Just a few months ago, presidential candidate and former Vice-President Joe Biden campaigned to “Build Back America Better.” With the pandemic decimating states, leaving countless people unemployed, or fighting for their lives, Biden relied strongly on his economic recovery plan throughout the campaign trail to spark hope in our nation’s voters. Now tasked with an uphill battle to stabilize the job market, President Biden is turning to his clean energy plan, which he believes can create 10 million green energy jobs and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Undoubtedly, President Biden’s Energy Plan is ambitious. However, is it possible that the pandemic; a steady increase of renewable resources as an energy source; and a series of natural disasters can combine to create a tipping point in the U.S. energy industry capable of making Biden’s Clean Energy Plan possible?
The undeniable evidence of the earth’s rising average temperature and surge in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels prove one thing: climate change is real. No conspiracy theory or tweet should convince you otherwise. Over the last several years, top climate scientists revealed in a report, rising sea-levels, planetary warming, and shrinking ice sheets, and carbon pollution all have accelerated drastically. Too often, we find ourselves living through yet another “once-in-a-lifetime climate event” such as a record-breaking fire or a devastating polar vortex. Consequently, these climate events drastically impact our environment and livelihoods. Whether it took a shocking scientific report or a scolding from young environmental activist, Greta Thunberg, political leaders heeded the mounting urgency to act. Phrases like “reducing our carbon footprint” and “net-zero emissions” are gaining traction from leaders and civilians alike. To reach net-zero emissions, the manmade emissions we release must be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere. Seventy-seven percent of Americans say it is more important for the United States to develop alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, than to produce more coal, oil, and other fossil fuels, according to a recent Pew survey. If the majority of the population supports wide-scale use of renewable energy, then why haven’t we all gone green? The short answer is money. Historically, fossil fuels have always been a leading force in the global power supply because they were cheaper sources of electricity than their renewable counterparts. Today, however, thanks to the introduction of efficient methods of producing renewable energy, solar power, and offshore wind are now the cheapest sources of energy.
Many states are now gradually taking the initiative to transition from fossil fuels to renewable clean energy. This leaves big oil and gas producing states, such as Texas, in a predicament. Oil and gas producers are now contemplating whether to hop on the green renewable energy train or risk losing their market share to companies offering renewable energy as a cheaper alternative. For instance, more electricity in Texas is generated from wind power than coal. Similarly, since 2015, wind energy has more than doubled in Texas. Wind turbines accounted for 23% of the state’s energy power. Likewise, we are seeing more residential homes sporting sleek black solar panels. However, for Texas and fossil fuel-dependent states to really embrace the path toward a clean energy future, the right policies and incentives, such as tax breaks, must be presented by the Biden Administration. With the Texas oil and gas industry losing an estimated 80,000 jobs since the end of 2018, a national effort aimed at creating modern, sustainable clean energy jobs is vital. Biden’s goal of creating 10 million green jobs during his four-year term will not be easily attained. Clean energy jobs increased in the U.S. by only 2% in 2019. In order to reach a million new green jobs, there must be a 6.7% increase per year. However, the millions of jobs lost as a result of business closures due to the pandemic indicates job seekers are eager and available to get work, regardless of the industry.
Because Texas is a fossil fuel-driven state, news of this wave of expected new green jobs could mean the loss of many others in the fossil fuel industry. To mitigate this potential, or rather inevitable, risk of lost jobs, the Texas Legislature this session is taking appropriate steps by introducing bills concerning clean energy jobs. Namely, Senator Hinojosa’s Senate Bill 955 relating to economic development and workforce retraining opportunities in the transition of the use of clean energy sources. In a nutshell, the bill would create an advisory committee designed to resolve issues and create opportunities related to industries that use large amounts of energy and trades with those associated industries. Accordingly, it seems Texas is willing to adopt the clean energy trend if it means job creation and cheaper sources of energy, especially after the disastrous handling of the power grid blackouts during the polar vortex freeze that left millions without power.
The slow decline oil and gas industry and the recession-like unemployment rates across the U.S. provide an opportunity for Biden’s Green Plan to come to fruition. A 2020 report from Environmental Entrepreneurs found that nearly 3.4 million Americans held clean energy jobs in solar, wind, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, and others before the pandemic crisis. The unemployment figures post-pandemic have, one can presume, decreased due to business closures. In Texas, the unemployment rate doubled during the pandemic from 3.5% to 7.2%, with many counties reaching unemployment rates of more than 14%. Large oil and gas companies, such as Chevron and Pioneer Natural Resources, were forced to dismiss at least 1,000 Texas workers. At this point, hiring across every major industry is warranted to make up for the millions of lost jobs. Fortunately for President Biden’s Energy Plan, and the country as a whole, major businesses are getting behind the Plan because they know fighting climate change means the creation of jobs. Executives from Amazon, Ford, General Motors, and over 150 more business leaders agree that Biden’s plan to combat climate change would lead to newly created jobs including sustainably rebuilding infrastructure, upgrading buildings, and investing in the development and commercialization of clean energy technology. For example, General Motors promised recently to fully transition to electric cars over the next 14 years. In essence, this partnership is a win-win-win. Biden’s Energy Plan can fulfill its promise and get one step closer to creating 10 million jobs, industry leaders create jobs and play their part in going green, and most importantly, people get back to work.
Many factors must converge to create the tipping point needed for the President’s Clean Energy Plan to succeed. A series of incidents, such as high unemployment rates brought upon by the pandemic; the now cheaper cost of renewable energy sources; and natural disasters are all significant variables capable of converting the U.S. energy industry into a primarily clean one. As previously stated, the plan is bold, and everything must line up in the President’s favor to create 10 million new jobs and hit net-zero emissions. However, events causing these ripple effects are certainly strengthening a tide that is pulling toward a cleaner, more sustainable future.
Joe Benavides, Law Clerk, J. Cruz and Associates, LLC