Not long ago, the environmental movement’s approach to address climate change started out with the goal of eliminating coal-fired power plants. At that time, the UWUA weighed in heavily on the need to keep those plants open. While our priority was, and still is, to preserve the livelihood of our affected members, the UWUA also continues to point out the effect plant closures have on entire communities, in addition to the rise in utility rates and decline in reliability.
Their attack on coal resulted in more than 15 UWUA coal plants being shut down in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. As a result, our members lost their jobs, their communities lost a major part of their tax base and support for schools, police and fire protection, and other essential public services dropped. Market forces involving cheap natural gas also put a great deal of economic pressure on these plants.
We have also seen the slated closure of nuclear plants due to their profitability. The UWUA has also weighed in on this issue by advocating for legislation to keep these plants competitive. Although nuclear plants have zero emissions, the environmental movement, for the most part, sat on its hands while closures were on the horizon.
Gas is vital
Not that long ago, environmentalists also recognized natural gas as “a bridge to renewables.” They understood that their push for renewable energy required the continued use of natural gas. They did not have the “shut it down” attitude they had with coal.
Now, after conceding that natural gas must play a role in the transition to renewables, for no logical reason, some environmentalist’s position has changed to “shut it down.” Unlike the cases of nuclear and coal plants, where economic pressures played a role in their demise, natural gas is a competitive fuel. And unlike nuclear and coal, the push to eliminate natural gas goes beyond its use to generate electricity. Some environmentalists now want to eliminate the gas distribution infrastructure that delivers natural gas directly to commercial and residential users.
Our members in California Locals 132, 483 and 522 are on the front lines in the war against natural gas. That war is referred to as electrification. Those members work for SoCalGas, the largest natural gas distribution utility in the country, delivering gas to over 20 million people with a service territory of approximately 20,000 square miles.
On November 9, 2019, our locals at SoCalGas held a mass meeting in Pasadena where huge numbers of members from these locals and other UWUA locals joined together in a mass rally to energize the membership in the ongoing fight against this attack on natural gas and their jobs.
Poor impacted most
While many of the proponents of electrification also claim to be concerned for poor people, it’s the poor who will be impacted most. Natural gas has always been a more economical energy source than electricity.
Electrification will actually drive up the cost of both electricity and natural gas. The increase in demand for electricity will no doubt drive up its cost, and the reduction in demand for natural gas will cause a huge drop in revenue for SoCalGas. That, in turn, will require a rate increase to pay to maintain its gas infrastructure.
That’s part of the plan, artificially increase the cost of natural gas legislatively to the point where electricity looks like an attractive alternative. Consumers who prefer natural gas would be priced out due to legislative market manipulation.
While the push for electrification in California is known by many of our members, it is important to note that lawmakers across the country are watching what is happening there and looking to do the same. The fight against electrification to protect our jobs is by no means limited to California.
The UWUA’s 2020 Regional Educational Conferences, will give our members the tools they need to be effective leaders and build strong local unions. This year’s conferences, along with workshops in labor law and empowering your local regarding safety, will include training to mobilize members to be an effective force to combat electrification and any others that attack their livelihoods. Beyond our educational conferences, as always, the full weight and resources of your National Union will be there in any fight that threatens the livelihoods of UWUA members!