This is the tenth in our series on “The ABCs of the AJP.”
Jobs, unsurprisingly, are at the heart of the Biden Administration’s ambitious, multi-trillion dollar infrastructure plan. After all, the plan also goes by the name The American Jobs Plan (“AJP”). Each of the sweeping goals of the AJP—from addressing climate change, to developing a resilient electricity grid, to competing with China over clean energy supply chains—promises to create thousands of new jobs.
These jobs fall into multiple categories, including, but not limited to:
- Repairing bridges and highways, upgrading ports, airports, and transit. The Biden Administration wants to invest hundreds of billions of dollars on transportation infrastructure and resilience. This includes thousands of individual projects, and, as discussed in a recent blog post, a significant portion of this investment will be aimed at redressing inequities created by past investments in transportation infrastructure.
- Electric vehicles and related supply chains. The Administration has announced plans to invest hundreds of billions of dollars into the domestic electric vehicle market, including investing in manufacturing at various stages of the supply chain. The AJP also signals the Administration’s plan to leverage the federal government’s procurement power to give this manufacturing—and other types of manufacturing—a head start to competing on the global scale.
- Updating and expanding our electricity grid. To develop a more affordable, reliable, and resilient electricity grid, the Administration is calling for the creation of additional generation facilities and transmission lines. The Administration views a transition to renewable sources of energy as a way to both create jobs and advance environmental justice concerns. To this end, the Administration wants to accelerate investment in distributed energy resources in historically neglected neighborhoods, and create fifteen “decarbonized hydrogen demonstration projects in distressed communities.”
- Updating other utility networks. The AJP will also expand broadband transmission to rural communities, and update water systems throughout the country to ensure universal access to clean water. Regarding clean water efforts, the Administration is prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the removal of lead pipes and on investment in new drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater systems. The Senate is aligned with the Administration; it recently overwhelmingly passed a bill that will allocate tens of millions of dollars annually to address these clean water goals.
The Administration repeatedly promises that the AJP will not only create jobs, but “good” jobs. For instance, at one point the AJP promises “good-quality jobs that pay prevailing wages in safe and healthy workplaces while ensuring workers have a free and fair choice to organize, join a union, and bargain collectively with their employers.”
Recent reports suggest industry optimism regarding the AJP’s promise to create a significant number of clean energy jobs. This, on the heels of a year that saw the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs in the very industries that the Administration considers central to a cleaner, more resilient economy. One recent job report noted that the following sectors lost jobs in 2020: energy efficiency (an 11% drop); renewable energy (a 6% drop); and grid modernization and battery and storage (a 7% drop). Clean vehicle manufacturing, however, grew (a 3% increase).
Now, with 2020 behind us and with the promises of the AJP on the horizon, these industries are expecting growth to more than make up for those job losses.
- One report estimates that the Electric Vehicle industry employed nearly 130,000 people in 2019—a number that more than doubles when hybrid, natural gas, hydrogen, and fuel cell vehicle jobs are considered. Some estimate that these numbers will dramatically increase as the Administration supports a domestic electric vehicle industry.
- Another report from the American Council on Renewable Energy predicts upwards of 650,000 new jobs will be generated as we harness investment tax credits to revamp our transmission grid.
- The clean energy sector appears similarly bullish. Recently, the National Solar Jobs Census released its annual report, which explains that the industry anticipates 400,000 solar jobs by 2030, and will need over 900,000 employees by 2035 to meet the Administration’s emissions target.
It figures to be more difficult to measure progress against one of the Administration’s other promises: that these new jobs will be “good jobs.”
One possible metric is wages. Those who have begun analyzing the quality of the types of promised jobs appear to be optimistic on this front:
- In April, the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution released its report, Advancing Inclusion Through Clean Energy Jobs. It found that clean energy employees (broadly defined) earn higher and more equitable wages compared to all workers nationally.
- Additionally, the report found that clean energy jobs typically have few formal educational requirements. Indeed, the report found that roughly 50 percent of clean energy employees have a high school diploma yet earn higher wages than similarly-educated peers in other industries.
Despite these promising figures, some are concerned that the transition away from fossil fuels concentrates job losses in certain communities, while opportunity remains concentrated elsewhere. Although the Brookings Institution report concludes that clean energy jobs compare favorably to average jobs nationwide, the numbers are not as rosy when clean energy jobs are compared to the fossil fuel jobs they figure to replace. This disparity is also noted in a recent report from Environmental Entrepreneurs, Clean Jobs America 2021, which explains that “wages in clean energy as a whole are lower than fossil fuels.”
Another important consideration is that many of the hotspots for clean energy jobs are in states and communities with relatively high average wages, relatively high costs of living, and a relatively low concentration of the types of jobs that will be rendered obsolete as our economy moves towards zero emissions. To this point, on April 19, 2021, the United Mine Workers of America (“UMWA”) released its report, Preserving Coal Country, which voiced concerns about the number of coal jobs—and jobs in related and unrelated industries—that Appalachia has lost and will continue lose as our energy grid moves away from coal. UMWA noted the need for a plan to support the people and towns that are being left behind.
This objective – often referred to as “just transition” – is relevant not only in the US, but has been broadly embraced as part of international efforts to address climate change, including in the Paris Agreement resulting from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (“UNFCCC”) Conference of the Parties (“COP”) 21 in 2015, the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration adopted at the COP 24 in Katowice, Poland in 2018, and as a major component of the European Green Deal.
The Administration appears sensitive to the need to assure a just transition for communities in Appalachia and elsewhere that depend on coal jobs, particularly given the even divide in the Senate and the need to either obtain bipartisan support or at least maintain the entire Democratic caucus to advance the President’s infrastructure and clean energy goals. It should come as little surprise, then, that the President nominated and the Senate unanimously confirmed Gayle Manchin, wife of Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), as co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal economic development agency charged with working with states and counties in the Appalachian region to invest in communities and spur job creation.
In addition to the job and workforce development goals outlined in the AJP, the White House has developed an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization. Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, §218. Not long after UMWA released its report, the Interagency Working Group (“IWG”) released its own report, focusing on job creation and workforce development in communities with the highest concentration of direct-coal-sector jobs.
The IWG identifies almost $38 billion in “existing federal funding that could be accessed by Energy Communities for infrastructure, environmental remediation, union job creation, and community revitalization efforts.” It also focuses on the job creation and environmental justice potential of environmental remediation projects in “fenceline” communities located near energy or industrial facilities, which are among the most polluted communities in the country and are often communities of color. This includes remediation of abandoned mine lands, orphaned oil and gas wells, and brownfields in communities with closed or abandoned power stations or mining sites.
The IWG also emphasizes the amount of federal money available for carbon capture and storage projects at existing power plants and industrial facilities, as well as funding to extract critical minerals from coal waste streams for use in the manufacturing of batteries and other components of electric vehicles. This would help advance the Administration’s goal of developing a domestic supply chain for electric vehicles, while also creating job opportunities for coal miners and others in energy communities affected by the transition away from coal.
Whether these investments will be enough to gain support of key members of Congress remains unclear. Given how closely divided both chambers are, however, it seems self-evident that any infrastructure package that advances with some of the AJP’s key clean energy elements intact – either as a result of bipartisan negotiation or through reconciliation – will undoubtedly include targeted investments for those communities most likely to be impacted by decreasing reliance upon coal and other fossil fuels.