Renewable energy investment is win-win

We have a jobs crisis. A recent report in Oregon showed that, five years after this recession began, there is only one private-sector job opening for every five job seekers. Across the nation, communities are facing similar crises: the biggest problem is still a lack of jobs, but Washington isn’t listening.

One of the keys to solving the jobs crisis is encouraging innovation and seizing new growth opportunities, and that will be my focus as the new chairman of the Green Jobs and the New Economy subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in the 113th Congress. There is much we can do to create good, middle-class jobs and growth, and it starts with home-grown green energy and technologies.

One of the most cost-effective strategies for creating jobs here in America is investment in energy efficiency retrofits. When businesses and homeowners invest in making buildings more energy efficient, they save money on their energy bills, help reduce pollution from generating electricity by burning heating oil or gas, and create work in some of our hardest-hit and most critical sectors, such as construction and manufacturing. Not only is it impossible to outsource the labor for these retrofits, but more than 90 percent of the materials used in energy efficiency renovations are made here in America.

We can also create jobs by ending our dependence on overseas oil. When we buy oil from the Middle East, we create jobs and wealth in the Middle East. But when we replace that oil with American oil or gas — or better yet, American renewable energy — we create wealth and jobs in America. We have been sending more than $300 billion overseas year after year to buy oil. That is a huge investment that we could and should be making in our own economy and workers. 

One way to create green jobs and reduce oil consumption is to invest in transportation, including accelerating the deployment of plug-in hybrid and full electric cars. Last year I purchased a Chevy Volt, an electric car with a backup gasoline-powered generator, to get a first-hand view of the feasibility of these new cars. Over the first 4,000 miles, my wife, Mary, and I have driven 90 percent of the time on electricity and 10 percent on gas. That equates to just 10 gallons of gas burned. Our Volt has been to the gas station just once. Moreover, the cost per mile of electricity to power the Volt is about 3 cents. That beats hands down the cost of fuel for our Ford Escape, which runs about 20 cents per mile. Less foreign oil, more energy dollars at home, more U.S. jobs, lower costs per mile and less carbon pollution looks like a good deal.

There are many other transportation options that have the potential to generate more jobs and less pollution. Urban transit possibilities include light rail, rapid bus transit and street cars. Possibilities for freight include greater truck efficiency, the use of natural gas and expanded use of rail.

In addition, we could and should be investing in renewable energy. In Oregon, we not only have wind and solar, but we are also on the forefront of developing biofuels, biomass, geothermal and wave energy. Our federal policies can spur the development of these new opportunities, creating jobs in research, manufacturing and installation. 

It is my hope that the Green Jobs subcommittee can help put a spotlight on these many opportunities and encourage national strategies that will result in more clean energy made in America and a lot more living-wage jobs for families across our nation. 

Merkley is chairman of the Green Jobs and the New Economy subcommittee on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.