Jobs Like Mine: A look at Critiques of The Clean Power Plan

I always have to smile when I hear someone claim that renewable energy will cost jobs or that acting to stop climate change will bring about the destruction of the U.S. economy, because I am living proof that they are wrong. No, I’m not a superhero with mutant powers able to absorb greenhouse gasses and shoot jobs out of my wrists (that would be a brilliant idea, but Stan Lee won’t return my phone calls), I’m just a guy who counts light bulbs. I’ll get to why in a minute, but first there is some news you should know about.

COMM BH Blog LittleThings 2014 05President Obama just released a new proposal to reduce greenhouse gasses from power plants last week, and the claims of killing jobs have risen again. The New York Times reported on an effort to try to oppose the plan even before it had ever been written. The attorney general of West Virginia, Patrick Morrisey, held a press conference just minutes after the unveiling of this plan by Obama to announce they would challenge the legality of the proposal and claimed it would “severely harm West Virginia and the U.S. economy”, which makes me wonder if he even read the plan at all, (which, to be fair, is 1,560 pages long).

The plan by the president and the EPA asks states to reduce their carbon emissions from power plants 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. States are allowed free reign to figure out how to do this; they come up with their own individual plans which they submit to the EPA for a cursory review by 2018. This ‘let the states do what they want’ approach is a textbook definition of federalism and a common conservative manifesto. However, the knee-jerk reaction by critics of the plan is to claim that any attempt to limit carbon emissions will result in huge job layoffs and skyrocketing electricity costs. Here’s where I come in, because I’m evidence to the contrary.

My job was created because the state of California decided that they wanted to limit carbon emissions and took steps to do so. Note that I said created, not eliminated. I work at SBC for the Sierra Nevada Energy Watch, which helps small and medium businesses save money by providing PG&E incentives for energy efficiency projects. It’s an option for reducing emissions from power plants the EPA specifically mentions in their proposal. We’ve had a significant impact in helping small businesses save money—$9 million in economic stimulus in the Sierra Nevada foothills region—and in reducing greenhouse gas emissions: equivalent to 2 million gallons of gasoline. This is a far cry from the massive layoffs and economic destruction predicted by critics. Now, any reasonable person will understand there will be some jobs, like coal mining or coal power plants, which will be lost because of this plan. But states have control over how that happens, which is the final point I want to make.

Because the EPA has given states so much free reign to come up with their own proposals, a state like Tennessee or West Virginia could theoretically meet the majority of their emissions targets simply by continuing with long-standing scheduled closures of old and outdated coal power plants. What’s more, under the EPA plan states aren’t even required to act until 2022, four years after they submit their plans. Add to that the fact that the emissions goals set by the EPA are not onerous or unreasonable: California has promised (and is on track, by the way) to reduce their emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, meeting and far exceeding the EPA’s standards two full years before states are even required to act.

The Clean Power Plan from President Obama and the EPA is a smart and practical plan allowing for individual creativity and proven by California to be feasible. States should embrace this as an opportunity to encourage green job growth and not immediately cry wolf about economic destruction. Jobs just like mine are waiting to be created. Let’s get to it.