Jay Inslee’s “G.I. Bill” For Impacted Energy Workers

We need to help people who lose jobs in the transition away from fossil fuels. As a reference point for this topic I wanted to archive the following “G.I. Bill” proposal from Jay Inslee’s 2020 Evergreen Economy Plan so it doesn’t get lost. This is a great starting point for thinking about this issue:

  • A “G.I. Bill” for Impacted Workers & Coal Community ReinvestmentAfter our country’s national mobilization in World War II, America guaranteed those who served access to — and funding for — secure medical care, educational training, and meaningful retirement benefits. Today, workers in fossil fuel industries face dislocation driven by market forces as industry shifts to cleaner, cheaper and more efficient energy. Coal miners and workers in coal-fired power plants — whose labor fueled generations of our nation’s wealth and prosperity — have been particularly hard hit, facing layoffs as employers move to ever greater automation through strip mining and mountaintop removal practices, and as utilities repower away from fossil fuels. Faced by these mounting economic pressures, fossil fuel companies, and coal companies in particular, have abused weak national bankruptcy laws to make workers and mining communities bear the risks and costs of a contracting industry.
    • Coal companies have been the worst actors: shedding pension obligations and limiting responsibility for long-term health care, life insurance, and the Black Lung expenses of their miners, retirees, and surviving family. All this, while rewarding top executives with compensation bonuses. As mines and power plants have closed, entire communities have been left to foot the bill, with abandoned infrastructure, neglected health and environmental hazards, a torn social safety net, and decimated local economies. This problem is only made worse by President Trump’s cynical lies about the resurgence of coal, even as 40% of the U.S. fleet of coal fired power plants has closed its gates since 2010, with gigawatts more retirements projected during the Trump presidency.
    • America can and must do better for coal workers, and all energy workers, and for their communities. Our nation must act and invest to show we value these skills, this infrastructure, and this tradition of hard work as the precious assets they are.
    • For this reason, Governor Inslee’s Evergreen Economy Plan focuses centrally on renewing our nation’s commitment to energy workers and their communities within the transition to a clean economy. The plan recognizes that deeper patterns of injustice too often intersect with economic dislocation; it supports all impacted workers — regardless of race, gender, or regional geography. Governor Inslee’s efforts will be modeled on the precedent of the solemn promise of the “G.I Bill” to our nation’s veterans. And it will further draw upon and improve scalable policies and previous federal and local efforts to provide economic security to workers facing plant closures and industrial transition.
    • Across the country, communities are enacting model policies to protect workers during this economic transition. Key examples include: the $55 million Coal Transition Fund at the TransAlta coal plant in Centralia, Washington;the Obama Administration’s POWER Initiative; and the DOE Worker and Community Transition program, which operated between 1994 and 2004 in support of 13 different U.S. communities experiencing hardship amidst the closure of nuclear power facilities. Governor Inslee’s plan recognizes that these workers and communities are vital resources for our future growth, and commits that they will never be left behind. Governor Inslee’s “G.I. Bill” policy proposal includes:
    • Providing impacted workers, their families, and their communities with financial security by shoring up retirement benefits through federal backstops to our troubled pension system to safeguard a lifetime of deferred wages for retirees. As a centerpiece of building a clean energy economy, Governor Inslee will work with the Pension Benefits Guarantee Corporation (PBGC) and key stakeholders including labor unions, to stabilize our nation’s troubled retirement system, and protect the deferred wages of retired workers. As of September 30, 2018, the PGBC multi-employer program had a deficit of $53.9 billion and was threatened with insolvency by 2025. Under the Evergreen Economy Plan, the federal government will ensure that United Mineworkers Association (UMWA) Health and Retirement Funds continue for the 87,000 Americans who depend upon them. More broadly, the U.S. government will dedicate itself to shoring up and standing behind the solvency of all defined benefits pension funds to guarantee that all workers can retire in dignity with economic security.
    • Granting qualifying employees and their families continued access to their historic health insurance coverage. This starts with backstopping the solvency of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund — which is already $6 billion in debt.Further, any energy workers losing health benefits as a result of layoffs or corporate bankruptcies will be guaranteed access to health care, with their former employers still required to meet historic coverage obligations as well as retiree or survivor benefits.
    • Providing income support and educational training stipends for all workers seeking to move into new or related professions. All employees and contractors of companies directly involved in the extraction and processing of fossil fuels will be eligible for the program. Training programs can be run through local unions that have the relationships and the training expertise to quickly support workers as they transition to future employment.
    • Creating a community “Re-Power Fund” to invest in communities impacted by changes in fossil fuel industries. These investments will support bottom-up, locally driven economic and workforce development strategies, subsidize and incentivize economic diversification and “re-development corridors” — including advanced manufacturing and clean-energy business growth, infrastructure, and supplements to any foregone local tax revenue. The Re-Power Fund will prioritize development of energy-related industries that can access existing energy utility and transportation and shipping infrastructure that is frequently abundant and of high quality in these communities — ensuring that new job creation is centered on growing, high wage and high value-added industries that draw on the existing skills of workers and strong local supply chains. The Re-Power Fund will build on the heritage of energy producing regions as an asset, focusing on re-industrialization built around growing and globally competitive new energy industries, while ensuring strong worker protections.
    • Establishing a dedicated “Restoration Fund” to create new skilled union jobs in environmental reconstruction. Fossil fuel companies will be held accountable to pay for the environmental, health and community damages caused by coal, oil and gas extraction by supporting a comprehensive reclamation program through the Restoration Fund. This program will hire local workers for reclamation and restoration projects in areas where mining, drilling and fracking have damaged natural resources, harmed water tables, and polluted fields, riverbeds, and valleys. The Restoration Fund will supplement, and not replace, existing resources like the Abandoned Mine Fund. Jobs for reclamation and restoration will be required to pay prevailing wages and to allow workers the opportunity to organize, and they will be administered in a manner that prioritizes community hiring for transitioning workers. The opportunities available through this restoration, which will take years to complete, would be available to fossil fuel employees in addition to other “G.I. Bill” training programs that allow workers remain fully employed.

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