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INSIGHT: Congress Must Focus on Clean Energy for Fast, Enduring Economic Recovery

July 21, 2020, 8:01 AM

With all the economic uncertainty with Covid-19, the House recently took a solid step to get Americans back to work in a meaningful way, rebuilding a better, more resilient economy that lasts—it passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that includes significant investments in clean energy, electric vehicles and a 21st century electric grid.

This sort of clean energy investment would unleash millions of new jobs, technologies, and market opportunities and unlock the kind of clean economy Americans overwhelmingly say they want. However, it is unlikely to be signed into law soon enough for the more than 20 million Americans now on unemployment—including the more than half-a-million clean energy workers who have lost their jobs since Covid-19.

To get Americans back on the job and get businesses of all sorts going again quickly, Congress need to act immediately to restart our economy with a focus on clean energy.

Doing so simply makes sense. Before Covid-19, nearly 3.4 million Americans worked in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean vehicles and related sectors. That’s a huge part of our economy—employing more people than there are schoolteachers, real estate agents, farmers and three times as many people who work in fossil fuels. These are jobs in every state, regardless of geography, geology or politics. They’re jobs in hundreds of occupations—electricians and energy efficiency workers; factory workers making cutting-edge Energy Star appliances and electric vehicles; solar installers and wind turbine technicians. And they’re jobs on the forefront of the world’s next economic transition, not jobs left over from the last one.

Congress needs to recognize that few sectors of our economy employ more people across more occupations in more places than clean energy. Lawmakers need to delay the phase-down of federal incentives that renewable businesses and consumers were prevented from using this year due to stay-at-home orders and supply chain delays. It needs to allow direct payment of tax credits to address collapsed equity markets. And it needs to acknowledge the power of clean energy to stimulate the broader economy by investing accordingly.

Targeted Investment Would Create Jobs

A new economic impact assessment from my organization, E2, finds that if Congress includes about $100 billion of targeted investments in energy efficiency, renewables and modernizing the grid in already-established federal programs, it would create 860,000 jobs that would last at least five years (or in economist-speak, 4.3 million job-years).

These are jobs that would support sustainable wages, create new opportunities including in communities of color, and help get America’s economy back on track. Such an investment would in turn generate more than $330 billion in economic activity—more than triple the amount of the initial investment.

We already know clean energy stimulus funding can jump-start our economy. A decade ago, no part of the nation’s economic recovery efforts was more successful than our investments in clean energy. We invested $90 billion, and in return we got about 100,000 solar, wind and other clean energy projects; helped save cash-strapped consumers money on their electric bills by weatherizing 1 million homes; and helped start or grow 500 new companies.

Make no mistake: global competitors like the European Union and China see an opening. They’re using their own massive economic recovery packages to wrest global climate and clean energy leadership away from America’s companies. More than 230 central bankers, finance ministers and others recently surveyed by Oxford University agreed that most effective economic recovery solutions are those that also reduce carbon emissions.

Producing more homegrown clean energy and clean transportation—and reducing the energy we waste through energy efficiency—also saves consumers money and makes our economy and nation more secure. It reduces exposure to oil market manipulation and the vast cost in lives and treasure of fighting wars over oil and guarding oil supply routes.

Then there are the cost drivers for addressing climate change. According to the 2018 National Climate Assessment, staying on our current climate trajectory will cost the U.S. economy $500 billion a year in damaged crops, extreme weather and lost labor.

Lawmakers in Washington have an opportunity—and an obligation—to advance strong clean energy policies. For the good of our economy, they must act now.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.

Author Information

Sandra Purohit is director of federal advocacy at the national, nonpartisan business group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs). She is based in Washington, D.C.

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