Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their proposed Clean Power Plan. As readers of this blog are already aware, the Clean Power Plan proposes carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants, which are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., generating approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Some specifics are that under the Clean Power Plan, states must expand their energy sources and use solar (photovoltaic and solar thermal), wind, geothermal, sustainably sourced biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydrology in order to decrease their carbon emissions.
Did you know that renewable energy technologies are characteristically more labor-intensive than intensely mechanized fossil fuel technologies? This means that the potential economic benefits may be substantial; not to mention the significant benefits for our climate and health.
The solar industry employed over 100,000 workers in jobs ranging from solar manufacturing and sales to installation according to the Solar Foundation in 2011. Solar jobs grew by 20% percent in 2013 and 2014 is expected to create 22,000 jobs. Furthermore, these statistics were reported before the EPA plan was released, which may further boost the renewable job sector.
Let’s look at wind energy. The amount of domestically manufactured equipment used in wind turbines doubled from 35% in 2006 to 70% in 2011 with 560 factories directly employing 75,000 full-time employees.
The hydroelectric power industry also plays a role. Statistics show in 2009 it employed 250,000 people. As many as 700,000 jobs could be generated if the hydropower industry installs a new capacity of 23,000 – 60,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025. Rounding out our look at the renewable energy sector, the geothermal industry directly employed 5,200 people in 2010.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) estimated in 2009 that a national, renewable electricity standard attempting to cut 25% of carbon emissions by 2025 would generate 297,000 jobs, $263.4 billion in new capital investment, $13.5 billion in income to farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners, and $11.5 billion in new local tax revenues. Remember, the EPA proposed reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. So the potential economic benefits may increase over the UCS’s estimates.
With these figures, we’re not even taking into account a complete picture of the potential economic benefits from expanded renewable energy sources. Think about how direct job creation leads to indirect job creation. For example, when you hire additional employees, you may very well need a larger Human Resources staff.
All of this comes at a time when our country could deeply benefit from economic stimulation. The U.S. economy is still anemic, with unemployment rates remaining high, and a disturbing national debt that’s expected to reach $20 trillion by 2020. We must embrace win-win scenarios such as these that combine healing our ailing planet with economic recovery. It’s past time to forge the path to a low-carbon future.
Even as we hail President Obama’s nomination of the very qualified Gina McCarthy to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we’re barraged by news articles filled with warnings about the immediate and highly damaging effects of the budget sequestration on the environment.
Specifically, the budget cuts implemented last Friday will significantly impact the Department of Energy, the EPA, and the National Parks Service, and also will impair disaster relief funding, renewable energy development projects, and scientific research that could benefit environmental protection programs.
In his letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, outgoing Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined the severity of the sequestration’s impact on the DoE’s role in nuclear weaponry monitoring, environmental clean-up efforts, clean energy technology development and on basic scientific research.
Chu’s statements regarding the funding cuts to clean energy technology projects were particularly forceful: "Under sequestration, funding reductions would decelerate the Nation's transition into a clean energy economy, and could weaken efforts to become more energy independent and energy secure, while spurring overall economic growth."
This prognosis is counter to the President’s messages in his second Inaugural Address, calling for a serious response to the threat of climate change, and in the speech he delivered later on Inauguration night this past January calling for progress in “…freeing ourselves from foreign oil.”
The EPA will suffer budget cuts resulting in employee layoffs and furloughs that will delay the finalization of rules governing the greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants, and will reduce the number of environmental inspections and environmental regulatory enforcement efforts. And funding cutbacks to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will result in elimination of a number of firefighter and state and local emergency management positions, hampering disaster relief efforts.
The National Parks Service will lose over $100 million. This will delay park openings, reduce park entry access and visitor services, and according to Mother Jones, will also eliminate millions of dollars in tourism revenue that would otherwise support local economies.
The environmental impacts of the sequestration cuts will affect state-funded initiatives as well. The Washington Post published a chart of the state-by-state budget cuts due to sequestration in various categories, including clean air and water programs. Most states will experience multi-million dollar reductions in funding for environmentally-focused projects and protection measures.
While Obama’s second Inaugural Address in January assured that “…we will respond to the threat of climate change,” and Vice President Biden urged environmentalists to “Keep the faith” at the Green Ball on the eve of the second Inauguration, the far-reaching and immediately damaging effects of the sequestration cuts do not bode well for the climate activist faithful.
Rhetoric is being trumped by reality at the moment. We environmentalists cannot drop our collective guard or slack off the pressure to ensure that progress to protect our environment and address the damaging effects of Climate Change is made – now and continuing into the future.