Robust climate policies are beneficial for the environment, human health, and the next generation’s safety. But in order to persuade a partially reluctant constituency, US President Joe Biden has framed his climate policies as a solution to an economy already weakened by the pandemic. As he presented what the New York Times this week called “a sweeping series of executive actions,” Biden’s climate policies include a constant and clear mantra: “jobs.”
He uttered the word “jobs” 15 times in his announcement. And these are “green jobs” which would create a “prevailing wage.”
“Today is climate day in the White House, which means today is jobs day at the White House,” Biden affirmed. “We see these workers building new buildings, installing 500,000 new electric vehicle charging stations across the country as we modernize our highway systems to adapt to the changes that have already taken place.”
Switching new government fleets to zero-emissions vehicles would lead to “one million new jobs in the American automobile industry.” The administration says that these jobs would come as a result of technological gains and demands for wind and solar infrastructure; they will create work that will more than make up for job losses even in parts of the country reliant on the fracking boom.
The President has also called for a task force to analyze the possibilities for reviving communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry. Gina McCarthy, Biden’s top adviser on domestic climate policy, described how the administration’s efforts to accentuate climate policies and employment opportunities through clean energy jobs intersect. “We’re not going to ask people to go from the middle of Ohio and Pennsylvania and ship out to the coast to work on solar,” she said. “We’re not going to take away jobs.”
The administration outlines many reasons for focusing on the intersection of climate and jobs:
- Creating high-paying, union jobs in the manufacturing sector
- Protecting “workers and communities who powered our industrial revolution”
- Contributing to economic growth
- Improving national security
- Reducing inequalities in air pollution and climate change risks based on race, gender, and class
- Making polluters pay for their actions
The order calls for increasing renewable energy production with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030. The executive order would set aside 30% of federal land and water for conservation purposes, orient climate policy central to national security decisions, and construct a network of EV charging stations nationwide. An analysis by Moody’s Analytics estimates that Biden’s American Rescue Plan could create 7.5 million jobs this year, with another 2.5 million jobs in 2022.
The significance of the announcement about Biden’s climate policies was not lost on legislators, environmentalists, and economists.
- Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, who has lectured for 279 weeks on the expediency needed to fight the climate crisis, was relieved. “The conditions are at last in place for a real solution.”
- Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey and critic of the former Trump administration’s policy of eliminating climate change regulations, noted that in 2019 about 40% of the United States work force was in clean energy. “This is the way the world is going,” she said.
- “This is the single biggest day for climate action in more than a decade,” said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters.
- “The high-level message of these orders is that we are going back to undo the things that Trump did to weaken environmental protections,” said Jody Freeman, a professor of environmental law at Harvard who served as a White House climate adviser in the Obama administration. She described the plans as “an instruction manual to agencies.”
- David Popp, an economist at Syracuse University and co-author of a 2020 paper on the employment effects of American Recovery Act, praised the upcoming effort that the federal government will now play in assisting displaced fossil fuel workers find jobs in the clean energy sector. “The skills on these clean energy jobs — installing and manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines — are actually a decent match” with workers coming from fields like mining or offshore drilling, he said. “What’s really important is how well you can match the job losses to gains.”
The US has struggled to meet its promises under the Paris Agreement; it had pledged to slash emissions up to 28% below 2005 levels by 2020. Energy analysts in the US have speculated the Biden administration could now reasonably promise to cut emissions between 40 and 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. The trajectory is important, as the earth’s climate seems to be changing faster than expected. Biden has directed agencies to analyze and improve climate forecasting and to create plans to better protect their facilities against rising sea levels, storms, droughts, and other climate effects.
All agency decisions must be “evidence-based” and “guided by the best available science and data.” Every agency, not just those that do scientific research, must appoint “scientific integrity” officials.
Halting Gas & Oil Leases — Less Enthusiasm for Biden’s Climate Policies
Oceana, which seeks to make the oceans more biodiverse and abundant by winning policy victories in the countries that govern much of the world’s marine life, released an analysis finding that ending new leasing for offshore oil and gas could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions. Dirty and dangerous offshore oil drilling threatens our ocean, it says, while exacerbating the climate crisis. Oceana’s analysis finds permanent offshore drilling protections for unleased federal waters could prevent over 19 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions as well as more than $720 billion in damages to people, property and the environment.
Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of limiting oil and gas drilling or even pivoting to clean energy jobs.
- The United States Chamber of Commerce praised Mr. Biden’s efforts at tackling rising emissions while condemning his directive halting oil and gas leases.
- The Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas producers in Western states, filed a lawsuit within minutes of Biden signing his order, claiming that the president exceeded his authority to halt new leases.
- Economic fairness arguments have driven successful right-wing populist opposition to climate change policies by citing risks to “working class” consumers and jobs.
- The Associated Press responded that EVs have 30-40% fewer parts than traditional cars, meaning that less assembly work would be required overall. “Because they are simpler, you’re probably going to have far fewer people working in vehicle manufacturing than you have today,” Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst for Guidehouse Insights and a major source for the AP jobs conclusion, said. (The Guidehouse Insights website has articles on ecosystem strategies for smart cities, utility-scale energy storage systems, cargo handling equipment electrification, the smart meter market, and other clean energy technologies. Hmm. It seems like these areas will generate lots and lots of new jobs.)
The Biden-Harris administration formally announced that it will host a Climate Leaders Summit of major emitting nations and others on April 22, which is Earth Day. John Kerry said by that date the US expects to announce a new set of specific targets detailing how it would lower its carbon dioxide emissions under the terms of the Paris Agreement.
In the meantime, the White House Climate Envoy said workers who are facing job losses because of the Biden transition away from fossil fuel production will be able to pivot to renewable energy jobs. Kerry said Biden’s plans for the energy sector would create more, better-compensated jobs. Technological, social, and political transformations have shaped economies and the capacity of individuals to make a living over the generations, and coalitions, business, and youth can make a positive impact on reducing emissions, but it’s really up to governments to take aggressive action to mitigate the climate crisis. Time will tell if a contentious Congress will allow the climate action forward momentum necessary for such institutional change.
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