President Biden just announced some of the most sweeping climate and clean energy plans in history. Clean energy opponents are already rushing like dogs to a fence line, yowling that they will kill jobs and hurt our economy.
Don’t believe it. As they say back in my home state of North Carolina, that dog just doesn’t hunt.
To be sure, every job is important, especially these days. There’s no doubt the Biden administration’s announcement Wednesday of a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on our public lands will impact petroleum jobs. Fortunately, the administration also announced plans to help impacted communities create new opportunities for displaced fossil fuel workers — something that their representatives in Congress should’ve been doing years ago.
But looking only at the jobs impacts of ending drilling on public lands is only seeing half of the story. The other plans announced by the administration Wednesday — flexing the market-changing power of federal procurement; doing more to get clean energy and the jobs that come with it into low-income communities and communities of color; increasing offshore wind and clean agriculture and making climate a national security issue — will create more jobs and drive more economic growth than oil and gas could ever produce. It will also help slow the growing economic costs of climate change, which last year alone resulted in 22 major climate disasters that cost the economy $1 billion or more.
To fully consider the jobs impacts of Biden’s plans, you have to fully look at where the energy jobs are today in America.
They’re mostly in clean energy — not oil or gas or coal.
Before COVID-19, more than 3.3 million Americans worked in clean energy — solar and wind, but also energy efficiency, clean vehicles, grid modernization, batteries and storage. That’s three times more Americans than work in fossil fuels in our country. Since 2017, clean energy employment has grown 6 percent, compared with 4 percent for the overall economy. Oil and gas jobs declined 5 percent in that same time period, while coal jobs fell 7 percent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the solar installer and wind turbine technicians to be the fastest-growing jobs between now and 2026.
Clean energy jobs also pay better. According to E2’s Clean Jobs, Better Jobs report, the median wage for clean energy workers was about $23.87 last year — about 25 percent higher than the national median wage of $19.14. Solar and wind jobs pay better than fossil fuel extraction jobs (about $24.85 for renewable energy vs $24.37 for fossil fuel extraction). And clean energy jobs also typically come with better healthcare and retirement benefits than most jobs in America.
We’re not talking about clean tech billionaires or coastal elites, by the way. We’re talking about sheet metal and steel workers building and installing wind turbine towers and high-efficiency heating and air conditioning equipment; electricians and construction workers installing LED lighting systems and Low-E windows and insulation. We’re talking about manufacturing workers building Energy Star appliances, electric vehicles and the parts that make them run.
Regrettably, not enough of those jobs have gone to people of color so far. Today, about 75 percent of clean energy workers across America are white. Black and Latino workers are more underrepresented in clean energy than they are across the rest of the economy, with Blacks representing 8 percent of the clean energy workforce and Latinos representing 16 percent.
The Biden administration also announced Wednesday a focus on environmental justice that will hopefully help address some of that diversity disparity while also finally addressing climate and pollution issues that have disproportionately plagued low-income communities and communities of color for too long.
Lastly, flexing the power of federal procurement, as the Biden administration plans to do, will turbocharge all of this. When the government orders 650,000 electric and other zero-emission vehicles for federal fleets, it creates auto industry jobs across the country. When it invests in clean energy for the 9,600 buildings owned or managed by the General Services Administration in 2,200 communities nationwide, it drives jobs in solar, wind and energy efficiency in every state. And in addition to creating jobs, that drives down the price of clean energy goods and services for the rest of us.
You only have to look at what past federal government leadership on communications, medical technology and the Internet has meant to cell phones, healthcare and the our online lives today to see what Biden’s leadership on clean energy will mean for our future.
What you’ll see is that this is how we begin to build back better.