After Biden Speech, It’s Time for Congress to Get to Work Creating Clean Energy Jobs that Pay Better, Are Available to All

Bob Keefe
Bob Keefe
Apr 28 · 4 min read

In his address to Congress Wednesday night, President Biden is expected to speak more about how his American Jobs Plan and major investments in infrastructure, clean vehicles and climate action can create millions of good-paying clean energy jobs in every state in America. The speech marks a starting point for members of Congress to get to work on legislation to jump-start those jobs, make sure they pay well and are available to all.

The good news is that they have a solid foundation on which to build.

Last week, E2 released its sixth annual Clean Jobs America report detailing how more than 3 million Americans now work in clean energy occupations across renewables, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, grid modernization and storage and clean fuels.

The report puts some perspective on how clean energy has quickly become a big and important part of our economy — one poised for growth like never before. Some toplines:

· More people work in clean energy than work as real estate agents, bankers or farmers in America. About three times as many Americans now work in clean energy (including renewables, energy efficiency and clean vehicles) than work in fossil fuels.

· California is still the biggest state for clean energy jobs. But Texas is №2 and red states like North Carolina, Florida and Ohio are all in the Top 10. In Kentucky, more people now make EVs and other clean vehicles than mine coal. And Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the U.S. oil industry, now ranks №11 in clean energy jobs with more than 87,000 workers.

· Clean energy jobs declined last year (by 307,000 jobs) for the first time since E2 began tracking such jobs in 2015, as the sector suffered like the rest of the country through the COVID-19 economic downturn. But clean energy jobs also rebounded faster than the rest of the economy in the second half of last year, growing at 11 percent versus 9 percent for the overall economy.

With Biden’s American Jobs Plan, they’re expected to grow even faster.

Getty Images

But as Congress and the White House get to work turning elements of the American Jobs Plan into reality, they must also take steps to ensure the clean energy jobs we create are also good-paying jobs available to all Americans, including those from low-income and communities of color and those who belong to unions or want to join a union.

To do so, lawmakers should work with organized labor and businesses to encourage or include requirements for project labor agreements (PLAs) for major clean energy construction projects and whenever else feasible.

They should require developers to abide by prevailing wage standards that set minimums for pay, health and other benefits.

They should include local hire provisions for clean energy projects and enhance and enforce hiring and procurement policies that benefit low-income communities, people of color and women.

And they should support education, job training and registered apprenticeship programs to ensure we have enough workers to get the job done and who develop career skills that can last a lifetime.

Clean energy jobs already pay about 25 percent better than the national median wage, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

But there’s no reason we can’t — or shouldn’t — ensure these jobs pay even better. Unionized jobs in construction — the biggest industry sector in clean energy — pay 45 percent more than non-unionized construction jobs. We need more jobs like those.

A recent Princeton University study found that we can raise clean energy wages without hurting deployment. According to Princeton researchers, a 20 percent increase in domestic labor costs would increase capital costs for wind and solar by just 2 to 4 percent, and operations and maintenance costs by just 3 to 6 percent.

In other words, we can make sure the jobs we’re creating with clean energy are helping our environment, our economy — and American workers. But it’s up to lawmakers to help make sure that happens.

As the White House Council of Economic Advisers noted in a recent report, “Without a (f)ederal strategy for the transition, well-paying jobs could be lost, and new, well-paying jobs may not be created.”

Though legislation and policy, this is the opportunity for Congress and the Biden administration to make sure those well-paying jobs are preserved and created.

It’s an opportunity that American workers are counting on them to seize.

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