By John Podesta
On September 9, 2008, the Center for American Progress, a Washington think tank headed by John Podesta, former Chief of Staff to U.S. President Bill Clinton, published a report by entitled "Green Recovery: A New Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy." It was suggested at the time that the report may serve as a road map for the next U.S. President. Podesta now heads President-Elect Obama’s transition team. As such, it may be instructive to review its contents as a guide to the Obama Administration’s energy policy.
The signs are clear: Our economy is in trouble. Falling home prices, foreclosures, bank failures, a weaker dollar, rising prices for gas, food, and steel, and layoffs in banking, construction, and manufacturing sectors are all indicators of serious economic strain-following a long period in which the middle class went nowhere even while the economy grew as a whole. What’s more, evidence suggests the current downturn will continue for at least another year.
At the same time, we face a growing climate crisis that will require us to rapidly invest in new energy infrastructure, cleaner sources of power, and more efficient use of electricity and fuels in order to cut global warming pollution. There is much work to be done in building smart solutions at a scale and speed that is bold enough to meet this gathering challenge.
It is time for a new vision for the economic revitalization of the nation and a restoration of American leadership in the world. We must seize this precious opportunity to mobilize the country and the international community toward a brighter, more prosperous future. At the heart of this opportunity is clean energy, remaking the vast energy systems that power the nation and the world. We must fundamentally change the way we produce and consume energy and dramatically reduce our dependence on oil. The economic opportunities provided by such a transformation are vast, not to mention the national security benefits of reducing oil dependence and the pressing need to fight global warming. The time for action is now.
Today, the Center for American Progress releases a new report by Dr. Robert Pollin and University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute economists. This report demonstrates how a new Green Recovery program that spends $100 billion over two years would create 2 million new jobs, with a significant proportion in the struggling construction and manufacturing sectors. It is clear from this research that a strategy to invest in the greening of our economy will create more jobs, and better jobs, compared to continuing to pursue a path of inaction marked by rising dependence on energy imports alongside billowing pollution.
The $100 billion fiscal expansion that we examined in this study provides the infrastructure to jumpstart a comprehensive clean energy transformation for our nation, such as the strategy described in CAP’s 2007 report, "Capturing the Energy Opportunity: Creating a Low-Carbon Economy." This paper shows the impact of a swift initial investment in climate solutions that would direct funding toward six energy efficiency and renewable energy strategies:
- Retrofitting buildings to increase energy efficiency
- Expanding mass transit and freight rail
- Constructing "smart" electrical grid transmission systems
- Wind power
- Solar power
- Advanced biofuels
This green recovery and infrastructure investment program would:
- Create 2 million new jobs nationwide over two years
- Create nearly four times more jobs than spending the same amount of money within the oil industry and 300,000 more jobs than a similar amount of spending directed toward household consumption.
- Create roughly triple the number of good jobs-paying at least $16 dollars an hour-as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry.
- Reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent from 5.7 percent (calculated within the framework of U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).
- Bolster employment especially in construction and manufacturing. Construction employment has fallen from 8 million to 7.2 million over the past two years due to the housing bubble collapse. The Green Recovery program can, at the least, bring back these lost 800,000 construction jobs.
- Provide opportunities to rebuild career ladders through training and workforce development that if properly implemented can provide pathways out of poverty to those who need jobs most. (Because green investment not only creates more good jobs with higher wages, but more jobs overall, distributed broadly across the economy, this program can bring more people into good jobs over time.)
- Help lower oil prices. Moderating domestic energy demand will have greater price effects than modest new domestic supply increases.
- Begin the reconstruction of local communities and public infrastructure all across America, setting us on a course for a long-term transition to a low-carbon economy that increases our energy independence and helps fight global warming. Currently, about 22 percent of total household expenditures go to imports. With a green infrastructure investment program, only about 9 percent of purchases flow to imports since so much of the investment is rooted in communities and the built environment, keeping more of the resources within the domestic economy.
Our report looked at investments that were funded through an increase in near-term government spending, which could ultimately be repaid by future carbon cap-and-trade revenues. These sources of new investment included the following funding mechanisms:
- $50 billion for tax credits. This would assist private businesses and homeowners to finance both commercial and residential building retrofits, as well as investments in renewable energy systems.
- $46 billion in direct government spending. This would support public building retrofits, the expansion of mass transit, freight rail, smart electrical grid systems, and new investments in renewable energy
- $4 billion for federal loan guarantees. This would underwrite private credit that would be extended to finance building retrofits and investments in renewable energy.
A comprehensive clean energy agenda is essential to the future of our country. The green recovery and infrastructure investment described here is doable in the early days of a new administration. It would enable our country to take significant steps, through energy efficiency and renewable energy development, to move toward a low-carbon economy, while Congress and the next administration move toward the swiftest possible implementation of an economy-wide greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.
The next president and lawmakers can pledge to repay the Treasury the cost of the green infrastructure recovery program from cap-and-trade auction revenue. The plan increases public spending in the short term when a near-recession economy needs greater impetus to growth; but it remains consistent with fiscally responsible long-term plan to reduce the debt as a share of GDP, after the economy recovers.
My colleagues and I at CAP look forward to continuing to work on our shared mission to reap all of the benefits provided by the transition to a low-carbon economy and look forward to discussing this work in greater detail.