Report

A Role for State Attorneys General in a Just Transition

This report was published December 1, 2022. The resources on this page were last updated February 2, 2023.

A new report by the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law and the State and Local Enforcement Project at the Harvard Labor and Worklife Program considers how state attorneys general (AGs) can help ensure that the shift to renewable energy supports communities and leads to good climate jobs. The report provides insight into the role of AGs, highlights recent AG enforcement of workers’ rights and environmental protection, and offers additional ideas for what state attorneys general can do in relation to a just transition.

The Latest

Check here for the latest developments in the just transition space, including efforts by AGs to protect workers and ensure that the shift to renewable energy supports communities and leads to good climate jobs.

AG Work

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Just Transition in the Media

Workers on Solar’s Front Lines


The American Prospect Lee Harris

December 7, 2022

BCG’s New Frontier: Autoworkers & the Environmental Movement

Non-Profit Quarterly Ramón Cruz, Cindy Estrada

October 5, 2022

See Older Items

Upcoming Events & Opportunities

Building a Clean Energy Economy: The Inflation Reduction Act and Workforce Development

January 11, 1 p.m. ET | Cornell ILR

Hear labor leaders & policy makers offer guidance on how to use investments presented in the IRA to build a diverse and equitable clean energy economy.

The Report

Executive Summary

Climate change is already causing massive harms, in the form of more intense storms, flooding, heat waves, and drought. Unchecked, it has the potential to cause even greater damage and destabilize countries worldwide. As economic, regulatory, and security needs push the United States towards cleaner technologies and away from fossil fuels, important questions arise about this transition’s impact on workers. If the new sector does not promise good family-sustaining jobs and worker protections are not enforced, the shift to clean energy could exacerbate already harmful economic trends that will undermine environmental goals, as well as the economy overall.

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Experts and advocates have analyzed how best to address these challenges. They have recommended policies that drive high-road working standards, including good wages and benefits; laws that promote and enable unionization; and policies safeguarding workplace safety and health in the clean energy industry as well as the fossil fuel sector, all critical at the current moment when the clean energy industry is newly developing, and practices are being established.

State attorneys general (AGs) can play an important role in driving a just transition. As the top lawyers in each state, they are charged with protecting the public through a wide range of powers, including enforcement, oversight, advocacy, representing state agencies, and conducting investigations, all of which can be brought to bear on just transition issues.

This Report catalogs numerous worker-focused recommendations by some of the organizations that are most active on these issues. It then outlines how AG action can play a role in this arena, offering a series of ideas and options for AGs to engage, from actions to help create good jobs in the clean energy economy, to enforcement and other measures to address issues in the fossil fuel sector. Many AGs have been active on these issues already and the Report often points to those activities to help illustrate the ideas. While these recommendations focus on the energy transition as an illustrative example, the ideas and options laid out in this Report should be applicable to the ongoing transition in other industries, such as the transportation sector. The Report’s overall goal is to provide ideas and a framework for understanding the role of AGs in promoting a just transition.

In the Press

State AGs Could Play Key Role

December 15, 2022 • Governing • Carl Smith
"A new report from experts at NYU and Harvard law schools outlines the ways state attorneys general can protect communities and workers as the country builds a clean energy economy."

News & Commentary: December 2, 2022

December 2, 2022 • OnLabor • Tascha Shahriari-Parsa
"In today’s news and commentary...a new report details the role of state attorneys general in a just transition."

Tools & Resources

Reports, Publications, Events

The following list includes reports, articles, and other further reading that may be useful to those interested in the intersection of labor and climate. Some of these resources are used and cited in our report, and others were published after our report was released.

EVENT: Building a Clean Energy Economy: The IRA & Workforce Development

On January 11, 2023, Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations hosted a virtual discussion that drew on the expertise of labor leaders, policy makers, and workforce development professionals to examine opportunities presented by the IRA and offer guidance on how to use these investments to build a diverse and equitable clean energy economy. Watch the recording of Building A Clean Energy Economy: The Inflation Reduction Act and Workforce Development

REPORT: Building Back Better or building back worse?

This report from Dr. Gordon Lafer, a professor at University of Oregon’s Labor Education & Research Center, outlines legal and illegal means that have been used to stop auto workers from exercising their right to collective bargaining, and looks at steps that can taken to protect that right and ensure that highly profitable sector provides family-wage jobs. Read Building Back Better or building back worse? The challenge of building a high-road EV industry with anti-union employers.

Organizations

This is a list of some organizations specializing at least in part on the impact of the clean energy transition on workers, organized alphabetically. In some instances, we have included examples of the organizations’ work. This is not a comprehensive list of all organizations doing important work in this space.

ALIGN

ALIGN “is a longstanding alliance of labor and community organizations united for a just and sustainable New York.”

Appalachian Voices

Appalachian Voices “brings people together to protect the land, air and water of Central and Southern Appalachia and advance a just transition to a generative and equitable clean energy economy.”

BlueGreen Alliance

The BlueGreenAlliance, a member organization comprised of a number of larger national environmental organizations and labor unions, recently published a statepolicytoolkitreport on “crafting state policy that rebuilds a cleaner, safer, more equitable economy.” This organization also released an “Energy Transition Policy Framework” that recommends policies for both workers and communities that will have both “immediate and long-term benefits.” In 2021, the California Teamsters and California state policy office of the BlueGreen Alliance together pushed for the passage of a statute that aims to reduce truck emissions through incentives that are also tied to compliance with workplace standards.

The Climate Jobs Institute at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations

The Climate Jobs Institute at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (formerly the Labor Leading on Climate Initiative at Cornell ILR’s Worker Institute) is “guiding New York and the nation’s transition to a strong, equitable, and resilient clean energy economy that tackles the climate crisis, creates high-quality jobs, confronts race and gender inequality, and builds a diverse and inclusive workforce.” The Institute “help[s] policy makers and labor, environmental and industry leaders navigate this historic transition through cutting-edge applied research, deep relationships with on-the-ground partners, and innovative training and education programs.”

Climate Jobs National Resource Center (CJNRC)

Climate Jobs National Resource Center (CJNRC) is a labor-focused organization working to “combat climate change, create good union jobs, and reverse racial and economic inequality by building a worker-centered renewable economy.” CJNRC works collaboratively with the Labor Leading On Climate Initiative at the Worker Institute of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Through this collaboration, CJNRC has helped to form state-level coalitions of labor unions in Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New York, Rhode Island, and Texas. Most have produced reports outlining state- and city-specific policy recommendations for building a just transition. These reports can lead to unions signing onto recommendations for reducing emissions in the state.

Climate Justice Alliance

The Climate Justice Alliance is a member alliance of 84 urban and rural frontline communities, organizations, and supporting networks in the climate justice movement. The Alliance focuses on uniting frontline communities and organizations in order to push “a just transition away from extractive systems of production, consumption and political oppression, and towards resilient, regenerative and equitable economies.”

Front & Centered

Front & Centered is a coalition of community groups in Washington State that are led by people of color and that have committed themselves to working towards a just transition. During the 2022 legislative session, this coalition advocated for bills that included 5 billion dollars for public transportation and other transportation solutions such as more bike paths.

Green Workers Alliance

The Green Workers Alliance focuses on bringing together “current and future workers” in the clean energy industries, with a specific focus on organized labor at utility-scale solar and wind projects.

Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition

Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition brings together “environmental advocacy organizations, businesses, community leaders, consumer advocates, environmental justice groups, and faith-based and student organizations” to work on policies affecting public health, the environment, consumer rights, and workers in Illinois.

Just Transition Alliance

Just Transition Alliance unites frontline workers (specifically workers in the service, energy, farmworker, and chemical industries), and fenceline communities (people of color, Indigenous Peoples and low-income communities) to shift towards a more sustainable economy. The Alliance pushes for “strategies that embody the priorities of workers and communities hit hardest by climate change.”

Just Transition Centre

The Just Transition Centre, established by the International Trade Union Confederation, is an international organization that facilitates conversations, trainings, and initiatives to “ensure that [labor] has a seat at the table when planning for a Just Transition to a low-carbon world.”

Just Transition Fund

Just Transition Fund provides investments and assistance to communities most impacted by the transition away from coal with the goal of advancing “economic solutions that are equitable, inclusive, and low carbon.”

Labor Energy Partnership (LEP)

The Labor Energy Partnership (LEP), a collaboration of the AFL-CIO and Energy Futures Initiative, seeks to integrate the labor and climate fields and produce “timely research that provides actionable recommendations for clean energy policy.”

Labor Network for Sustainability

Labor Network for Sustainability works with unions and labor groups to address the climate crisis and builds partnerships between labor interests and the climate movement.

Resilience Force

Resilience Force is a national organization that advocates for solutions and better policies for people who work on responding to disasters.

NY Renews

NY Renews is a coalition of over 300 environmental, justice, faith, labor, and community groups focused on implementing the New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The organization explains: “We fight for good jobs and climate justice, and we’re not finished yet.”

UC Berkeley Labor Center

The UC Berkeley Labor Center has a green economy program that researches “job creation, quality, access, and training in the emergent green economy” and assists “state agencies, labor, and other stakeholders” that are developing climate policy that intersects with labor interests.

WE ACT for Environmental Justice

WE ACT for Environmental Justice is an environmental justice oriented community-based organization in West Harlem. Together with the Environmental Leadership Forum (a national coalition of 54 environmental justice organizations), they issued a Green Jobs Report offering policy solutions for “closing the diversity gap within the Green Jobs and renewable energy sectors.”

The Worker Institute at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations

The Worker Institute at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations “engages in research and education on contemporary labor issues, to generate innovative thinking and solutions to problems related to work, economy and society.” The group “brings together researchers, educators and students with practitioners in labor, business and policymaking to confront growing economic and social inequalities, in the interests of working people and their families.” As noted above, Cornell ILR also has a Climate Jobs Institute.

Logos of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law and the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge Peter Morgan, senior attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program, for sharing his expertise on bankruptcy law and providing feedback on an earlier draft. The authors also benefitted greatly from comments and from discussing this topic with Sharon Block, Vonda Brunsting, Karen Cacace, Mariah Dignan, Dana Johnson, Zoe Lipman, Walter (Terry) Meginniss, Jonathan Munro-Hernandez, Manveer Sandhu, Dr. Lara Skinner, and Dr. Carol Zabin. We are grateful for the excellent research assistance of Tess Cobrinik, Fatima Ibrahiem, Mohamed Oday, and Colin Parts. All errors are the authors’ own.

Authors