Look out. They are at it again. With the characteristic anti-government zeal so fashionable these days, conservative columnists and pundits have taken aim at the green economy and green jobs. Wielding a few distorted examples, they claim that green jobs are a myth, and that government policies to encourage investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency have failed. The facts say otherwise.
The arguments for investments in energy efficiency boil down to a simple proposition: if we can pay less to heat and power our homes and businesses and to transport ourselves and our stuff, then we will be better off economically. If we can pay less for energy and lead the same quality of life, why wouldn’t we do that?
Much of the money we pay each month to our electric and gas utilities and at the gas pump goes to fuel suppliers. Most of that money leaves our communities and region to be invested elsewhere. Some of the money even goes oversees and finds its way to unfriendly regimes in the Middle East or Venezuela.
Energy efficiency can improve this picture greatly. When we improve the efficiency of our homes and businesses and our cars and trucks we invest in a lower-cost future for ourselves. When we cut our energy costs, we free up money to spend on other things, or to save or invest in our local economies.
Renewable energy can provide similar benefits. Install solar photovoltaic panels on your roof and you are generating your own electricity. Install a solar hot water system and you are using less fossil fuel to heat your water. The installer of that system pays skilled workers in your community good wages.
Engaging a contractor to weatherize a home, install a new efficient heating system, efficient appliances and lighting—these are investments in the local economy where jobs are created. Over time the investments pay off because less money is spent on fuel, freeing up money for local savings and investment. Less money goes to parts of the world where it might be used to harm Americans.
A study by the Brookings Institution released this past summer documented those areas of the country that have benefited most from green job growth. The Capital Region of New York State saw green job growth of about 8.8% per year from 2003 to 2010, making it the 5th fastest growing green job market in the country. What’s more, those jobs pay 8.5% more than the average job in the region. Other metro areas did similarly well in the Northeast during the same time period.
Meanwhile Republicans on the campaign trail and those in Congress still beat that tried old drum—the one that pretends environmental regulation and clean energy policies kill jobs. We are told we must choose between clear air and a strong economy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Brookings study reveals the important role played by government in creating the conditions for green job growth. The fastest job growth has been in areas where government has established clear regulatory and tax priorities: new wind power installations, solar hot water and solar electricity, and energy efficiency investments.
Don’t let the pundits fool you. Clear government policy fostering growth in burgeoning industries like solar and wind, and energy efficiency investments, has driven and will continue to drive strong job growth in the Northeast.
Franz Litz is the Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center and Professor of Law at Pace Law School.
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