Op-Ed: Rebuilding After COVID-19, Our Chance for an Equitable Clean-Energy Economy

Two recent reports, one from Congress, the other from the state DEP, map out a strategy for breaking the chains of carbon pollution
Eileen Murphy

As we start to rebuild our economy after (and during) the COVID-19 crisis, we must invest in a clean and equitable energy economy that advances innovation, job creation and environmental and public health protections. COVID-19 has made it very clear that the current models for economic growth are just not supporting everyone. Putting investments into the clean-energy economy is not only desirable, but infinitely more doable and manageable than many might believe.

The U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a report late June entitled “The Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America.” It outlines hundreds of policy recommendations for addressing and adapting to impacts due to climate change and is centered on 12 key pillars ranging from transportation and telecommunications to flooding and decarbonization. Sounds high tech, which it is, and it will require skilled and unskilled workers to be successful.

The report is the result of a year-long effort, which included solutions-oriented conversations and hearings held across the country to examine tools, policies, local solutions and actions that reduce the carbon pollution driving climate change. Basically, the report is a blueprint for how the United States can lead the world in adapting to the worst of the impacts due to climate change. It gives Congress clear direction for building a clean-energy economy that values workers, advances economic and environmental justice and provides our cities, towns and farms with tools to minimize the impacts of climate change in their communities.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, clean energy was one of the fastest-growing job creators in the United States, employing almost 3.4 million people — nearly three times as many people as the fossil-fuel industry. In New Jersey alone, this included over 33,800 clean-energy jobs, as well as 4,200 energy efficiency businesses before COVID-19 (according to the Climate Change Index).

Job losses in clean-energy sector

The New Jersey clean-energy economy has been hard-hit by the pandemic. According to an analysis of Department of Labor unemployment data by BW Research, E4TheFuture and the American Council on Renewable Energy, over 11,789 clean-energy workers in New Jersey lost their jobs from March to May 2020 with Morris County (1,052 jobs lost) and Bergen (904 jobs lost) suffering the highest job losses during that period. As we move toward opening the economy, let’s reinvigorate the clean-energy economy. We are already seeing an uptick in job creation since June. The clean-energy sector creates jobs. Through innovation, we can achieve an economy with net-zero carbon pollution by 2050 and thousands of new jobs, and net-negative pollution thereafter — a goal that will be necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change in the state.

Besides job creation, acting on climate change is just the right thing to do. According to another report also released the end of June by state Department of Environmental Protection, 2020 New Jersey Scientific Report on Climate Change, New Jersey is warming faster than the rest of the Northeast (and the rest of the world) with a 3.5 degree Fahrenheit increase since 1895. Further, the state is projected to see average annual temperatures continue to increase by 4.1 degrees to 5.7 degrees by 2050 if no action is taken. If that weren’t enough, we can also expect more frequent and harsher heatwaves, which could result in a 55% increase in summer heat-related mortalities.

The timing of the release of these two reports could not have been better. One summarizes the current scientific knowledge base of climate change impacts to New Jersey’s environment and presents state-specific information to inform policies and actions. The other is a national call to action to address and minimize the impacts and provides a blueprint to do it. We need to put two and two together to protect our natural resources and grow our economy.

There is an opportunity for New Jersey to lead the country, as well as other countries. As stated in the report, “New Jersey cannot prevent the anticipated impacts of climate change but is in a place to be a leader and model for how to address climate change in the rest of the United States and the world.”

Every member of Congress, but especially our New Jersey representatives, should carefully consider the plan outlined in the select report and support policies to fight climate change, which is already harming communities in every corner of state. We know what we can expect in New Jersey if no action is taken. Let’s be leaders and consider acting on the committee’s thoughtful recommendations as soon as possible. We have no time to waste.