Action Alert:

Convergence: Economic Conversion and Jobs

Report on breakout session at Autumn Convergence, 11/24/2013

Decisions and Commitments

1. We are interested in working on some or all of these “just transition” projects:

  • A bill to establish a Commission on Massachusetts’s Future similar to Connecticut’s (developing strategies for restoration and growth of manufacturing in the state, particularly focusing on diversification or conversion of military and fossil fuel plants to civilian and environmentally sustainable manufacturing)
  • Some response to the military bond bill, H3736, which would direct $177 million to build up Massachusetts’s military bases
  • Support for Sen. Lori Erlich’s bill, 2539, supporting a just transition for coal plant communities
  • Support for local transition planning coalitions – definitely for Somerset (Brayton Point) and maybe for Lynn, Salem, and the Pioneer Valley if work develops there
  • Demanding wind manufacturing to replace military and fossil fuel plants
  • Investigating a state green jobs/public works bill
  • Raising our issue, maybe supporting state candidates, in 2014

2. We will take these plans back to our organizations and urge them to endorse/work on them.

3. We’ll meet again (watch for the doodle poll to find a time).

Background: landscape, strategies, organizing hooks

MILITARY

Landscape: The federal deficit, political polarization, and public war fatigue are combining to drive down Pentagon spending. Weapons purchases are very likely dropping over the next several years. This means workers will lose jobs and cities will lose tax revenue. We can use this moment to push for a “just transition” that holds workers and communities harmless, creates a greener economy, and builds the kind of cross-sector alliances we want.

Miriam Pemberton at the Institute for Policy Studies laid out strategies for this moment:

  • Federal level
  • Shift budget resources from unneeded weapons programs to civilian manufacture
  • Fund programs that help communities chart a path to new civilian economic activity
    • State level
    • Create Commissions that develop plans to diversify states’ military economies
    • Help defense-dependent communities and businesses move into commercial markets
      • Local level
      • Advocate for federal budget shifts, state and federal transition assistance, and state commissions

Organizing hooks include:

  • Campaigning for a Commission on Massachusetts’s Future
  • Opposing or amending the proposed military bond bill ($177 m for military bases in MA)
  • Building local planning coalitions: labor, environmental, peace, elected officials, faith folks who develop ideas and support for converting military factories to peaceful production
  • Supporting these initiatives by researching local military-dependent jobs and/or assessing community needs

ENVIRONMENTAL

Brayton Point, the largest coal-fired electrical generating plant in New England, has also been the region’s biggest polluter. The plant emits sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and carbon dioxide and it has been blamed for destroying marine life by releasing warm water into Mount Hope Bay. Cheap natural gas, tougher anti-pollution regulations, and weak electrical demand mean that the plant is mainly being used to generate power for peak demand times.

This year a hedge fund named Energy Capital partners bought the plant and announced plans to close it in 2017. 240 workers at the plant will lose their jobs and the town of Somerset will lose millions of dollars in tax revenue. The workers and community need a “just transition,” and the site – 300 acres on a point with a deep-water anchorage – could be converted for wind or industrial purposes. The Coalition for Clean Air South Coast got over 100 local business owners to say ‘close Brayton Point’ – an excellent foundation for transition planning.

Organizing hooks:

  • State Senator Lori Erlich has filed a bill (S2539), now in committee, to close all Massachusetts’s coal plants (which are presently closing anyway), compensate their communities, and hire a planning consultant to find new uses for their sites.
  • Someone might try to convert Brayton Point to natural gas generation. State Senator John Keenan of Salem is trying to make it easier to convert the coal plant in Salem Harbor natural gas by sticking an amendment onto a “repair leaky natural gas pipelines” bill.
  • There’s also the task of building a broader, stronger Just Transition committee in Somerset.

Outlook

The coal plants are definitely closing (as coal plants) and Pentagon contracts are going to shrink. This gives us a predictable organizing environment for several years – enough time to build broad local coalitions, pass state legislation, pull down federal transition funding, and establish a “clean green manufacturing” norm for the Massachusetts economy. Communities and workers in both industries need a just transition, which should make it easier to build labor and elected-official support while building a broad public base.

Local and regional planning coalitions are our basic building block for just transition. They can pull together the partners we want for a long-term, interest-based trust-building. They can change norms, exchange invaluable lessons, and start building a more democratic economy. 

Action Grid

Action What’s good about it Who will work on it
State Futures Commission Establishes official support for conversion
Puts real resources into research and planning
Sets up labor-enviro-peace collaboration
Creates a blueprint for conversion/new businesses
Military bond bill, H3736  Opposing it could pull together coalition and make issue visible in the political world
We could also try to amend it, e.g. requiring study of solar and wind power on military sites
Just Transition for coal plans, S2539 Establishes state precedent for transition assistance for coal plants; Creates a model of just transition in Massachusetts
Local planning coalitions Base already established in Somerset (Brayton Pt)
Lots of groundwork done in Lynn (GE Riverway plant)
Possibilities in Salem (coal plant closing)
Interest in Pioneer Valley
Demand wind manufacturing With the state building an offshore wind power staging area in New Bedford, we could push for wind turbine manufacturing in southeastern Mass, where demand could remain strong for years or decades
Green jobs/ public works state bill Can someone explore this – are there models, campaigns, or people to learn from elsewhere?
2014 state election We need a governor and state legislators who will keep prioritizing and funding a new green economy. As Harris Gruman said, electoral and issue campaigns are a great way to involve people and pull organizations together.