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collapsed scaffolding cnn

Collapsed construction scaffolding – CNN

May 1st is Workers’ Memorial Day, and we have much to remember here in Texas.  A new Report Finds Construction Injuries and Fatalities Cost Texas Nearly $900 Million Annually

Injuries and fatalities in the construction industry cost Texas an estimated $895.9 million in 2013 alone with workers and their families footing an estimated $447.9 million of the bill, a new Public Citizen and Workers Defense Project report (PDF) shows.

The report, “The Price of Inaction: The Cost of Construction Injuries in the Lone Star State,” quantifies the estimated costs of deaths, injuries and illnesses in the state’s construction industry. The release coincides with Workers’ Memorial Day, a time when labor advocates pause to commemorate those who lost their lives on the job and who suffer from debilitating work-related injuries or illnesses.

In 2013, Texas recorded approximately 5,600 construction industry injuries and illnesses, which required workers to take time off of work to recover. Additionally, 116 Texas construction workers lost their lives during that time.

The report also finds that people of color and immigrants experience disproportionate rates of work-related fatalities in Texas’ construction industry. In 2013, about two out of every three construction workers killed in Texas were Latino. In addition, from 2012 to 2013, fatalities among foreign-born construction workers in the state increased at a much higher rate (47 percent) than the total number of construction worker fatalities during that time (11 percent).

“Our research indicates a pervasive crisis in the Texas construction industry, which unduly burdens people of color, immigrant workers and their families,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Texas lawmakers should immediately enact safeguards protecting construction workers from unsafe worksites.”

“Texas’ construction industry is generating more than $74 billion a year,” said José P. Garza, executive director of Workers Defense Project. “There’s no excuse for the industry to shift the cost of dangerous worksites from employers to injured workers, their families and taxpayers.”

Texas’ misleadingly named “opt out” system, which does not require employers to purchase workers compensation insurance, shifts the costs of injuries and fatalities from employers onto workers. Without a basic social safety net that includes workers’ compensation, construction workers and their families are left without wages while they recover from injuries and struggle to pay high medical bills and other expenses.

To address this problem, Workers Defense Project and Public Citizen recommend Texas lawmakers make several reforms to increase safety for employees. The report calls on the Texas Legislature to:

  • Require that all construction employers purchase workers’ compensation coverage for all employees;
  • Require that all contractors on publicly funded or publicly subsidized construction sites complete a workplace health and safety prequalification process;
  • Establish a Texas Council on Construction Safety and Health;
  • Pass a statewide policy establishing a rest break standard for construction workers; and
  • Require or incentivize participation in respected third party certification programs like the Better Builder Program.

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Tell Obama to #PutSolarOnIt!

obama solar panelsBy Cameron Woolf

President Obama has made the promotion of renewable energy, particularly solar, one of the cornerstones of his energy policy. Just this April, the White House hosted a Solar Summit to announce new steps to expand the use of solar across US homes and businesses. The Department of Defense committed to installing 3 GW of renewables across its military bases, while the D.C area started engaging in the Capital Solar Challenge, which aims to facilitate adoption of solar on nearby federal buildings. Furthermore, the administration got over 300 private and public sector organizations to commit to installing solar.

These commitments totaled to over 800 MW.While the steps outlined in the Solar Summit are a step in the right direction, they are in reality fairly modest. The White House could be doing a lot more to promote solar with regards to direct deployment. In fact, the federal government manages more than 500,000 buildings. Each of these buildings adopting a 7 kW solar system would represent 35 GW of clean solar energy! An executive order mandating this type of solar deployment would cut countless tons of carbon emissions, provide an economic boost the industry, and send a very strong signal about the future of renewables. Send the White House a message and tell President Obama to #PutSolarOnIt!

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Solar Jobs StatsA recent report by the Solar Foundation shows that employment in the solar industry is booming. Over the past four years, employment in the nation’s solar companies has grown by about 53%. The number of solar jobs grew by an astonishing 20% between 2012 and 2013 alone. By contrast, the overall economy created only 1.9% more jobs over the same period of time. Texas has 4,100 employees in the solar industry, and experienced a 28% growth in solar jobs from 2012 to 2013. Texas is in 6th place for total number of solar employees.

Of the jobs created in the solar industry, sales and installations are leading the way. Within the next year, jobs installing panels are expected to grow by 21.4%, while sales jobs are expected to grow by 14.1%. However, jobs in the solar manufacturing sector are projected to grow only by 8.6%, as U.S manufacturers struggle to compete with cheap panels from China and other developing markets. In response the U.S has imposed a 31% tariff on imported Chinese solar panels. Still, even the slowest growing sector in the solar industry is creating jobs four times faster than the overall economy. The solar industry is truly one of the great success stories of the economic recovery.

Solar panel installationIt’s important to note that one thing driving panel prices down so rapidly, and creating a ton of jobs in the process, is the increased demand being created from the solar subsidies at the various levels of government. If these subsidies are ended prematurely, solar panels would be out of reach for many consumers, resulting in a reduction in demand. If this happens, the reduced demand could slow jobs growth.

In order to keep the solar industry going strong and creating jobs, clear guidance on the federal level surrounding renewable energy subsidies is needed. For example, the solar investment tax credit, which has helped spark the economic boom in solar, is set to expire at the end of 2016. This tax credit has played a key role in fostering the 1,600% increase in solar installations since 2006. In fact subsidized solar power has already reached grid parity in some states. That means that on a kilowatt-hour (kwh) basis, solar can be as cheap as or cheaper than coal, natural gas, or any other conventional form of energy. In states or cities where solar reaches grid parity, observers are expecting an even further surge in solar energy, yielding even more jobs growth. But if the solar investment tax credit completely expires for residential customers and is reduced to 10% for commercial customers, as scheduled, in 2016, jobs growth in the solar industry could slow unless soft cost are reduced . Any reduction in subsides should be offset with a reduction in the required permitting and paper work for solar installation. These soft costs related to regulatory compliance cause solar installation to cost nearly twice as much as they do in other countries. In Germany, where the solar instillation process is stream lined, a 4kw system costs only $10,000 to install, where the same system costs nearly $20,000 in the United States.

As of right now, solar appears to be entering a period of nearly exponential growth thanks to falling panel prices, and effective subsidies at the various levels of government. While every industry should aspire to be able to stand on its own two feet, ending the subsidies for solar in 2016 would be premature and would put the industry at a disadvantage among the many energy industries, including coal, natural gas and nuclear, that receive other subsidies. Any reduction in subsidies should be offset by making the regulatory process simpler, and cheaper. The solar industry is one of the fastest growing industries around, and until solar can consistently reach grid parity, subsidies should kept in place to ensure strong jobs growth, and a bright future for the green U.S economy.

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Updating the the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2020 to become the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2024 probably doesn’t sound super exciting, but there’s almost certainly some aspect of the choices that will soon be made on your behalf that you care about.

IMG_48691. Climate Change: I’m not going to try to convince anyone reading this that our planet’s climate is changing and that humans are largely responsible for that change.  Nor am I going to try to convince you that those changes are going to be largely detrimental to human prosperity.  But if you already recognize those two basic truths, then you will definitely want to listen up.  Austin Energy is proposing to not only run Austin’s portion of the Fayette coal plant until 2025, but also to dramatically increase its use of natural gas by adding a new 800 megawatt gas plant to its energy portfolio.  That’s bigger than Austin’s portion of Fayette.  And although natural gas emits less carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy production than burning coal, once the substantial impact of the roughly 3% of gas that leaks into the atmosphere during extraction, processing and transportation is accounted for, natural gas is almost as harmful to the climate as coal.  That’s because the primary component of natural gas, methane, is 87 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years.  Although many people focus on the 100 year time frame when talking about climate change, we can’t afford to ignore our more immediate future.  Central Texas has already experienced its share of climate impacts over the past few years in the form of drought, wildfires and floods.  We must stop those impacts from worsening at a greater rate than they already will be.  Natural gas isn’t going to save us.  Even without the massive problem of leaking methane, burning gas instead of coal only decreases our climate impact by about half, so it’s not a long term solution anyway – the best it could have been was a stopgap.  Instead of investing in infrastructure that won’t get us where we need to be, we can make better decisions now.

Attend one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings this week and ask the staff to consider the full climate impacts of energy sources.

2. Jobs: Developing renewable energy sources creates 3 times as many jobs as developing fossil fuel energy sources per dollar invested.  Whereas a large chunk of the cost connected to a coal plan or a gas plant is for the coal and gas, the wind and sun are free.  So, instead of paying for the privilege of burning a limited resource, we can pay people to harness the energy from free and unlimited resources.

Across the U.S., solar energy jobs grew 20% from 2012 to 2013, compared to average job growth across all industries of 1.9%.  A large percentage of that growth was in Texas, but Texas still ranks 44th in solar jobs per capita.  Increasing Austin Energy’s solar goal will bring more jobs to Texas, but it’s increasing the local solar goal that will have the most impact on local job creation.  The Austin Local Solar Advisory Commission unanimously recommended that Austin Energy’s solar goal for 2020 be increased from 200 megawatts (MW) to 400 MW.  It also recommended that at least half of that solar development be local and at least half of that local solar be customer controlled (that’s what you see on residential and business rooftops and yards).  According to the LSAC’s calculations done using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model, the $60 million it would take to develop that amount of local solar would bring the Austin area a net of $300 million in local economic benefits – wages, taxes, etc.  If Austin Energy adopts policies to give preference to local companies who hire local workers, our community can benefit even more.  On the other hand, we are currently sending $80 million to Montana each year for the coal we burn in the Fayette coal plant.

Tell Austin Energy that you support growing local jobs by increasing our solar goals, including the local and customer owned solar goals.

3. Water: If you live in central Texas, I don’t need to tell you that water is a huge issue – in fact it’s just a big issue for Texas that the Legislature, with voter approval appropriated $2 billion dollars to fund water projects, with 20% of those funds to be used on water conservation efforts.  We can’t make it rain more, so we are going to have to make some choices about what we want to use water for.  The Fayette coal plant, which Austin Energy owns one third of, needs about 5 billion gallons of water per year to operate.  And lest you start thinking natural gas plants are the answer, know that over 39 billion gallons of water was used in fracking jobs in Texas between January 2011 and May 2013.  Producers in the Eagle Ford Shale play are especially wasteful, using an average of 4.4 million gallons of water per well.  That’s water that can’t be used for domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or ecosystem uses.

Tell Austin Energy to focus investment on drought proof energy sources like wind and solar.

4. Health: Air pollution from burning coal and extracting natural gas are taking a real toll on human health in Texas.  The Fayette coal plant is responsible for over $55.5 million in health impacts from air pollution.  Those impacts include asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and the associated hospital visits and deaths.  Even so, Austin Energy has proposed running its portion of Fayette until 2025.

Lack of regulation over the natural gas industry, which has operations strewn across vast areas has resulted in a tragic disregard for human well being.  If you haven’t already, read this excellent piece of investigative journalism about how your fellow Texans are being assaulted with toxic chemicals in the Eagle Ford Shale area.  Instead of building a large new gas plant to drive up demand for dangerous fracking, Austin Energy should focus on growing its renewable energy portofolio with more wind and solar and perhaps some geothermal energy.

Air pollution is much more than an environmental issue – it’s a public health issue.  That’s why you find medical professionals and health advocates supporting a transition to clean energy.

Sign up for one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings and ask them to give up their plans for a giant new gas plant and to examine more options for retiring the Fayette coal plant in an affordable way.

5. Affordable Energy: Wind and solar energy are competitive with coal and natural gas already.  Meanwhile, electricity from coal plants is going to get more expensive because of various regulations to limit pollution.  Natural gas prices are low now, but have fluctuated greatly over time, making a big bet on natural gas risky.  When natural gas prices go up, Austin Energy raises our fuel charge to recover those costs.  Since affordable wind and solar are available now and can assure us a predictable price for 10-20 years, why would we not make those energy sources our priority?  Austin Energy has done a great job getting good wind contracts to keep customer rates low and is set to achieve its 35% renewable energy goal 4 years early in 2016.

Tell Austin Energy to keep up its momentum by expanding the renewable energy goal to 50% for 2020 and 60% by 2024.

Take Action:

Austin Energy is holding 3 stakeholder meetings to gather public input on the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan update to 2024.

  • Tuesday, February 25: 10 am – 12 pm (noon)
  • Tuesday, February 25: 6 pm – 8 pm
  • Thursday, February 27: 1 pm – 3 pm

This is your chance to help determine how the money you pay for your electric bills is invested by our publicly owned utility.

Please sign up to attend one of the meetings.

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KXL Climate ChangeWith the release of the State Department’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, there has been a lot of buzz about the project. The report concluded that Keystone XL could create carbon pollution equivalent to nearly six million cars, or eight coal-fired power plants. Last Week the State Department began accepting comments from the public, and with only a few weeks (until Mar 07, 2014 11:59 PM ET) left the need for citizens to weigh in has never been more urgent. Now is the time to tell Secretary of State John Kerry that this dirty pipeline is not in our national interest.

This is our final opportunity to officially weigh in on the decision. Submit a comment right now to tell the Obama Administration that the “game over for the climate” Keystone XL pipeline is NOT in our national interest.

Here are some facts to consider including in your comment to Secretary Kerry and the State Department:

  • The evidence is clear that Keystone XL could increase production levels of tar sands oil in Alberta, and therefore significantly add to carbon emissions. The massive investment would lock us into dependence on this dirty fuel for decades, exacerbating carbon pollution just when we need to go in the other direction.
  • Beyond the effects on our climate, this dangerous pipeline would also put the water supply of millions of Americans at risk, including the precious Ogallala Aquifer, Platte and Niobrara rivers, and hundreds of individual families’ wells. After a year in which many communities were harmed by spills from existing pipelines, we cannot allow any more of the dirtiest, most toxic oil on earth to spill into our lands and waterways.
  • The jobs numbers touted by industry are exaggerated. Oil industry lobbyist and pro-pipeline politicians claim that the Keystone XL would create 20,000 to half a million jobs, but these jobs numbers are grossly exaggerated. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline will only create about 3,900 jobs over a two year period, and after that the project would only provide jobs for 35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors.
  • The Keystone XL is an export pipeline. According to presentations to investors, Gulf Coast refiners plan to refine the cheap Canadian crude supplied by the pipeline into diesel and other products for export to Europe and Latin America. Proceeds from these exports are earned tax-free. Much of the fuel refined from the pipeline’s heavy crude oil will never reach U.S. drivers’ tanks. Therefore, not reducing gas prices for Americans.

This is our last chance to voice concerns to the State Department before the public comment period ends on March 7. We need to get our message across to Secretary Kerry, because what he says could be one of the biggest determining factors in President Obama’s decision.

Submit your comment: Keystone XL is NOT in our national interest.

In addition to submitting your comment electronically, comments may also be mailed directly to:

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Energy Resources, Room 4843
Attn: Keystone XL Public Comments
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

#NoKXL

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USAS solidarityUnited Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) is holding a national conference at the University of Texas in Austin. It began yesterday, despite the campus being closed, and continues today, Saturday, February 8th.  Hundreds of students from USAS joined with UT Save Our Community Coalition to rally against UT’s plan to outsource jobs to the global firm Accenture.  The plan would cut 500 jobs and displace hundreds of community members.

2014-02-07 UT Save Our Community Coalition Rally

USAS & UT Save Our Community Coalition rallied against outsourcing jobs to Accenture on the UT Austin campus on Friday, Feb 7.

According to USAS’ website, “USAS member voted to hold the conference at UT …where the weather is as unpredictable as its citizens. Here in the birthplace of right to work (for less), women’s health care is under attack, our immigrant community is under attack and minorities are being attacked left and right.” UT students are taking action with the community and campus workers to stop privatization of the University of Texas and the outsourcing of hundreds of jobs. These jobs include on-campus positions and workers abroad who make the collegiate apparel for the university.

2014 USAS and UT community coalition

Students from USAS marched to the UT Austin campus with UT Save Our Community Coalition to rally against outsourcing jobs to Accenture on Friday, Feb 7.

Students at the conference are learning to plan national USAS campaigns, sharpen organizing skills, get new ideas, and work to build a student-labor movement. Workshops are lead by labor organizers and veteran student organizers.

USAS is the nation’s largest youth-led, student labor campaign organization. The organization has won precedent-setting campaigns and works to educate students of the dominance corporations have in a globalized economy. Successful and significant campaigns include organizing rights, fair contracts and living wage policies across campuses, communities and the United States. The organization also supports ensuring university support of good employment standards in local economies.

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President Obama’s Statement that Keystone XL Will Create 2,000 Jobs is Consistent with Cornell Study and State Department Analysis

In an interview with the New York Times July 27, 2013, President Obama asserted that construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would create approximately 2,000 jobs. The President’s claim is consistent with both the findings of the Cornell Global Labor Institute’s 2011 study on the job impacts of the project and the State Department’s latest assessment (SDEIS, March 2013).

“President Obama’s statement that the Keystone XL pipeline has relatively limited job creation potential is entirely correct,” said Sean Sweeney of the Cornell Global Labor Institute and co-author of the study. “TransCanada and the American Petroleum Institute have argued that the project will create tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of jobs, and our data revealed that these assertions were false and the job numbers highly inflated and based on flawed methodology. Cornell’s more careful and comprehensive study, as well as the State Department’s analysis, revealed that the construction of the pipeline will produce far fewer jobs than TransCanada has claimed – only about 2,000 direct construction jobs a year for the two-year life of the project.”

The Cornell report showed that the pipeline would create approximately 2,500 direct construction jobs per year over the two-year life of the project. This number was affirmed in March 2013 when the State Department used TransCanada’s own numbers to analyze the job impacts of the pipeline, based on the current project definition for Keystone XL (Canada to Steele City, NE plus two new pumping stations in KS). The State Department found that the project would employ 3,900 full-time workers for one year, or less than 2,000 workers per year, spread out over the expected two-year construction period. Nearly all of the jobs related to the project would last less than one year – 4 months, 6 months, or 8 months. Therefore, average annual employment is based on the number of construction workers multiplied by the construction period in weeks divided by 52 weeks in a year.  The President’s numbers were therefore correct.

Both Cornell’s and the State Department’s job assessments also found that only 10 – 15% of the construction workers would be hired locally – in the states where the pipeline is being constructed, and that the number of permanent jobs related to the project would be minimal – 35 permanent employees would be required for Keystone XL’s operation.

In addition to the direct construction jobs that would be created by the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, the Cornell Global Labor Institute also found that TransCanada significantly inflated the number of indirect and induced jobs that the project would create by inflating the overall project budget.  TransCanada has claimed it is a $7 billion project. It arrived at this number by including money that will be spent in Canada and funds that had already been spent in the U.S. at the time when its own commissioned study was released.

“A much smaller project budget means a lot less jobs,” says Lara Skinner, co-author of the Cornell study. “The U.S. is facing a serious unemployment problem and this problem should not be trivialized by TransCanada Corporation vastly overestimating the number of jobs that will be created by Keystone XL. I’m pleased that the President is aware of the actual job creation potential of the project, and recognizes that the minimal employment potential of the project should not be a determining factor in the decision to approve or disapprove Keystone XL.”

The Cornell Global Labor Institute study, Pipe Dreams? Jobs Gained, Jobs Lost by the Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, is available here:
http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/globallaborinstitute/upload/GLI_KeystoneXL_012312_FIN.pdf

Ian Goodman and Brigid Rowan of the Goodman Group, Ltd., partnered with Sweeney and Skinner in the production of the Cornell report.

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