Reduce carbon, create jobs?

EPA Admin Gina McCarthy

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announces new regulations for power plants at EPA headquarters June 2, 2014 in Washington, DC. Bypassing Congress and using President Barack Obama's 'Climate Action Plan,' the new regulations will force more than 600 existing coal-fired power plants, the single largest source of greenhouse gas emission in the country, to reduce their carbon pollution 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

New carbon-emission targets proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week will put some coal-fired power plants out of operation, and could eventually squeeze employment in the coal-mining industry as well.

The EPA is calling for a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030, from 2005 levels. They also predict that meeting the new target will cost electric utilities $8 billion per year, but says it will ultimately save the U.S. economy $50 billion a year or more in health care costs, as pollution from power plants and fossil fuel production falls.

The EPA’s fact-sheet and press release provided no firm numbers on projected job creation from meeting the new carbon standards, though. A lengthy “Regulatory Impact Analysis” report, however, provided tentative estimates from peer-reviewed labor-economics research, predicting net job increases totaling 105,000 a year.

That figure takes into account coal-mining jobs that would be lost, offset by new renewable-energy and energy-efficiency jobs: retrofitting power plants, pumping cleaner natural gas, upgrading the electricity grid, installing solar and wind generation capacity, and deploying energy-saving appliances.

But green-energy job predictions can vary widely — the Natural Resources Defense Council recently predicted more than 200,000 new jobs per year, based on slightly different carbon targets and date benchmarks.

Job predictions can also be highly politicized, says Ron Pernick, managing director at Clean Edge, an energy research firm.

“There are a lot of variables,” says Pernick. “It’s part art, part science.”

Pernick says the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has stopped collecting and crunching data on green-economy jobs due to sequester-related budget cuts. Though, he points out that jobs in renewable energy have been growing strongly for years, and tougher carbon regulation can only help.

Marty Rosenberg, editor-in-chief of the trade magazine EnergyBiz, says the EPA’s plan to let states develop their own plans and energy mixes for hitting the new carbon targets will help drive innovation, and promote new green-energy startups. 

“Each state, if you will, will become a laboratory,” says Rosenberg. “There are men and women out there testing new ideas. I do think this will be an economic stimulant.”

Opponents of the EPA's carbon targets, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, disagree, arguing that shunning coal will destroy jobs and raise operating costs for American businesses.

 

 

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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