Tackling the climate crisis requires transitioning from fossil fuel to clean energy, which will necessarily have a significant impact on jobs and the economy overall. The impact of this shift has sometimes been feared as a development that will be harmful to workers and the economy. Fossil fuel jobs are seen as good jobs–well-paid jobs with good benefits and protections–while the emerging clean energy industry has not yet uniformly embraced a high-road employment model. But workers’ rights and environmental concerns are not fundamentally incompatible. There are many policies and tools that can be and are being harnessed to bring about a “just transition,” ensuring that the emerging clean energy sector provides high-quality jobs and that needs of current fossil fuel workers are also adequately addressed. These policies exist at the intersection of workers’ rights and environmental policy.
As the top lawyers in a state with a great deal of discretion for engagement and a wide range of tools at their disposal, attorneys general are in a unique position to engage at this intersection. To promote a just transition, AGs can enforce labor standards and worker protection laws in the emerging clean energy industry, in order to nip any nascent bad practices in the bud and establish a baseline industry norm and expectation of widespread compliance. They can advocate for the creation of quality jobs in the clean energy industry. They can take action to protect workers and the environment in bankruptcy proceedings. They can defend and promote state or federal-level rules protecting workers from dangerous heat. They can counsel their client agencies on clean energy projects so that there are strong worker protections in place. And they can critically examine the impact that any new project might have on communities that have been overburdened by pollution—among many more possibilities. This Article analyzes the factors that could lead AGs to decide to work to promote a just transition. The Article then surveys the many tools AGs have at hand for that work and provides a number of ideas for engagement for AGs in this space.
(Photo: Lorie Shaull)