Opinion

Don’t Forget About 3.3 Million Clean Energy Jobs That Already Exist

The need for action on climate change is thankfully getting a lot of attention in Washington these days. What every lawmaker should remember as they consider the Green New Deal, staying in the Paris Agreement and other policies is that taking action on climate also means taking action to create American jobs.

Already today, nearly 3.3 million Americans now work in clean energy in every state in the country, according to E2’s just-released 2019 Clean Jobs America report.

That’s more people than work as school teachers or as waiters and waitresses. It’s more than work in real estate or investment banking. And it’s nearly three times – yes, three times – the number of Americans that work in fossil fuels.

It’s also important to note that growth in clean energy jobs is outpacing most occupations, growing by a healthy 3.6 percent last year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the two fastest-growing jobs in America in the next year are solar installer and wind turbine technician.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the Trump administration’s anti-clean energy policies – solar panel tariffs, rollbacks of vehicle mileage standards, delays of energy efficiency standards – are already impacting some sectors of the clean energy economy, and are casting foreboding shadows over others.

Solar industry jobs fell for the second year in a row last year, declining 4 percent to about 335,000 jobs when positions that spend any time working on solar are included. The solar industry attributes the job losses to the impacts of the Trump administration’s ongoing tariffs on solar panels.

Fortunately, other clean energy sectors helped offset the losses in solar, according to E2’s analysis, which is based on the U.S. Energy and Employment Report produced by the National Association of State Energy Officials and Energy Future Initiative.

About 76,000 energy efficiency jobs were added at companies that make our buildings and HVAC systems more efficient; manufacture and install LED lighting systems and assemble Energy Star appliances. Energy efficiency is the biggest part of the clean energy economy, employing more than 2.3 million Americans.

Wind energy jobs also grew as utilities continue to realize that wind energy is now the cheapest form of electricity in most markets. Today about 111,000 Americans work in wind.

But the big news is in clean vehicles and clean energy storage. Driven by growing demand, jobs in clean vehicles manufacturing increased by almost 16 percent last year. About 254,000 Americans now work at companies building hybrid, electric and other clean vehicles. Another 486,000 work in companies that manufacture parts that make our cars and trucks more fuel efficient.

Jobs in energy storage grew by 14 percent to 75,000 jobs as more batteries were used in electric vehicles and with solar-and-storage installations. No place experienced the boost in batteries more than Nevada, where Tesla’s Gigafactory helped drive a 32 percent increase in clean energy jobs in that state.

Indeed, the data shows clean energy jobs aren’t limited by geographic or geologic boundaries – or by politics. All but two of America’s 3,007 counties are now home to jobs in clean energy. In many states, there are more clean energy jobs in Republican congressional districts than in Democratic districts. And while California is, not surprisingly, the state with the most clean energy jobs, other states in the Top 10 include Texas and Ohio and North Carolina.

Regardless of what they think of the aspirational Green New Deal, any member of Congress who cares about the economy and jobs back home should be pushing for smart climate and clean energy policies in Washington.

That means stopping the Trump administration’s plan to rollback automobile mileage and emissions standards, which could impact tens of thousands of jobs in clean vehicles and batteries nationwide (and impact our wallets with every fill-up).

It means exercising congressional oversight to get the Department of Energy to stop delaying basic energy efficiency standards for appliances, lightbulbs, equipment and other goods, which is hurting companies and consumers and threatening energy efficiency jobs.

And it means using Congress’s power of the purse to stop the Trump administration’s plans to completely defund DOE innovation programs that are essential to maintaining America’s leadership and that drive innovation and private investment in home-grown clean energy and clean vehicles companies.

The Green New Deal has focused an overdue spotlight on the importance of clean energy to creating jobs in America.

Truth is, jobs and the opportunities in clean energy are already here today. If members of Congress care about America’s economy and jobs, they ought to take action right now on policies to make sure clean energy keeps growing.

 

Bob Keefe is executive director of E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), a national nonpartisan business group that advocates for policies that are good for the economy and the environment.

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