WASHINGTON, March 29, 2017 - With President Trump promising to create millions of new jobs, a good chance for his hoped-for surge could be in the renewable energy sector.
More traditional forms of energy – coal, oil and natural gas - were the focus of Trump’s executive order on Tuesday – but renewable energy is still part of his “America first” focus.
“President Trump is committed to an all of the above energy policy to provide American people and businesses with the power they need to innovate and thrive,” noted Vice President Mike Pence at the Environmental Protection Agency yesterday.
During the campaign, Trump pledged to support the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and made the same commitment in February as president.
Yet some fear that today’s bright prospects for clean energy are at risk from Trump’s budget proposals, which call for sharp cuts or termination of key federal programs supporting wind, solar, biofuels, energy efficiency and other non-traditional energy sources.
Under current federal policies, U.S. energy sector jobs are expected to grow by about 5 percent in 2017. This would repeat 2016’s growth rate when the energy sector overall added over 300,000 net new jobs to bring total traditional energy jobs to 6.4 million. (These latest Department of Energy (DOE) figures refer only to direct employment and not to indirect or induced employment.)
But the energy sector’s steady jobs increase includes sharp disparities that Trump noted before he signed an executive order to repeal “job-killing regulations” on the energy sector.
The disparities are detailed in DOE’s 2017 U.S. Energy and Employment Report that rates the energy sector as “a significant source of economic growth and development for both local communities and the nation.”
The report shows that “the fuels sector declined by at least 8 percent in the last year.”
The report notes that the loss was largely driven by declines in oil, gas, and coal employment. “Overall,” the report says, “fuels employers project to see employment decline by an additional 2 percent over the next 12 months.”
The 2 percent decline for all fuels-related jobs is driven by an expected 11.6 percent drop in mining and extraction jobs in 2017.
Signaling major changes taking place as a result of federal regulations and economic conditions, the DOE report points out that “oil and gas extraction and support services reached its recent peak employment in the fall of 2014 with 541,000 jobs,” before dropping 28 percent to 388,000 by mid-2016.
Similarly, with then-President Obama’s focus on reducing coal consumption, coal mining and extraction peaked in 2012 at nearly 90,000 jobs, dropping 41 percent to 53,000 by mid-2016. Broadening the category, DOE cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics to report that coal mining and support employment declined by 39 percent from March 2009 (93,439) to March 2016 (57,325), “with a 24 percent decline in the last year alone.”
Little wonder then that Trump was fixated on delivering on a campaign pledge to bring coal mining jobs back through his executive order.
“We love our miners,” he told a group gathered to watch him sign an executive order that could push back or remove several energy regulations.
Trump has not been as specific about his views on how wind and solar can play a role in job creation, but the DOE report shows that, for 2016, solar jobs grew 25 percent to reach 374,000 and wind grew 32 percent to top 102,000 jobs. Energy efficiency jobs that include installing better building insulation and manufacturing Energy Star appliances grew 6 percent to total 2.2 million jobs.
But Energy Secretary Rick Perry made it clear that states and the private sector – rather than the federal government – would be leading the way.
“The path forward is through American ingenuity and entrepreneurship,” he emphasized during comments at EPA on Tuesday.
DOE reports that for 2017, “Energy Efficiency employers report a projected growth rate of about nine percent” and that “of the 6.5 million construction workers in the United States, about 21 percent work to support the construction or installation of energy-efficient technologies.”
“In setting a record for new electric generating capacity, the solar energy industry added one in every 50 new jobs in the economy last year,” says Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “These jobs pay well, they support local economies, and they fuel American innovation.”
“Wind energy has now created over 100,000 jobs that rural and Rust Belt America need, including more than 25,000 manufacturing jobs in 43 states,” says Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wind turbine technician is now the fastest-growing job description in America.”
“People often don’t realize that energy efficiency is such a huge job creator,” says Kateri Callahan, president of Alliance to Save Energy. “It supports about three times as many jobs as the mining industry, and, unlike that sector, it is growing and creating good-paying jobs like weatherizing homes and manufacturing high-efficiency appliances or building materials. And the best news is, there’s just enormous opportunity to expand this work and create more jobs with smart efficiency policies and incentives.”
Pegging growth prospects to the current transition from fossil fuels to renewables and energy efficiency, the DOE report concludes, “Rebuilding our energy infrastructure and modernizing the grid, diversifying our energy mix, and reducing our energy consumption in both our built environment and motor vehicles, America’s labor markets are being revitalized by our new energy and transportation technologies.”
But DOE cautions that the overall picture of energy-sector growth includes “an uneven trajectory where some states experience new jobs and others grapple with decline.” The report shows that:
- “States such as California and Texas, which have abundant solar, wind, and fossil fuel resources, have shown dramatic employment gains, despite some losses linked to low fossil fuel prices.”
- “Coal-dependent states, such as West Virginia and Wyoming, have seen declines in employment since 2015.”
DOE ends its report by warning that “evidence-based approaches are essential to ensuring a competitive energy economy and a workforce that is adaptable to meet 21st century challenges.” The evidence it provides includes detailed breakdowns of where the jobs are in order to provide federal, state, and local policymakers “critical labor market metrics.”
DOE’s companion 306-page State Energy Jobs report breaks down current job numbers by state and technology. It shows, for instance, that electric power generation employs 48,794 workers in Texas, 5.7 percent of the national total. The wind energy industry employs 24,374 people, followed by solar at 11,729 and fossil fuels with 8,874.
California displays even greater differences. Electric power generation there employs 203,269 workers, 23.6 percent of the national total, with solar providing 152,947 jobs and fossil fuels far behind at 18,520.
Iowa’s 31,983 traditional energy workers include 7,636 jobs in electric power generation, with wind providing 3,859 jobs, followed by fossil fuels at 2,401.
The surge in new non-traditional energy jobs across the country, however, did not impress the energy policy experts speaking at the conservative Heartland Institute’s annual Climate Change Conference last week.
Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast opened the conference by saying that “Most scientists don’t believe climate change is mostly man-made and dangerous. Most of the public don’t believe it, either. Now, we have a president who doesn’t believe it.”
Dismissing the need to transition from fossil fuels to renewables, Steven Milloy, a public affairs author and TV commentator who served on Trump’s EPA transition team, said that “There is no science in climate science . . . There is no science going on in NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) or NASA or EPA.” He said it would be “crazy . . . to change our lifestyle, reduce our standard of living, and completely change our political system” in order to combat nonexistent climate change risks.
Milloy concluded that “There is no social cost of carbon. Without fossil fuels, our society stops. You can’t build a windmill without fossil fuels . . . there is nothing.” He called for litigation to challenge “junk science” and said Congress must repeal the Clean Power Plan along with all the Obama “war-on-coal rules,” and must “eliminate the Endangerment Finding” that provided the legal basis for EPA’s Clean Power Plan and other regulations to limit carbon emissions