President Trump’s plan to revive the the U.S. coal industry has raised the hackles of environmentalists and Democrats. But his hard-line stance on climate change could cost the country jobs, new technologies and America’s victory in the clean energy revolution.
Trump claims this aggressive reversal will increase production, make the U.S. energy independent and create 250,000 jobs. Environmentalists and many, if not most, economists view the initiative as damaging to the environment and U.S. power supply.
The climate debate divides experts on both sides. In the debates over climate change there is a clear win for a balanced approach. Because the climate change position appears to block economic growth, it is worth paying at least for the option.
But there is no such compromise in the energy debate. It is polarized, and therefore it is also not balanced.
Ever since President Obama announced his “all of the above” strategy in 2009, the U.S. has been investing heavily in clean energy alternatives. In 2015, U.S. solar energy consumed 140 times more electricity than coal, according to EIA data. But clean energy has faced an uphill battle against cheap fossil fuels.
In the past five years alone, the number of manufacturing jobs rose by 70,000. That included 2.5 million jobs in solar, jobs that were created in part because of the huge price drop in solar. Clean energy jobs now outnumber fossil fuel jobs, with renewable energy making up 29.7 percent of the country’s industrial workforce, compared to 28.2 percent for fossil fuels, according to EIA data.
But these gains and gains may be at risk in the Trump administration’s struggle over coal. The move to reinstate many coal-fired power plants will accelerate the shrinking solar energy sector, not expand it. The most prominent of these policies, the cancellation of the Clean Power Plan, is being quickly embraced by industry and by the president.
The president’s reversal on clean energy, coupled with state-by-state policies permitting more and more renewable energy production, will dramatically undermine the sustainability of the U.S. electricity system, hurting low and middle-income families and businesses and choking the economy with pollution.
Combine the failure of states such as California to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Accord, which require states to derive half of their electricity from renewables by 2030, and other states that have yet to adopt carbon reduction targets or regulations, with wholesale decreases in renewable electricity prices and the U.S. energy sector will continue to pursue the impossible.
Yet both sides ignore a simple fact: It doesn’t make economic sense to retain this type of job creation at our current level of emissions.
America has already led the world in the clean energy transition. Without his aggressive stance on climate change, and without a new administration that will more quickly convert the nation to an energy-independent economy, this country will be the first to suffer its fair share of job losses due to the “moral hazard” of its anti-fossil-fuel policies.