TUED Working Paper #5: The Hard Facts about Coal

Why Trade Unions Should Re-evaluate their Support for Carbon Capture and Storage

TUED Working Paper #5: The Hard Facts about Coal 2017-01-31T11:35:33+00:00

Sean Sweeney

October 2015

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is an evolving technology (or, more accurately, a suite of technologies) for reducing CO2 emissions from large, stationary emissions sources such as coal-fired power plants. The process involves the “capture” of CO2 from power plants and CO2-intensive industries, its subsequent transport to a storage site, and finally its injection into a suitable geological formation under the ground or seabed for the purposes of permanent storage.

Trade unions — especially those representing workers in power generation and energy-intensive industries — have generally supported CCS. This paper presents two sets of data that should lead them to reconsider. These data are presented as two scenarios labeled “CCS non-deployment” and “CCS deployment.” The problems associated with either scenario are serious enough to require a thorough re-evaluation of trade union support for CCS. In the case that CCS is not deployed on a sufficient scale — a likely scenario — political support for CCS from unions and others provides cover for new coal infrastructure, but the emissions generated by this new capacity will never be captured or stored. But even if CCS is deployed on a mass scale, the health impacts and environmental damage associated with extracting, transporting, and burning coal will not be eliminated and may become worse due to the “energy penalty” associated with CCS. In either of these scenarios, trade union support for CCS separates the labor movement from other communities seeking to build a “movement of movements” for climate and environmental justice.

The paper concludes by urging that unions commit to developing a third scenario, one that is based on a willingness to challenge the assumption that the demand for energy will continue to rise and that “growth” as traditionally understood can continue in a more or less uninterrupted fashion. A third scenario will also be anchored in public ownership and the reclaiming of energy resources, infrastructure, and options to the public sphere. The only conceivable route for truly essential CCS development (such as for specific industrial purposes) lies completely outside of the neoliberal framework that currently sets the parameters for what’s possible within the narrow terrain of the market.

Download the full paper here.