year.

"But its scope is regional," Karras added. "We're talking about all of the Bay Area refineries directly—and indirectly, about all refineries in the country."

The union and local community initiatives could well serve as an example adaptable to the particular conditions and needs of local communities in other parts of the country.

This could enhance grassroots support for national environmental initiatives like those of the President and other government officials and entities, and for the labor-community-environmental alliances vital to meaningful advances.

Of energy industry-inspired claims that environmental concerns cost jobs, CBE organizer Andres Soto said, "That's not the case. Part of the point of this collaborative is to destroy that myth."

Charlotte Brody, national associate director of the BlueGreen Alliance, explained that stricter safety and maintenance regulations for European refineries are far more effective in terms of accidents and fires.

In some cases, the European refineries are owned by the same companies that operate unsafely in the U.S., Brody said. "And they're not taking huge losses for doing that."

"This is a known universe," Brody added. "We know how to make refineries safer."

Movements with a local focus like in Richmond—when added to others elsewhere in the country along with national and state level efforts—could potentially contribute to defeating Republican climate change deniers and energy company apologists in swing races in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

They could also potentially influence Democratic office holders beholden to energy companies in regions dominated by energy industry giants and, in some cases, possibly even lead to their replacement by more environmentally friendly and people-friendly Democrats.

Visit EcoWatch’s TAR SANDS page for more related news on this topic.

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BlueGreen Alliance

The Ohio BlueGreen Apollo Alliance today released a report that provides a roadmap to create thousands of jobs in Ohio, ensuring the state remains competitive in the global marketplace as America’s Energy Gateway. Existing factors identified in a new report, The Ohio Green Manufacturing Action Plan (GreenMAP), such as Ohio’s 630,000 skilled workers and strong manufacturing infrastructure, make it one of the best states in the nation for clean energy manufacturers to make new investments.

“Successful renewable energy programs and energy efficiency projects over the past few years have proven that there is significant potential for Ohio to meet the growing demands of the clean energy sector,” said Shanelle Smith, Ohio senior coordinator for the BlueGreen Alliance. “This report affirms it and proves that Ohio can’t afford to stand on the sidelines while other states and countries compete to win good jobs in one of the world’s fastest growing industries.”

Although Ohio has already taken steps to spur clean energy investments, the report identifies a menu of options where further incentives are necessary in order to continue growth. Those recommendations include: expanded financing and incentive support, prioritizing support for small- to mid-size clean energy manufacturers, expanding support for research and development, expanding workforce development programs to train employees for these new industries, expanding Ohio’s demand-side clean energy policies and pushing for improvements in clean energy manufacturing policy at the federal and regional levels.

“As Ohio continues to develop new clean energy sources like wind towers, the Ohio GreenMAP will help us create jobs, becoming a leading supplier and net exporter of those systems as well,” said Wendy Patton, senior project director at Policy Matters Ohio.

Nationally, clean energy job creation has shown to be more resilient than job creation in other sectors of the economy, especially during a recession. While other sectors of the economy have shed jobs over the past few years, the number of jobs created in renewable energy has increased.

“Clean energy manufacturing represents a major family-supporting job creation engine in Ohio, we have the empty factories and skilled workforce to capitalize on this opportunity, now is the time to use the GreenMAP to help put Ohioans back to work in good jobs making the things that America need most,” said Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore Federation of Labor.

Outside of Ohio, the number of clean energy investments is accelerating. Global investment in green energy passed $1 trillion thanks to a record investment of $260 billion this year.

“Ohio can’t afford to wait while other states and nations retool to manufacture the clean energy technologies in high demand worldwide. This plan provides us with
a framework that will spur private investment and create clean energy manufacturing jobs in the state,” said Kimberly Gibson, director of the EWI Energy Center.

A significant number of Ohioans already work in the clean economy. Between 2003 and 2010, Ohio added 16,793 clean jobs, growing this sector of the economy by 2.5 percent annually. Clean energy jobs pay better than the average job in Ohio—paying $39,275 on average, which is over $3,500 more annually.

“Manufacturing for the clean energy sector in Ohio will not only put the unemployed back to work but will also reduce pollution and localize our energy sources, making us healthier and less dependent on foreign oil,” said Ashley Craig, senior environmental business specialist at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

For more information, click here or click here to read and download the GreenMAP report.

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