Category Archives: Just transition

Join Tomorrow at 7pm: ‘Tools for the Faithful in the ‘Just-Green’ Transition’ Zoom Presentation

[Note from BenIndy: There are many lenses through which we can consider and address our climate crisis; faith is an important one. The Heritage Presbyterian Church’s “Make the World a Better Place” program is hosting a Zoom presentation on Wednesday, March 20, at 7pm, to share tools faith communities can use in these discussions. That said, it’s clear these tools can serve not just the faithful, but also “people of conscience.” To get the Zoom link, you will have to RSVP by emailing]

Make the World a Better Place presents

Climate Crisis: Tools for Faith Communities and People of Faith and Conscience in the “Just Green-Transition”

March 20, 2024, 7 pm on ZOOM

To RSVP and to get the Zoom link please email: betterworldbenicia@

Featuring: Gregory Stevens, Northern California Director, California Interfaith Power and Light (


The climate has changed. Our planet is heating up. We need a new system. A system based on deep democracy, radical egalitarianism, participatory budgeting, and social justice. Faith communities across the country already embody these ways of being; so how do we make them global?

Now is the time to take action and this event will provide the tools and framework needed to make a “just green-transition” a concrete reality. A “just green transition” refers to the shift towards a more environmentally sustainable economy and society while ensuring that the process is fair and equitable for all stakeholders, especially those who may be disproportionately affected by the transition. This concept recognizes that transitioning to a green economy, which prioritizes renewable energy, resource efficiency, and sustainability, can have social and economic implications.

About Gregory Stevens: Gregory serves as the Northern California Director. As a former Baptist preacher, long time labor organizer, and interfaith community activist they bring a creative mix of skills to our team as we seek to strengthen multi-religious responses to climate change. Gregory grew up in Tampa/St. Petersburg Florida, where their love for crawling critters, furry felines, and old oak trees solidified into political and social activism for planetary healing. They have a BA in Religion and Gender Studies from the University of South Florida, a MDiv from Claremont School of Theology, and a MA in Anthropology from the California Institute of Integral Studies. In their free time they enjoy overstuffed used bookstores, the smell and feel of giant Redwood Trees, watching documentaries about ancient cultures, and all things Unitarian Universalist.

California Interfaith Power & Light
685 14th Street, Oakland CA 94612
(510) 867-2031 |

To RSVP and to get the Zoom link please email: betterworldbenicia@


More about Make the World a Better Place

Monthly educational programs on Zoom focused on social justice topics that can make a better, more peaceful and just world. The good folks at Heritage Presbyterian Church in Benicia plan and present these programs for thoughtful and caring people. Viewpoints expressed in these presentations do not necessarily reflect any position or policy of Heritage Presbyterian Church and no official endorsement should be inferred.

Heritage Presbyterian Church/ The Presbytery of the Redwoods 1400 E. 2nd St., Benicia
(707) 745-6650 |
Pat Plant, Better World Organizer

“The one who plants trees, knowing that he will never sit in their shade, has at least started to understand the meaning of life. – Rabindranath Tagore

Life after refineries: South Philly shows us a way

By Nathalie Christian, October 18, 2023

Refinery towns like Benicia have a lot to consider in the years ahead as we as a global society take bigger and more aggressive steps toward phasing-down – and phasing-out – fossil fuels, but the most pressing questions boil down to one central, throbbing toothache: what comes after?

What comes after refineries, especially for refinery towns?

You’ve probably seen a lot of gloomy speculation, opportunistically amplified by special-interest groups with the most to lose (we’re looking at you, Big Oil lobbyists!), but peer closer, deeper, and you will see there is plenty of room for optimism.

NBC10-Philadelphia recently broadcasted a report by anchor Karen Hua that described the city’s vision for the future of a space once blighted by a powerful polluter, a refinery operated by Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) that exploded in 2019, launching thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into Philly’s air after years of rampant emissions violations.

While the refinery that had been there before employed 1,000 workers, the new business center that is featured to take its place is slated to create 28,000 union construction jobs before settling down to a projected 19,000 new, permanent jobs for Philadelphia residents.

While tempting, comparing those 28,000 temporary and 19,000 permanent jobs to the 1,000 jobs provided by the demolished plant, dusting our hands off, and announcing, “Well, that’s settled!” is wrongheaded along the lines of apples-and-oranges math. That comparison, while heartwarming, just doesn’t show the whole picture.

Job growth and tax base expansion are certainly fabulous goals, but they do not together contrive the most important lens we need to view South Philly’s transition away from a refinery operation as its primary taxable industry.

Instead, we should view South Philly’s transition through a wider lens, one that demonstrates exciting dividends for a city that was forced to address the big question of ‘what comes after?’ years before it thought it was ready to do so: substantially reduced air pollution and greatly diminished threat of human and environmental harm, in support of a safer, healthier and more economically prosperous – and economically diverse, meaning beholden to no single industry or business for its growth and sustenance – community. (That’s the hope I have for Philly, anyway.)

Sure, a giant industrial logistics complex like that which is being built in South Philly is unlikely to appeal to Benicians as we look to our shared future after refineries, whether that future is 10 or 100 years ahead of us.

But the message of hope remains. There are many opportunities for a post-refinery town in a post-refinery world. Rather than clutching our weathered pearls in fear of losing the patronage of a corporate overlord with dubious motives, Benicia officials and residents could embrace the future and start diving for new pearls, to strand onto new necklaces that will certainly make much better heirlooms for our kids than what we have now.

Despite the doom-and-gloom forecasts perpetuated by naysayers who are deeply invested in delaying the inevitable phase-down or -out of the fossil fuels industry, there is always room for optimism in towns and communities like Benicia.

Check out the video below to learn more, and we’ve provided a transcript for you below if you prefer reading.

P.S. By the way, PES, the company that operated the South Philly plant that exploded in 2019, apparently avoided clean air compliance and paying Philadelphia and Pennsylvania millions in back taxes through strategic bankruptcy proceedings. And of course, the ground the new center will be built on is still riddled with dangerous toxins.

Here’s a transcript of the broadcast:

NBC10 PHIL.: Thirteen-hundred acres of South Philly that was once an oil refinery is being completely transformed and that could make way for new businesses. It’s a project that will also create nearly 50,000 jobs. NBC 10’s Karen Hua joins us from the Bellwether District with a look at how the oil refinery that caught fire several years ago is now getting a new start. 

At approximately 4 am on Friday June 21, 2019, there was a release of vapor in the PES refinery alkylation unit. The vapor found an ignition source, causing a fire and multiple explosions. | Image: US Chemical Safety Board.

NBC10 / KAREN HUA: This groundbreaking means a clean slate. These 1,300 acres sits under the Passyank Ave. Bridge in South Philly. The Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery was here for decades, until June 2019, when the whole facility caught fire, something nearby residences long feared would happen. 

Officials ultimately demolished the oil refinery leaving this space vacant, but now this land is being transformed.

SEN. ANTHONY WILLIAMS (D-PA): As long as I’ve lived, this site has been the number-one polluter of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the East Coast. It is now no longer the number-one polluter, but it has actually reduced emissions.

NBC10 / HUA: Reducing Philly’s emissions by 16%, and it’s a project to create 19,000 permanent jobs and nearly 28,000 union construction jobs.

PHIL. CITY COUNCILMAN KENYATTA JOHNSON: So this is a project that will allow us to erase the stigma of being the number-one big city filled with poverty, to be the number-one city that’s filled with economic growth and development. 

NBC10/ HUA: With thousands of people employed, the hope is this will organically solve one of the root causes of violence.

PHIL. MAYOR JIM KENNEY (D):  What it means is public safety. It means a young man or woman can earn $60, 70, 80,000 to be able to raise their families, sustain their families, have some dignity in their lives, and don’t ever have to pick up a gun for any reason whatsoever again. 

NBC10/HUA: The goal is also to attract businesses and e-commerce to Philly.

PA GOV. JOSH SHAPIRO (D): Think about the uniqueness of the location, connected to downtown, our universities, Philadelphia International Airport, and just a couple-hours’ drive from 25% of the American population.

For companies that want to get their products to market, I can’t think of a better place to be then right here at the Bellweather district.

Learn more about the Philly Bellwether District’s new complex here.

The Green Revolution Will Not Be Painless

A California oil refinery shut down during the pandemic. A year later, former employees were not all right.
Mario Tama / Getty

The Atlantic, By Annie Lowrey, April 26, 2023

In 2006, James Feldermann got hired as a trainee at a refinery in Martinez, California, in the Bay Area. It was hard work, with 12-hour-minimum shifts, but Feldermann came to excel at it. He learned how to isolate pipes and vessels, load railcars with molten sulfur and ammonia, and helm an industrial control panel. In time, he rose to the position of head operator at the Marathon Petroleum site. The job paid well, and he enjoyed it. He expected to stay until retirement.

On a Friday afternoon in July 2020, Feldermann was abruptly summoned to an all-hands Zoom meeting. While some of his colleagues struggled to get the audio to work, Feldermann received a phone call from his union representative. “I didn’t actually hear management tell us that they were laying us off,” he told me. The plant was being shut down, as the rise of work-from-home and the spread of electric vehicles depressed Californians’ demand for gasoline. Feldermann and his co-workers would be out of a job in 90 days.

The United States is embarking on an epochal transition from fossil fuels to green energy. That shift is necessary to avert the worst outcomes of climate change. It also stands to put hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people like Feldermann out of work. The result could be not only economic pain for individual families, but also the devastation of communities that rely on fossil-fuel extraction and a powerful political backlash against green-energy policies.

A pathbreaking new study [BenIndy editor: see indent below] shows just how real the damage could be, absent policies to soften the economic blow. Virginia Parks, a professor at UC Irvine, and Ian Baran, a doctoral student, tracked the consequences of the Marathon shutdown in near-real time, getting more than 40 percent of the workers to return surveys and a smaller group to sit for interviews. They found that, more than a year after the shutdown, one in five Marathon workers was unemployed. Their earnings had declined sharply, with the median hourly wage of employed workers plunging from $50 to $38. Some workers were earning as little as $14 an hour. And those new gigs came with more dangerous working conditions.

[Editor >> See the UC Berkeley Labor Center’s executive summary: Fossil fuel layoff: The economic and employment effects of a refinery closure on workers in the Bay Area. Also, download the 39-page report, Fossil Fuel Layoff, here.]

To prevent other workers from experiencing the same, the Biden White House has promised to pursue a “just transition,” employing policies to ensure “new, good-paying jobs for American workers and health and economic benefits for communities.” But the green-energy transition is already underway. And it is not clear that it will be just.

The legendary American union leader Tony Mazzocchi pioneered the concept of a just transition a half century ago. Some industries are too toxic for society, he argued. But to shut them down in a way that punishes the workers in those industries, or the places where those industries are concentrated, would be unjust.

Just-transition policies are not merely about bailing out blue-collar folks. They are meant to defray the cost of having whole communities fall into persistent economic distress: a loss of social cohesion, people living shorter and sicker lives, the rise of “deaths of despair,” the growth of right-wing populism. They are also meant to generate political support for green policies, or at least dampen any backlash. Without them, “you risk dissuading future efforts that are for the societal good,” J. Mijin Cha, an environmental-studies professor at UC Santa Cruz, told me. “If we’re doing things that are for the benefit of society but screw over a bunch of people, that’s not a societal good.”

These policies have worked. The Ruhr region in western Germany, for example, once produced coal, iron, and steel, with extractive and heavy industry employing a majority of the region’s workers. The German government, labor unions, and industrial leaders came to a series of agreements to diversify its economy, providing payments for displaced workers and making investments in service-and-knowledge businesses. Employment in coal mining in the region went from 473,000 in 1957 to zero by the end of 2018. The area lost nearly 1 million production jobs but gained nearly 1 million service jobs.

Yet it is hard to identify many, if any, just transitions in the United States. Appalachia lost its coal jobs and gained an opioid epidemic. Detroit deindustrialized and fell into poverty and disrepair. The decision to open up trade with China sent millions of American manufacturing jobs overseas, and policy makers did little to create any in their place. Now the planned obsolescence of the fossil-fuel industry threatens to create new Rust Belts in regions economically dependent on extraction, such as the Permian Basin, in Texas, or the Bakken Formation, in Montana and North Dakota.

The problem is threefold. First, the United States does not invest heavily in industrial policy or place-based policy compared with some of its rich-country peers, though the Biden administration has started to push billions of dollars into both. If coal is leaving a region, Washington historically is not sending anything else in. Second, the country has lower rates of unionization and a much thinner safety net than other wealthy nations, making workers more vulnerable to the effects of mine closures and plant shutdowns. Third, the Republican Party tends to reject the premise that the country needs to move away from fossil-fuel production at all, making them a weak partner in setting up just-transition plans.

No wonder the Marathon shutdown went the way it did. John Bayer, a safety specialist, lost his job at the site, as did his two brothers. He told me that he was not offered any form of government help, aside from unemployment insurance. Bayer, who has two kids, sent out about 50 applications and received just two callbacks. He ended up at an agriscience firm that nearly matched his Marathon wage but provided fewer opportunities for overtime. “I ended up with a $60,000-a-year pay cut,” he told me.

James Feldermann wound up taking a job based in Reno, Nevada, for $17 an hour less than he was making at Marathon. He rented a small studio apartment there and spent months driving 200 miles back to the Bay Area every weekend to see his wife and son.

Both the state of California and the Biden administration are in the process of developing plans for a just transition to green energy. Those plans were too late for the Marathon employees. Many labor leaders, academics, and politicians think those plans are almost certain to be too little for fossil-fuel workers losing their jobs in the near future.

On paper, the challenge seems straightforward. The United States has roughly 120,000 oil-and-gas workers and 40,000 coal miners. The green-energy sector is adding at least that many jobs every year. Supply, meet demand. Why not create a job-matching service for those laid off; provide them with wage subsidies, transition assistance, and relocation funds; and watch the country’s emissions turn from smoke-gray to vapor-white?

A few reasons. For one, fossil-fuel companies employ about 1.7 million workers in the U.S., not 160,000, once you factor in all the labor not directly involved in extraction and refining. It takes a lot of workers to transport fuel, manufacture secondary products from it, and power communities with it. And it makes little sense to transition many of those workers directly into green-energy jobs. Oil-and-gas gigs tend to pay far more than solar and wind do. And workers in extractive industries tend to develop valuable, specialized skill sets, as Feldermann did. Their technical chops would be wasted selling rooftop solar systems, and their salaries would get cut in half.

The government also faces the challenge of supporting whole communities dependent on fossil-fuel extraction, not just individual workers. “Fossil-fuel companies tend to be dominant employers where they are located,” Michaël Aklin, a professor of economics at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, in Switzerland, told me. “When they shut down, the central node in that local economy disappears.” The consequences ripple out to the businesses and institutions that rely on the money those workers used to spend and the taxes they used to pay.

The crux of the Biden administration’s plan for a just transition thus far is a policy granting tax incentives to businesses investing in “energy communities.” In the long term, that might encourage companies to locate warehouses and jobs in the places where oil, gas, and coal facilities are closing. But incentives are, well, just incentives. What if private businesses choose not to locate in certain parts of Louisiana or North Dakota, despite the tax breaks on the table? What if they create jobs years after a shutdown has done its damage? What happens to places where no business wants to invest?

At this point, neither Sacramento nor Washington has developed a robust plan to reach out and help oil-and-gas workers one by one. That’s a necessary component, UC Irvine’s Virginia Parks told me. The government, she argued, should provide financial support to cover the gap between workers’ pre- and post-layoff wages, as well as aiding workers close to retirement. Legislators should set up programs to certify the workers’ skills so that outside employers can see just how qualified they are. Finally, the government should provide retraining and job-match services.

Last week, Tracy Scott, the president of the United Steelworkers Local 5, the union representing the Marathon employees, drove me around the closed refinery complex. It sits on emerald-green marshland near where the Carquinez Strait empties into San Pablo Bay. When we visited, the heavy machinery once used to turn sour crude into gas and petrochemicals was surrounded by a superbloom of California poppies and wild mustard. We both remarked on how beautiful it was. A little later, Scott told me that refinery workers tend to die young, and rarely get to take advantage of the retirement packages the union negotiates for them.

This place does not deserve to be burdened with this refinery, I thought. And these people do not deserve to suffer for its closure.

Annie Lowrey is a staff writer at The Atlantic.