By Bob Keefe
May 29, 2018 at 5:00 am ET
Clean jobs count.
That’s the message from the just-released U.S. Energy and Employment Report, the most recent and detailed look at energy employment in America.
Nearly 3.2 million Americans worked in clean energy — renewables, energy efficiency, clean and alternative fuel vehicles — in 2017, according to the report, which E2 helped sponsor.
These are Americans in every single state who go to work each day installing solar panels, erecting wind turbines and upgrading our power grid. They’re construction workers improving the energy efficiency of our homes, schools and office buildings with better lighting and HVAC systems, insulation, windows and energy management technologies. They’re factory workers building next year’s hybrid and electric vehicles and parts that make other cars more fuel-efficient. And they’re innovators who are building and installing new batteries and energy storage systems to ensure we can have clean energy even when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing.
More people now work in clean energy than in real estate, agriculture and investment banking. There are as many clean energy workers as there are school teachers. And there are far more Americans working in clean energy — twice as many — than in coal, oil and other fossil fuel industries.
Make no mistake about it: The clean energy jobs sector is growing — and also being threatened by President Donald Trump and his administration’s anti-clean energy policies.
The 2018 USEER report details how Trump administration policies are already hurting the future of some of the fastest-growing jobs in America.
Solar employment decreased by 24,000 jobs in Trump’s first year – the industry’s first annual jobs decline since 2010. Solar companies curtailed hiring and cut back growth throughout the year in advance of Trump’s decision to order tariffs on imported solar panels.
Manufacturing jobs building hybrid, electric and natural gas cars and trucks and other clean vehicles decreased by 39,000 positions in advance of the Trump administration’s decision to roll back federal standards designed to increase car mileage per gallon and reduce car emissions and pollution. When factoring in workers who make fuel efficiency parts and related equipment for other vehicles, the job losses are much higher. Even more troublesome, the job losses come as sales of American-made hybrid and plug-in cars declined, but foreign-made clean vehicles increased – meaning those are jobs going overseas instead of staying here.
Overall, clean energy jobs continued to grow (up from about 3 million a year earlier), even as coal and oil jobs were flat. That said, the growth rates in clean energy, which in recent years has been the hottest job sector in our economy, noticeably slowed in Trump’s first year.
Despite the Trump administration’s single-minded focus on coal and petroleum and its penchant to ignore or oppose clean energy, leadership by states and businesses is making a difference.
Energy efficiency businesses added 67,000 jobs last year — accounting for nearly half of all energy jobs created in 2017, according to the USEER report. The wind industry added 6,000 jobs. New renewable energy and energy efficiency policies passed in California, New York, Illinois, Michigan and other states recently helped drive the job growth in those sectors.
Innovation and entrepreneurship is paying off for workers, too. Battery storage and related businesses added 5,000 jobs last year as utilities and homeowners alike continue to install batteries along with solar panel and wind installations to store some of the energy they generate.
Members of Congress, who represent clean energy workers in every part of America, should do more if they want to keep clean energy jobs growing in their districts despite Trump’s anti-clean energy agenda.
Recently, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation to repeal the Trump administration’s solar panel tariffs. Passing this legislation would be a good start. So would protecting clean vehicle standards, which are currently in the Trump administration’s crosshairs. Ditto for protecting federal funding for energy research and development and tax credits for building efficiency upgrades, which Trump wants to eliminate, too.
Doing so would be doing what Americans overwhelmingly say they want. Recent polling shows that 83 percent of Americans want more renewable energy, and 73 percent say they favor the United States emphasizing clean energy over traditional energy sources.
If we want our lawmakers to act, though, we must let them know we want them to act.
E2 recently launched a new national campaign — Clean Jobs Count — where businesspeople, workers and others can sign a pledge to let lawmakers know we want more clean energy — and the jobs that come with it.
Clean energy jobs are now undeniably a major part of our economy. They are key to continuing America’s competitiveness in the global energy sector.
We cannot let short-sighted decisions in Washington derail those jobs, and our future.
Bob Keefe is executive director of E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), a national, nonpartisan group of business owners, investors and other professionals that advocates for policies that are good for the economy and good for the environment.
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