Yesterday, the Trump administration announced sweeping revisions to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s position on the Clean Power Plan and energy independence, in an attempt to reverse the Obama Administration’s long, hard work on climate policies in the United States. While the word of the day was “Jobs”, the agenda makes no logical correlation between current trending job creation in the energy sector and actually “creating” jobs. To make matter worse, the photos from the signing ceremony make clear that the intended audience and beneficiaries are not the diverse working people of our country. The United States of America no longer uses coal in the manner it did a generation ago. Maybe it’s part of the Trump administration’s nostalgia with the America of old however, I doubt we’ll see steam fired engines returning as a major form of transposition anytime soon. Coal jobs are simply not coming back.
While the move has been anticipated, this is a real-time call to action for social justice advocates and environmental policy makers worldwide. We have a social responsibility to persistently defend the science of climate change, while also defending the communities that rely on our expertise as protection. At the same time, we must remain open to helping industries and state lawmakers navigate this responsibility with a solid social conscious that does not negate their bottom line budget. This conversation is not new to EPA. Under the Obama/McCarthy Administration, well thought out, vetted and calculated discussions were held to engage the business and energy sector on the topics of climate resiliency and job creation. Partnership, collaboration and cooperation were always mainstays in the toolbox. We were good at it. In North Birmingham, EPA Region 4 successfully engaged state, local and private industry to address a myriad of issues including not only clean air and environmental concerns, but also partnerships for job creation and job training programs. Spartanburg, South Carolina’s ReGenesis Project is a case study for leveraging EPA funds, and using sustainable energy sources as an unconventional way to redevelop a community. Even in difficult and challenging situations, companies were proud to tout the number of sustainable, renewable energy jobs they could create while acknowledging the need to be aware of climate change, it’s global impact and our collective role. As the saying goes; working together works.
The energy job conversation raises the next critical question: who are we creating jobs for? Statistic after statistic reminds us that the Southeast is poorest part of the country. Education, poverty and social justice remain top challenges. Unemployment rates in Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama consistently rank below the national average. Despite the fact that the very words "climate change" are taboo in some political districts, the southeast is the ideal place for renewable energy development and job creation. There are less than 100,000 coal related jobs in the United States today yet more than 650,000 jobs have been created in the renewable energy market. Solar, wind, and water are becoming more competitive and the sure bet for future sustainable energy sources. These jobs can and will grow in the Southeast if we are willing to acknowledge and embrace advances in sustainable energy policy. Organizations such as Duke Energy and Southern Company have already invested hundreds of millions in retooling and investing in creative innovative tools for sustainable energy. Schools are training environmental engineers and investing in renewable energy research. Not a single company or program will be encouraged to change their trajectory toward renewable energy with the signing of the Trump executive agreement. In fact, it will create a discernible uptick in research & development and angel investors for sustainable renewable energy projects. It’s clear: the current administration may have announced their intentions, but the energy sector is well set on a path of renewable energy investment and sustainable energy ideas. It’s now our job to ensure that all Americans receive the benefit, particularly in low income and minority communities.
Heather McTeer Toney is former Regional Administrator for the EPA Southeast Region 4. Currently, she is an expert in corporate social responsibility and environmental policy development. She enjoys triathlons and is training for her first 70.3 half Ironman race.