Yet with all these potential solutions, and with the private sector and the rest of the world stepping up their game on climate, the new Administration is at best diffident, at worst hostile to climate action. Research programs that assess impacts from climate change and look for solutions are being defunded. Settled fuel economy standards that not only lead to cleaner air but save consumers money are being set aside. There is vacillation as to whether to stay in the Paris Agreement. The United States has gone from being the captain of the team, a leader and a shot-caller, to benching itself.
Meanwhile, the consensus that something must be done about climate change is growing among Republicans. Representatives Stefanik, Curbelo and Costello, as part of a coalition including 17 Republican House Members, have introduced a resolution asserting climate change is real and must be addressed, and are backed by the growing Climate Solutions Caucus. And a bipartisan group of 20 state governors sent a letter to the Trump Administration urging increased support for wind and solar power. A group of respected long-standing leaders of the Republican party joined recently with the Climate Leadership Council to float a carbon pricing proposal that would lead to even greater overall estimated emissions reductions than the Clean Power Plan. While we’re a long way from the consensus we need, there is a growing understanding on both sides of the aisle that doing nothing about climate change is not a viable position—whether for risk management or global competitiveness.
That’s in no small part because the very same measures that will address climate change also offer significant economic benefits. The solar energy workforce grew by 25% in 2016 alone, and wind employment grew by over 30 percent in the same year. In fact, the solar industry in the United States is adding jobs at 12 times the rate of the U.S. economy as a whole. With the rapid growth of the energy efficiency sector, we are seeing the “decoupling” of economic growth and energy use. Over the past ten years, the U.S. economy has grown by 10 percent, yet its energy consumption has fallen by 2.4 percent. The bipartisan focus on infrastructure may present opportunities to bring these better energy solutions to the marketplace faster, and to the benefit of American workers.
With capital investment and technology advancements, these trends will only accelerate. The electric power industry is in a state of rapid transformation, and in the next decade we will see a reinvention of how we generate, store, transmit and use electric power. As is always true when this kind of tectonic shift occurs in an industry, there will be winners and losers, and the communities that are being left behind in this transition must not be forgotten. Coal has been a cornerstone employer to many communities for over a hundred years, but it clearly won’t be able to sustain those livelihoods into the next century. Promises that coal will have a “comeback” or that transitioning to a new basis for the economy will be easy or painless are unrealistic. Both the environmental community and policymakers must do a better job of addressing the realities in these struggling communities.