Maine governor reaches offshore wind deal with labor unions

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In today’s edition, we’ll cover why small-town Republican officials are torn over President Biden‘s clean energy subsidies. But first:

Maine governor reaches offshore wind deal with unions, as labor concerns linger in Gulf of Mexico

Maine gov. Janet Mills (D) has reached a compromise with labor unions on legislation to boost the state’s offshore wind industry, overcoming past disagreements that threatened to tank the measure.

The deal comes as President Biden pitches offshore wind to union skeptical workers that it can deliver the same economic benefits as fossil fuels, especially in the oil-rich Gulf of Mexico.

As we previously reported, Mills last month vetoed a bill that required companies to use project labor agreements, or PLAs, when working on offshore wind ports. PLAs generally establish higher wages and benefits for all workers involved in a project.

In a letter to lawmakers, Mills said the provision would exclude most of the state’s construction workers, since more than 90 percent of them are not unionized. Labor leaders countered that nothing would prevent non-union firms from bidding on these projects.

Now, after weeks of private negotiations, mills and labor leaders have forged an agreement on a reworked bill. The measure is expected to pass the state legislature tomorrow and then head to the governor’s desk for her signature.

Rather than requiring PLAs, the measure would mandate a suite of labor standards for offshore wind development. It would:

  • Require that all work happen at collectively bargained rates.
  • Ban the use of independent contractors and temp staffing agencies.
  • Prioritize jobs for residents of Maine and the region.

“In essence, the pending legislation contains job quality standards and preferences for PLAs … but not requirements as was done in the vetoed ports bill,” Scott Ogdena spokesman for Mills, said in an email.

In addition, the measure would establish a schedule for Maine to procure 3 gigawatts of electricity — enough to power nearly 900,000 homes — from offshore winds by 2040. That target was included in a separate bill that Mills had also threatened to veto because of its PLA requirement.

From workers’ perspective, the ban on temp staffing agencies may have the biggest impact, she said Jason Shedlockpresident of the Maine State Building and Construction Trades Council.

“Oftentimes we see contractors try to bring in temp workers to fill some seats, and those types of jobs are not community-building and family-sustaining jobs,” Shedlock said.

Jayme Skeltonan apprentice with Operating Engineers Local 4, said he lives in Maine but travels to Massachusetts to work on construction projects with better wages and benefits. He said he’s hopeful the bill will allow him to work on projects in Maine and spend more time at home.

“Being on the road, away from your family for a week at a time, takes a toll on you and your family as well,” he said.

From a climate perspective, the measure will help Maine reach its goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2040, she said. Jack Shapiroclimate and clean energy director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“This is a major step forward in building a clean energy future that works for all Mainers,” Shapiro said in a statement.

The measure comes as Biden, who will visit Maine on Friday, tries to sell skeptical labor unions on offshore wind energy in the Gulf of Mexico, a region long dominated by the oil and gas industry.

Last week, the Interior Department‘s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced the details of its first-ever offshore wind lease sale in the Gulf. The sale, which will take place on Aug. 29, includes one area off Lake Charles, La., and two areas off Galveston, Texas.

But some labor leaders in Texas worry the offshore wind industry will continue the low-wage, unsafe conditions that pervade the construction and offshore oil industries there.

  • Construction workers in Texas earn some of the lowest annual mean wages in the country of about $35,000 — just over half of what construction workers in New York make, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Texas is the only state that does not require workers’ compensation insurance, which provides medical and wage benefits to people who are injured or become ill at work.
  • And last month, the state legislature passed a law that preempted local labor ordinances, including those that guarantee water breaks for construction workers.

“We need to ensure that places like Texas and the South aren’t left behind — as has historically been the case — when it comes to setting common-sense wage and working condition standards,” she said. Bo Delpexecutive director of the Texas Climate Jobs Projecta group that advocates for unionizing clean-energy jobs.

The Texas Climate Jobs Project had urged the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to make PLAs mandatory for offshore wind projects in the Gulf. But the bureau’s final sale notice only requires leaseholders “to make every reasonable effort to enter into a PLA.”

Delp said the language is much better than nothing.

“It really does help address some systemic issues that exist in the Texas construction industry,” he said. And it’s a foundation on which we can build.

Small-town GOP officials are torn over Biden’s clean energy cash

The fate of President Biden‘s signature climate law largely hinges on the decisions of state and local Republican officials who remain skeptical about renewable energy and hostile to Biden, The Washington Post’s Jeff Stein reports.

The Inflation Reduction Act is projected to reduce carbon emissions by about 780 million tons per year by 2030. But that number could fall by as much as 260 million tons annually, or roughly 30 percent, if the pace of solar and wind deployment slows amid local opposition, according to projections by the REPEAT Project at Princeton University.

State and local lawmakers have blocked 547 solar and wind projects so far this year, according to the Renewable Rejection Database, which tracks local governments’ approvals of renewables. That marks a nearly 15 percent increase from last year’s total, even though the year is only half over.

Much of the opposition is ideologically motivated. But in Ohio’s Fairfield County, some residents have urged the three Republican commissioners to reject a proposed solar farm because the runoff would ruin farmland soil. (Experts say there is no evidence this scenario would occur.)

Yet one of the Republican commissioners, Tony Zartmanhas tried to convince other local officials that renewable energy will bring jobs and tax revenue to their communities.

“I tell them, ‘I am a die-hard conservative, but I support renewables because they’ve just been amazing for us financially,’” Zartman said.

New rule aims to make outdated home water heaters cheaper and greener

The Department of Energy on Friday proposed energy efficiency standards for water heaters, marking the biggest step yet in a series of appliance rules aimed at reducing Americans’ energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, Shera Avi-Yonah reports for The Post.

The standards would require the most common-size electric water heaters to use heat pump technology and gas-fired water heaters to use condensing technology. The rules, which would take effect in 2029 if finalized, would reduce carbon emissions by roughly 501 million metric tons over three decades and save consumers $11.4 billion on their energy and water bills each year, according to the agency.

Water heating is responsible for about 13 percent of annual residential energy use and utility costs. The proposal is one of 18 congressionally mandated appliance standards that the Biden administration has drafted or finalized this year.

Congress will take another swing this week at accelerating the nation’s permitting process for energy projects. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on overhauling the permitting process for transmission lines, pipelines and energy production on federal lands.

The hearing comes after Committee Chair Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) and House Republicans successfully pushed to include a controversial provision in the debt ceiling bill that fast-tracked the Mountain Valley Pipeline. But the White House did not secure language to expedite the approval of transmission lines, a top priority of other Democrats.

Here’s what else we’re watching on the Hill this week:

On Tuesday: The House Rules Committee He will consider Republican resolutions to overturn federal protections for the lesser prairie chicken and the northern long-eared bat.

On Wednesday: The Senate Budget Committee will hold a hearing on how climate-change-fueled extreme weather events are damaging US infrastructure.

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing on electronic waste recycling and reuse.
  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety He will examine methods to reduce emissions from the rail industry.

On Thursday: The House Natural Resources Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on the nation’s offshore oil and gas leasing programme.

  • The Senate Appropriations Committee will mark up the fiscal 2024 spending bill for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.

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