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High-paying energy jobs are key for Democrats in 2018


Clean-energy policies championed by Democrats over the last decade have helped create millions of high-paying energy jobs for American workers. And innovative Democratic policies going forward can help spur millions more good jobs — in energy efficiency, natural gas, nuclear energy, carbon capture, wind, solar, electric vehicles and infrastructure — in coming years. 

This record of high-wage job creation stands in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s false coal-dust promises to somehow bring back jobs using 19th century energy strategies. 

{mosads}But, as Democrats look toward the mid-term elections, their candidates must talk about energy in the right way. They must put high-wage energy jobs first, national security gains second and environmental benefits third, to tap into voters’ concerns to garner the electoral benefits their policies deserve. 


This means discussing the jobs benefits of shale gas in many swing districts, as well as massive job creation in energy efficiency, renewable energy and other clean sources. Once Democrats demonstrate to voters the huge jobs and security benefits of these successful clean-energy policies, they will find voters ready to support additional policies and economic benefits of addressing climate change.

Shockingly, in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton allowed Donald Trump’s energy lies to go largely unchallenged and to obscure the remarkable American energy bonanza created under President Obama. 

In the Obama years, the U.S. energy economy — including natural gas, efficiency and renewable energy — enjoyed an unprecedented boom. America became the world’s largest producer of natural gas, with production growing a startling 34 percent. The shale gas revolution was not only embraced by most Democrats across the country, it was enabled by technologies developed through Democratic-supported federal research and development that created 3-D imaging, advanced seismology and super-efficient gas turbines. 

Yet these are the very research and development investments that Trump’s budget proposes to eliminate.

Renewable energy production grew even more rapidly than gas, with wind and solar production in the U.S. more than tripling, as costs came down dramatically and investment skyrocketed. Solar costs have fallen by more than 60 percent in just the last five years, and U.S. wind-energy costs are 40 percent lower today than a decade ago.

Most profound of all is the clean-energy jobs story. There are now 4.5 million such jobs across the country, up from 3.4 million in 2011. Nearly half of these jobs are in the burgeoning field of energy efficiency, where a revolution across the economy — in manufacturing, electronics, high-tech, construction and many other sectors — are employing millions of workers and saving consumers and businesses billions of dollars. And these jobs numbers don’t include the hundreds of thousands of new jobs created in the natural gas industry, an indispensable part of our transition toward cleaner fuels.

Crucially, these clean-energy jobs are good, high-paying jobs. U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics show that natural gas extraction workers earned on average about $56,000 a year in 2015. Meanwhile, wind turbine installers at the same level earned more, about $60,000. 

Electrical installers of solar energy earned about $76,000, while solar mechanics earned about $73,000 and solar engineers well over $100,000 a year. These wages are more than competitive with the coal industry, where the typical coal excavating machine operators earn about $54,000, roughly the same as a wind turbine installer. Even the lowest paid solar installers get about $40,000, somewhat more than oil roustabout workers, who are paid around $37,000.

Trump’s claim that he will bring back coal jobs is specious. Coal mining jobs have decreased from 180,000 in 1985 to about 50,000 today. Coal employment has fallen due to market forces, especially automation, movement toward industrial-scale western coal operations and cheap natural gas, as well as climate concerns.

Solar energy alone already employs more than three times as many Americans as coal, and employment in the U.S. solar business is growing 12 times faster than the economy’s overall job creation. Sometimes, one statistic says it all: Wind turbine technician is the fastest-growing profession in America.

But to succeed in 2018, Democrats cannot rest on these laurels. They must offer voters an even more compelling energy and economic plan going forward to show how they can help grow millions more clean-energy jobs. Specifically, Democrats must turbocharge American clean-energy job growth through a combination of additional clean-energy business and consumer tax cuts. This should include a far more ambitious energy and jobs infrastructure plan, more aggressive breakthrough energy research and development investments. Democrats should also establish a job-focused energy-technology education plan using community colleges, to help train workers especially in communities, both rural and urban, where unemployment is highest. 

As my Progressive Policy Institute colleague Michael Mandel has illustrated, bringing the benefits of technology to other sectors of the economy has the potential to boost productivity, lower prices and create more and better-paying jobs.

Finally, Democrats cannot just advocate renewable energy, as important as wind and solar are. Instead, candidates need to embrace shale gas in many parts of the country, advocate for relicensing of zero-emissions nuclear plants and urge retrofits of existing polluting plants with carbon-capture technology, along with efficiency and renewables. And they must show how Trump’s policy is costing workers jobs and consumers money, right now. Incredibly, Trump is targeting for closure the voluntary Energy Star efficiency program that saves U.S. consumers $34 billion a year in electricity costs, to take just one example.

Democrats must articulate this plan for growing clean-energy jobs for American workers, a plan that also lowers consumer costs, improves health and can cut expensive climate change impacts over time. As the $100 billion-plus taxpayer price tag and devastation of Houston by Hurricane Harvey have shown, storms made larger by climate change will increasingly exact ever greater costs unless we make the transition to a low-emissions economy.

While Trump and congressional Republicans dither over failed health repeals, broken infrastructure promises,and tax breaks for only the richest, Democrats in 2018 need to let voters know they have a proven formula for creating millions of high-paying, low-emissions, new energy jobs for American workers across the country. 

Paul Bledsoe is strategic advisor at the Progressive Policy Institute, and a professorial lecturer at American University’s Center for Environmental Policy. He served on the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton and the staff of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.
Tags 2022 midterm elections clean energy Democrats Donald Trump Donald Trump EPA Hillary Clinton Paul Bledsoe Renewable energy Scott Pruitt

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