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California oil-worker debate may have implications nationwide

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

As California advances plans to phase out fossil fuels and achieve net-zero by 2045, state officials and union leaders are discussing — and debating — policy options to help oil industry workers transition to green jobs. The path forward, which may include money to help offset potential salary decreases, can provide important lessons for other states taking on similar challenges.

Mary Nichols

Senior Visiting Fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability

Mary Nichols is a senior visiting fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability and a former chair of the California Air and Resources Board. Under her leadership, CARB enacted the first comprehensive cap on industrial greenhouse gas emissions by any major regulatory agency in the world. Nichols says labor unions have immense influence in Sacramento, but that any foreseen displacement of oil industry workers is “purely theoretical.”

Nichols says:

“As labor unions have become increasingly visible and active in Sacramento, with the overwhelming dominance of Democrats in statewide and legislative office, they are insisting that the transition to a petroleum-free future include benefits for displaced workers. 

“So far this displacement is purely theoretical. More new jobs are being created for construction workers and operators in the alternative energy sectors than have been lost due to a decline in new drilling permits. Two refineries have switched from gasoline to producing alternative aviation fuel.

“The oil industry is not going quietly. But for the first time, unions are openly joining the resistance. Progressive environmental bills have been blocked in the legislature due to union lobbying. The time has come to do more than pay lip service to the pledge of a ‘just’ transition. I think it’s a very healthy sign that Assembly leadership has put out policy options for discussion because that has the potential to create a well-informed public discussion of the impacts of alternative energy futures.” 

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