It actually didn’t mater which party won the White House: there was going to be a green jobs push. That is because the same coalition that got the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Clean Air Act of 1970 passed is working together again. The Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers are pushing their Blue-Green Alliance with the slogan “Good Jobs, A Clean Environment and a Safer World.
With the national economy in the toilet and a dependence on foreign oil a national security issue. A coalition of environmentalists and labor would have an easy push to develop renewable energy in the West. We already have an energy industry, so there is an infrastructure. Because of our hydroelectric system, we have the higher capacity transmission lines necessary to move wind and solar generated electricity around this half of the continent.
About half of the western states already have renewable energy targets as a percentage of total state generation, and they are making a significant contribution to those state economies. In Texas, the economic success in the existing law to supply 2.7% of power demand from renewable sources by 2009 has led to at least two proposals to increase the percentage over a longer period. One proposal is projected to provide a total consumer energy savings of $5.6 billion. California already reaps a $3.1 billion boost to its economy from its 10% renewable power quota.
But it could do much more. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, California can produce 100% of its electrical power renewably and within its own boundaries, keeping all of those expenditures and those jobs in the state. That would give Utah a chance to reduce coal emissions, while it develops its own capacity. Texas has the capacity to produce six times the amount of electricity it uses and then export it to Louisiana, Tennessee Alabama and Florida all of which lack the capacity to generate the power they need from renewable sources.
California has studied what the green polices have done for its economy. Between 1977 and 2007 energy-efficiency policies created nearly 1.5 million jobs while eliminating fewer than 25,000. Statewide it was able to increase payrolls by $44.6 billion. Since half the states in the West are 30 years behind California, they have a similar potential for new job creation.
For states like the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming which have over 80 times the renewable energy generation capacity, they could be the new industrial centers where that clean power is used to recycle steel, glass, aluminum and plastic, creating jobs and making us independent of China. That is who buys all of those materials now and then sells them back to us at Wal-Mart at a profit. We could keep that money in this country, employing Americans.
This new year is going to bring about a lot of changes to the economy. Here in the West we have the capacity to keep our economy strong, statewide, regionally and nationally. But it will take new paradigm to access that capacity. There is a political will to develop that paradigm and federal support as well. If there is enough of the pioneer left in us we might be able to develop this wilderness too.
This article originally appeared in Bad Chili Magazine Issue 6, 12/06/08. Reprinted with the author’s permission.
- Richard Knaub