USW response to 350.org’s ‘Break Free from Fossil Fuel’ actions targeting oil refineries

Economic and Environmental Sustainability in the Oil Refining Sector

This May a coalition of environmental organizations spearheaded by 350.org will be holding a series of protests at energy extraction, transportation, and refining sites across the US and around the world. In the announcement for the action 350.org calls for “the rapid, just transition from the fossil fuel economy of the past to the 100% renewable and clean energy future that climate justice demands.”

Three of the locations targeted for these protests are USW-represented oil refineries: Philadelphia Energy Solutions in Philadelphia, PA; BP in Whiting, IN; and Shell and Tesoro in Anacortes, WA. 

While the USW shares 350.org’s concerns about the devastating impacts of climate change, we have serious disagreements with 350.org in its central demand of keeping all fossil fuels ‘in the ground.’ As a founding partner of the Blue Green Alliance, a partnership of labor unions and environmental organizations, the USW has a long track record of advocating for common-sense policies that encourage investments in industrial energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, and that make refineries and other production facilities safe for workers and fence-line communities.

In the last five years, there has been significant growth in wind and solar generation in the U.S.; however, our economy and energy infrastructure relies on base-load energy from traditional fuels. In a market that is experiencing a global over-supply of crude oil and a global over-capacity for refining crude oil, keeping fossil fuels in the ground and shutting down a handful of refineries in the U.S. would likely lead to massive job loss in refinery communities, increased imports of refined oil products, and ultimately no impact on reducing global carbon emissions. 

Addressing climate change requires serious and thoughtful action. We need to work hard to make sure that our existing facilities operate safely and efficiently.  We also need serious investment in clean energy technologies – such as carbon capture utilization and storage – that can help bring domestic refineries into the clean energy future and can create and maintain family-sustaining jobs for working families in the United States.

For decades the USW has worked hard with partner organizations to have real and tough discussions about charting a path for economic and environmental sustainability. Unfortunately, short-sighted and narrow-focused activities like 350.org’s ‘Break Free’ actions this May make it much more challenging to work together to envision and create a clean energy economy. But we know that the work of addressing climate change and building a more sustainable economy is too important to be derailed by a handful of groups organizing protests at our plant gates.

We can’t choose between good jobs or a healthy environment.  If we don’t have both, we’ll have neither.

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