Will Obama’s Climate Regs Spark The Next Wave of Green Jobs?

Bill Scher

The centerpiece of President Obama’s climate strategy is a planned package of Environmental Protection Agency rules that would cap carbon on all existing and future power plants, the biggest source of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Such rules are essential to avert a climate crisis, but by themselves, they can’t spark robust investment into clean energy and energy-efficiency, investments that would create jobs.

The reality is: the EPA has the legal authority to regulate carbon pollution. But it doesn’t have a checkbook. Only Congress does.

With the probability of climate legislation clearing the current Congress firmly at 0 percent, and the climate clock ticking, Obama has no choice but to act in whatever way he can. But the risk of political backlash from new regulations is greater without additional proposals that grow the green economy.

In turn, The President’s plan doesn’t ignore jobs.

He is pledging to double the amount renewable energy generated on public lands by 2020, for a total of 20 gigawatts. Since 2009, the President’s plan notes, the federal government has permitted “25 utility-scale solar facilities, nine wind farms, and 11 geothermal plants, which will provide enough electricity to power 4.4 million homes and support an estimated 17,000 jobs.” And the President is setting a new goal for the federal government to “consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 – more than double the current goal of 7.5 percent.”

The plan also includes loan guarantees for new technologies capturing carbon from fossil fuel use, energy efficiency investments for rural homeowners and businesses, an expansion of the current “Better Buildings Challenge” retrofit program that goes beyond commercial and industrial buildings to include multifamily homes, among other proposals.

These initiatives amount to singles and not home runs. Grist’s David Roberts argues that’s to be expected: “…making the changes necessary to deal with climate is going to mean a lot of ‘strong and slow boring of hard boards,’ integrating climate into the ordinary business of government … This is the unsexy, difficult work of turning the ship of state.”

But the new regulations could lead to a dramatic shift within Congress. Those corporations which have been fighting any legislation to cap carbon have been in effect fighting the only means to raising revenue – ending the practice of polluting for free – which can be reinvested into helping businesses manage the transition to a clean energy economy, and into creating green jobs.

Now that Obama is going forward anyway with regulations that can’t raise revenue and reinvest, these corporations need to do a big rethink – do we keep fighting to the bitter end? Or do we accept this is going to happen one way or another, get back to the negotiating table, and lean on the recipients of our campaign cash to get something done and end the uncertainty.

Until a broader array of corporations accept the necessity of climate action, and until they press Republicans to compromise, we can’t get the revenue from Congress necessary to unleash the a wave of green jobs that could strengthen our long-term economic prospects.

With climate regulations on the horizons, corporations may just decide to do that.

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