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Making Smart Choices for America's Clean Energy Future


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According to an assessment by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the world is going to invest more than $16 trillion in energy by 2030.

There are two ways that we can invest this money: a smart way and a dumb way. If we invest wisely, we will move America to a new clean energy future that makes us a leader for the 21 century. But if we stumble and invest in an unwise way - focusing on old, dirty technologies and fossil fuels - we will end up being left behind.

As two new reports released today show, America can benefit greatly from significant energy investments in clean energy -- if we are smart. If we are smart, we will create millions of new jobs, increase our energy independence, and protect the planet from global warming pollution. And these will be opportunities for people across all income and education levels - with even more opportunities for advancement.

If we are smart, we will use this investment to increase our energy efficiency - through weatherization and retrofits. This will save consumers on their utility bills.

If we are smart, we will increase people's access to public transportation thereby lowering people's living expenses.

For too long, we've looked at economic opportunity and protecting the environment as being in conflict with each other. But, this view is at odds with the growing body of evidence that demonstrates we can strengthen our economy and fight global warming. We can shift to clean energy, protect the planet and create new opportunities for families - and we can do this all at the same time.

Today, NRDC is helping to release two major reports from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (PERI). One is co-authored by NRDC and Green For All. The other is a complementary report by PERI and the Center for American Progress (CAP).

The NRDC/Green For All report, called "Green Prosperity: How Clean-Energy Policies Can Fight Poverty and Raise Living Standards in the United States," shows that shifting from traditional fossil fuel to clean energy will improve the standard of living for millions of Americans across all skill and education levels, especially among lower-income families. Nearly half of the 1.7 million new jobs created by a $150 billion clean energy investment will be accessible to workers with relatively low levels of formal education. Of these, nearly 75 percent will have high potential for advancement. Plus, there will be additional opportunities to lower monthly energy and transportation costs.

The other report, "The Economic Benefits of Investing in Clean Energy" presents a broader view -- showing how the combination of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) could serve as the foundation for bringing total clean-energy investments in the United States to approximately $150 billion per year, creating 1.7 million jobs. That kind of growth would create nearly a 1 percent drop in the national unemployment rate.

And what about the concerns that we sometimes hear that low-income Americans would be left behind if our nation addresses climate change? 

It turns out that's just not true. The NRDC/Green For All report concludes that half of the net new jobs created by clean-energy investment will be accessible to workers with relatively low levels of formal education. (You can learn more about clean energy jobs at http://www.nrdc.org/energy/greenjobs/ .)

What's particularly significant about the types of jobs created by clean energy is that compared to fossil-fuel energy jobs there is a much greater opportunity for upward advancement. Three out of every four clean-energy jobs are accessible to people with just a high-school education are upwardly mobile jobs, meaning they provide the opportunity for advancement and higher income, giving people the power to lift themselves out of poverty. 

Consider these additional findings:

  • Major investments in clean energy will mean significant improvements in energy efficiency in buildings and homes, lowering overall energy costs for consumers, especially for lower-income households. These savings could be as high as 4 percent of household incomes for some families.
  • New investments in clean energy will also boost public transportation, especially in urban areas with disproportionately-large populations of lower-income families. Increased investment in public transportation could lead to an average reduction in living costs of 1 to 4 percent per family.

Now we just have to sure to make the right choices to make those green jobs and other benefits for lower-income Americans happen. And America may soon have this opportunity with the clean energy and climate legislation currently moving trough Congress.

The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), that is moving through the House, is likely to be an extremely important driver of the clean energy investments that American needs. While the bill is not perfect, we need to move forward with this legislation to ensure that we can shift to clean energy future that will deliver millions of new jobs, cut global warming pollution and create new opportunities.

Now is the time for leaders in Congress to move America in a new direction. Now is the time for leaders to make smart choices for all Americans.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.