The Clean Power Plan’s Day in Court


By Elizabeth A. Stanton

Cross-posted from the author’s blog, and at our sister blog Triple Crisis

In one week, the D.C. Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals will begin hearing oral arguments regarding the Clean Power Plan—that’s the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule limiting carbon emissions from existing power plants that the Supreme Court put on hold in February. In staying the rule, the Supreme Court flagged concerns that EPA had failed to take the rule’s economic impacts into account. The 27 states challenging the rule have focused their arguments instead on its legal niceties claiming that the federal government is overstepping its authority.

Of the 27 states suing the EPA, 21 have already achieved their 2024 emission reduction targets and 18 have enacted policies that put them on track to reach their 2030 targets. Reuters quotes EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy as saying, “We are seeing reductions earlier than we ever expected. It’s a great sign that the market has already shifted and people are invested in the newer technologies, even while we are in litigation.” Economics are driving large-scale adoption of wind and solar generation around the country at the same time that low natural gas prices mean less reliance on coal-fired generators.

Carbon emission are falling and will continue to fall in the electric sector—without help from federal climate regulation. But in the absence of a strong national climate policy these reductions will not cut emissions quickly enough for the United States to play its essential role in keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. It is no exaggeration to say that the decisions made by the D.C. Circuit and U.S. Supreme Court will set a precedent for federal regulation of carbon pollution that will have long lasting impacts felt around the world.

The quality of public debate sparked by the Clean Power Plan’s day in court will benefit from a grounding in facts not just about climate change and the U.S. role in changing the composition of our global atmosphere, but also in the legal issues at the core of the challenge to and stay of the rule. Here’s some recommended reading to that end:

·        A helpful blog piece from the Institute for Policy Integrity explaining the challenge in the context of U.S. law and history

·        A brief history lesson from the Law360 website describing the U.S. legal decisions that paved the way for the Clean Power Plan

Our Annual Labor Issue Is Out!

0916cover-large-for-blogOur September/October Annual Labor issue is printing now, and the full-color pdf has been sent to electronic subscribers.  (Not a subscriber? Click here to subscribe.)  We have posted our lead feature, Class Struggle By Other Means: Tennessee, Volkswagen, and the Future of Labor, by Chris Brooks, and also John Miller’s “Up Against the Wall Street Journal column, “Equal Pay” Is Not So Equal.

This issue features a gorgeous cover collage and several interior illustrations by Brian Hubble.

Here is the pg. 2 editorial note from this issue:

If You’re Not Moving Forward, You’re Moving Backward

The U.S. labor movement has been in a rut for decades. Its problems, to be sure, are not all of its own making; it got into its predicament with no little amount of shoving from employers and the state. But the leadership of the “official” union movement has often been the movement’s own worst enemy.

Conservative business unionism, a lack of attention to or enthusiasm for new organizing, and a cozy relationship with employers and the state contributed to a long downward slide from the 1950s on. Over sixty years later, we’re still not out of the rut. The unions’ tactics of “friendly” relations with employers and government officials simply do not cut it—not even in industries that used to be union strongholds.

In this issue’s lead feature, Chris Brooks takes us to the auto industry, and the case of Volkswagen in Tennessee, against a backdrop of lavish government giveaways for companies and austerity for the working class. Instead of organizing aggressively around issues like the crushing pace of work, the United Auto Workers (UAW) staked itself on labor-management cooperation, loudly proclaiming its commitment to company “competitiveness.” Brooks calls for a more militant approach, based not only on facing up to conflict with employers and the government, but also on championing a broader agenda for the working class as a whole.

There are several other ways, highlighted in this year’s Annual Labor Issue, in which the labor movement’s future depends on its ability to adapt and fight in a changing industrial and political landscape.

Labor lawyer Ira Sills puts an encouraging piece of breaking news—the National Labor Relations Board’s recent ruling that graduate teaching assistants at private universities are, indeed, employees entitled to the protections of the National Labor Relations Act—into a broader historical context. As Sills points out, the NLRB became increasingly “politicized” from the 1980s on, especially with the appointment of anti-labor ideologues who were hell-bent on making things as hard on workers and unions as possible. The unions, accustomed to organizing within the NLRB election system, were not successful in finding other ways to organize. But the successes of graduate employee organization and public institutions and the struggles of graduate employees to organize at private institutions certainly provided some of the impetus behind the recent legal change.

The question of who is regarded as an “employee” has wider implications in the U.S. economy today, especially in light of the rise of contingent or “gig” employment. Economist Anders Fremstad looks at the reality of work today in one the highest-profile segments of the contingent labor market—“sharing economy” companies like Uber and Lyft. Fremstad argues that the “sharing economy” may work for underused physical assets (that, when lying unused, can be rented out at little cost to the owner), it’s a different story when it comes to labor time. Using even spare time for labor takes something away from the “gig” worker, and the huge slice of revenue that companies like Uber take off the top makes it very hard for sharing-economy workers to scratch out a living. Fremstad argues, instead, for alternative types of “sharing economy” enterprises—such as public enterprises connecting workers with consumers, without the exploitive cut taken by private for-profit companies.

Jeremy Brecher tackles the question of labor and the vexing challenge of climate change. He outlines an appealing and feasible program, originated by the Labor Network for Sustainability, that would bring about needed reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while creating more robust job growth than a “business as usual” (fossil-fuel based) scenario. The aim is not just to defuse any possible labor opposition—founded on the canard that environmental regulations are “job killers”—to climate policy. It is also to create the foundation for a new relationship between the labor and environmental movements.
New visions for the labor movement like these—visions of broad solidarity rather than narrow interest, of alternative economic institutions, of active struggle for a sustainable future—show how labor can move forward again.

Also in this issue: John Miller on the gender wage gap, Arthur MacEwan on the supposed threat of artificial intelligence, Gerald Friedman on the bleak jobs picture, and more.