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Want to Create More Jobs? Reduce Fossil Fuel Use

We’ve all heard claims that fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas are major job creators. President Trump says so all the time.

But it turns out that developing and installing the technology to reduce fossil fuel use — known in the industry as “energy efficiency” — creates many more jobs than fossil fuels.

Energy efficiency jobs in the United States totaled 2.18 million in 2016, more than double the total of fossil fuel production and fossil-fuel based electricity generation combined.

They’re growing at a much faster rate, too. From 2015 to 2016, there was 53 percent employment growth in advanced and recycled building materials, and 59 percent employment growth in Energy Star appliances. Compare that to just 9 percent growth in fossil fuel-based electricity generation.

These energy efficiency jobs are much cheaper to create. According to an academic study, every $1 million invested in energy efficiency creates 12 jobs, compared to just 4 or 5 for fossil fuel jobs.

These are good, well-paying jobs. For example, electricians have a median hourly pay of $26, and the corresponding numbers for heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) workers and carpenters are $22.64 and $21.71, respectively. (Compare that to the median hourly pay for all U.S. workers, $18.12.)

These jobs are more likely to be unionized, too. And they’re a great way to lift up people who’ve been left out of the fossil fuel economy.

So it’s no wonder that many states are working to grow their share of efficiency jobs, especially for traditionally excluded populations such as people of color and low-income people. I looked at a bunch of inspiring examples in a new report for the Institute for Policy Studies that will be out this week.

For example, Illinois has passed legislation requiring larger utilities to create renewable energy and energy efficiency job training programs, especially for people from economically disadvantaged communities — including youth of color, formerly incarcerated people, individuals who’ve been in the foster care system as children, and others.

Oregon is another success story. Forty-seven percent of new jobs created through Oregon’s statewide residential energy efficiency program — and 55 percent of the hours worked — went to women and people of color. Median hourly wages for these jobs were 7 percent higher than the median hourly wage of $17.24 for all Oregon workers, and 81 percent of workers had health benefits.

These successes didn’t happen by themselves — they were the product of setting goals and making serious efforts to meet them.

So energy efficiency creates more jobs than fossil fuels — and at a faster rate and a lower cost.

They’re good jobs, with good wages and above-average rates of unionization. And states have taken concrete measures to make these jobs accessible to everyone and raise standards for energy efficiency workers.

Why, then, does the federal government lag behind? And worse still, why does it pursue fantasies such as bringing back coal? Sadly, the answer is bribesbribesbribes.

Fossil fuel interests pour money into congressional and presidential campaigns, and politicians return the favor by doing their bidding. The Trump administration’s push for coal is driven by two billionaire coal oligarchs, Robert Murray and Joseph Craft. Both have pumped money into Trump’s campaign and openly advocate for deregulating fossil fuels and bailing out coal.

If the federal government really cared about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” they would follow the lead of Illinois and Oregon and make a big push to subsidize energy efficiency — instead of bailing out coal.

 

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Basav Sen directs the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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