A just transition for Maine and Rhode Island
Researchers detail a labor-focused transition to a clean energy economy
A pair of reports released earlier this year by researchers at Cornell’s ILR School detail how a rapid transition to a clean energy economy could provide thousands of good jobs and help curb inequality in Maine and Rhode Island.
The researchers focused on the sources of carbon emissions in each state, outlining the steps required to meet the states’ decarbonization goals and the jobs that would be created in the process.
They also put forward a set of policy recommendations for both states, which include a broad set of progressive proposals, including regional high-speed rail, thousands of new net-zero affordable housing units, and net-zero public schools by 2030. Though the reports don’t use the popular slogan, they provide a logistical outline for a Green New Deal in these states.
“Decarbonizing your entire economy, it’s no easy task,” said Anita Raman, a researcher at the ILR School who contributed to both reports. “What we're talking about is a big plan that needs to be implemented, and there are a lot of logistics involved. The first step is dedicating money to it, but then it’s also — how’re you going to make it happen?”
The researchers produced the reports in cooperation with local labor unions in each state and are currently developing reports for states throughout the country.
“The stakes here are enormously high,” stated Hunter Moskowitz, a co-author of the Maine report. “Nearly every economic transition we have seen in American history has neglected working-people, especially communities of Color… in addition, a green transition that does not envision addressing inequality will probably not be able to achieve the support to succeed.”
For Maine, the recommendations include reaching completely renewable electricity by 2035, retrofitting 50% of homes built before 2000, building 19,000 units of affordable net-zero housing by 2040, and installing 25,000 EV Charging Stations and electrifying all school buses by 2030.
Renewable energy and building retrofits are projected to be the biggest job creators of all the recommended policies, expected to directly create 8,533 and 6,854 jobs respectively each year.
“Maine has the ability to transition to a clean energy economy that tackles pervasive inequality and enhances the quality of life for Maine residents,” said Moskowitz. “Labor standards and a just transition for workers and communities are necessary in making an equitable transition, and these changes must occur sooner rather than later, as Maine residents and the rest of the world have already begun to experience the impacts of climate change.”
To ensure that high quality jobs are created in this transition, both reports stressed the implementation of strong labor standards. For both states, the researchers called for legislation to apply Prevailing Wage requirements and Project Labor Agreements to renewable energy projects, along with the creation of a Wage Board to implement a minimum wage for the clean energy industry.
Both reports also highlighted the decarbonization and job creation potential of regional high-speed rail. According to Amtrak, the company’s proposed route from Richmond to Boston would generate 40,000 jobs a year for 25 years.
The Rhode-Island-specific recommendations included installing 2,000 megawatts (MW) of solar and 3,000 MW of wind energy by 2040, building 35,000 units of affordable net-zero housing, retrofitting 50% of cost-burdened households by 2030, expanding public transit, and electrifying the state bus fleet.
The report found that the recommended investments in solar and offshore wind would directly create nearly 3,000 jobs in Rhode Island per year, while expansions to public transit could create over 4,000 jobs each year. Building retrofits for low income households and new net-zero affordable housing could create about 3,000 and 5,000 jobs respectively.
The Rhode Island study also included projected costs for their major recommendations. They estimated that new solar and offshore wind would cost over $14 billion, new affordable housing would cost almost $12 billion, building retrofits would cost about $5 billion, and updates to public transit would cost about $3 billion.
“I think every time we do any of these analysis in any state, my biggest takeaway is that it's going to cost a lot of money, and that we need state-level investment and local investment, and we also need federal investment to make sure any of these things happen,” said Avalon Hoek Spaans, a co-author of the Rhode Island report.
Hoek Spaans said that current levels of investment in the state fall far below what is required for an energy transition that supports workers and meets the urgency of the climate crisis.
“I think a lot of states set really general goals to decarbonize, like to reduce emissions by this date, but they don’t say ‘And this is how we’ll do it,” Hoek Spaans said.
New England Climate News Roundup
Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York agree to collaborate on a regional hydrogen fuel hub (Bloomberg).
How a loophole in Maine law allows neighboring states to send trash to Maine landfills (WBUR).
The Connecticut legislature is expected to vote this week on several climate and transportation bills, including one that would set a goal of all-renewable electricity by 2040 (WSHU).
Governor Ned Lamont signed a bill suspending the state’s excise tax on gasoline and eliminating all fares for public buses from April 1 to June 30 (CT.gov).
A former director of the Maine Forest Service makes the case for the state’s forests as an asset in the fight against climate change (Bangor Daily News).
One of Maine’s largest utility companies says that they are making investments to mitigate effects of climate change on the electrical grid (News Center Maine).
Scientists warn that climate change threatens a key linchpin in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem (The Daily Climate).
Activists from 350 Mass went on hunger strike last week in protest of the proposed natural gas ‘peaker’ plant in Peabody (Salem News).
As details emerge around the state’s new opt-in municipal stretch code, climate advocates criticize the lack of an all-electric option. Developers are pleased (WBUR).
State Senate debate of a climate resiliency bill will likely coincide with Earth Day (masslive.com).
The first portion of the Green Line Extension began operating last week, bringing a mix of hope and concern from Somerville residents (Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism).
Dartmouth researchers indicate that climate change is on track to close 85% of New England ski resorts by 2100 (WMUR).
As the state legislature rejects climate bills, New Hampshire falls behind neighboring states on climate action (Concord Monitor).
Some New Hampshire teachers are using hands-on experiments to educate students about climate change (Monadnock Ledger-Transcript).
Following the Democrats’ failure to pass federal climate legislation, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse resumes his weekly speeches on the climate crisis (The Guardian).
A bill recently introduced into the state House would integrate climate education into K-12 public schools (Brown Daily Herald).
A bill to create clean heat standard in the state recently passed the Vermont House (VPR).
Climate change is extending mud season in New England — ‘It’s of biblical proportions’ (Valley News).
A photo essay on the effects of climate change on the birds of Vermont (VTDigger).
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