As work begins on a near-term aid package, no resource should be spared to support Americans in the fight against COVID-19. We will also face critical choices on the needed investments to bring tens of millions of people on unemployment back into the workforce.
How will we decide to rebuild our economy? Will we attempt to simply rebuild what we had, an economy with long stagnant wages and a widening wealth gap, powered by fossil fuels that threaten our planet? Or will we use this opportunity to try and build an economy more resilient, safer and more sustainable for the American people?
This is a unique moment and we must make bold choices. I believe we must choose to make a transformational investment in a green economy that not only delivers an economic recovery, but also serves as a down payment on our efforts to tackle the climate and environmental crises we face.
The oil and gas industry is drowning in all-time high debt. Coal is already in steep decline. The fracking and oil shale booms were fueled by cheap debt and years of easy credit, dependent on expensive oil and access to international markets. That bill comes due when those markets return to cheaper energy from countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, leading to waves of layoffs and bankruptcies.
The recent steps taken by the Trump administration to waive environmental enforcement during a pandemic, roll back fuel economy standards, and initiate a fire sale of cheap oil and gas leases will not put the economy on a firm footing. The boom and bust nature of the fossil fuel industry is not sustainable. Not even the Fed can bail out the planet.
No ordinary spark will restart the economy. We need a lightning bolt. Our stimulus must focus on shovel-ready projects in job intensive industries that can create jobs quickly for people out of work, bend the carbon curve, and cut air pollution that threatens the public health of frontline communities.
There are many infrastructure needs: ports, water utilities, the electric grid, mass transit, homes, buildings, and manufacturing. The good news is there is no shortage of ideas that members of Congress have put forward to invest in our infrastructure while reducing pollution and creating green jobs.
Take our homes and buildings, which account for almost 40 percent of America’s carbon emissions. A combination of weatherization and decarbonization can create millions of green jobs.
The U.S. energy efficiency industry already directly supports 2.38 million jobs, more than the oil, gas, and coal industries combined. More than half of these jobs are in the construction industry. Households spend $230 billion annually on home energy consumption. Small businesses spend $60 billion. A massive investment in weatherizing millions of homes and buildings can create hundreds of thousands of jobs in communities and put billions of dollars back into the hands of households and businesses. It would also boost small business, since businesses with less than 20 employees make up 79 percent of energy efficiency employers.
Millions of our homes and buildings are also dependent on gas for appliances and heating, which is untenable for seriously addressing climate change. Explosive gas is piped through decades old, often leaky, pipelines and burned in our stoves and heaters. Children living in a home with a gas cookstove have a 42-percent increased risk of asthma. Analysis has found that electrifying 100 percent of all buildings in California could support more than 100,000 fulltime workers in the construction industry. A national electrification effort would support hundreds of thousands more.
A program of Apollo-level ambition to reach 100 percent clean energy in the electric sector by 2035 would complete the decarbonization of our buildings and create millions of jobs. The solar, wind, geothermal, and battery storage industries already collectively support 437,498 jobs, despite accounting for only 9.5 percent of our energy generation in 2019. The entire electric sector, including fossil fuels, employs 896,800 people. Vastly increasing the amount of clean energy generation would have a tremendous economic impact from the coasts to the heartland.
Providing these examples is only scratching the surface. A stimulus can focus on advanced vehicle manufacturing, modernization of our power grid, micro-grids to strengthen communities from disasters, the electrification of our ports, regenerative agriculture by small farmers and much more. We can tie this infrastructure funding to the creation of prevailing wage and union jobs that provide good health care and benefits. We can strategically invest in distressed and underserved communities.
Rather than trying to force jobs back into the declining fossil fuel economy as the president is doing, a green stimulus can provide the necessary support to transition workers who have lost their jobs into job intensive green industries that won’t go boom and bust based on the whims of the Saudis and Russians. This next stimulus bill – tasked with putting millions of Americans back to work – presents the once-in-a-generation opportunity to do it.
We have to get this right. There are no do overs. We know the importance of listening to our scientists. We must understand the consequences of acting too late. This cannot be a lost decade for our economy or our planet.
Congress must lead.
Congresswoman Nanette Diaz Barragán represents the 44th District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a member of on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and serves as the Co-Chair of the United for Climate and Environmental Justice Task Force.