New EPA Administrator Pruitt has it right: We can be ‘pro energy and jobs and pro environment’

Note: This blog post also appeared on Medium.

By Bob Keefe

E2 Executive Director

In his first speech as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt made it clear that the environment and the economy shouldn’t be at odds.

“I believe we as an agency and we as a nation can be both pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment,” Pruitt told EPA staffers and media in Washington on Tuesday. “We don’t need to choose between the two.”

Across America, clean energy businesses and workers couldn’t agree more. Hopefully Administrator Pruitt and President Trump will keep them in mind as they plot the new future of the EPA and America’s energy future.

More than 3 million Americans now work in clean energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy and analysis by E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs). Last year, solar jobs grew by 25 percent and wind energy jobs grew by 32 percent, making them among the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, if not the fastest.

But also included in those 3 million are hard-working Americans who make and install more efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems; who work in factories making Energy Star appliances and LED lighting, and who are working on the next generation of batteries and more efficient electric grids. You can see a great new factsheet from E2 detailing America’s clean energy workforce here.

Administrator Pruitt is right that there’s no reason America can’t be pro-energy and pro-environment. There’s no better way to make that happen than supporting clean energy policies.

Unfortunately, Pruitt and President Trump have so far have indicated they’re going to do the opposite.

President Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” includes absolutely no mention of the fastest-growing energy sector there is — clean energy.

Just as bad, as Pruitt spoke to EPA workers on Tuesday, the Trump Administration was preparing to try to stop the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, our most important clean energy policy and one of the best economic catalysts in recent U.S. history, perhaps as soon as this week, according to news reports. The Clean Power Plan calls on states to reduce carbon pollution by about 30 percent by adding more renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency and updating dirty power plants.

Ever since the EPA approved the Clean Power Plan in 2015, U.S. clean energy businesses have been hiring workers, expanding and making plans to meet expected demand. With passage of the historic Paris climate agreement a year later (and the Clean Power Plan as the centerpiece of the United States’ commitment) clean energy businesses ramped up even more. Along with favorable tax policies, that’s why solar and wind jobs grew so fast, with energy efficiency jobs not far behind.

The Clean Power Plan and the Paris climate agreement provided a clear market signal to American companies that we were headed toward a clean energy future. The policies did exactly what Pruitt in his EPA speech said they were supposed to do: “Regulations exist to give certainty to those who we regulate,” he said.

By stopping the Clean Power Plan, the Trump administration will take that certainty away and pull the rug out from beneath America’s clean energy businesses, investors and workers.

The Trump administration’s anti-clean energy policies so far do something else: They put America at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of the world, which is moving forward full speed ahead on clean energy.

China, for instance, more than doubled its solar energy production and now is the world’s biggest producer of solar energy. On some days, Germany produces nearly 100 percent of its power from clean, renewable energy. Even some of the world’s smallest countries — think Uruguay, Costa Rica and Scotland — now get all or nearly all of their power from the sun, wind and other renewable sources.

Not surprisingly, other countries are all but salivating at the chance to lure away U.S. clean energy companies and their technology in the next four years. As Canadian cleantech investor and entrepreneur Tom Rand said about President Trump’s anti-clean energy plans at a recent conference, “If America wants to walk away from cleantech, we’ll take it!”

President Trump and Administrator Pruitt have the opportunity to keep America on track and create jobs, drive economic growth and improve our country’s economy and our environment.

Through smart clean energy policies, we can, as Pruitt says, be “pro-energy and jobs and pro-environment.”

For the sake of those 3 million American clean energy jobs, our energy future and our environment, let’s hope the Trump administration lives up to Pruitt’s promises, and reverses its course on its anti-clean energy policies — before they cause more uncertainty and damage.

Follow Bob Keefe on Twitter @bkeefee2.