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Green New Deal would “Put Millions of Americans out of Work”, Says Trump

Markey said it would be "the greatest blue-collar job creation program in a generation"

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Students hold banners and posters during a demonstration against climate change in New York, March 15, 2019. VOA

When Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced their Green New Deal resolution, Markey said it would be “the greatest blue-collar job creation program in a generation.”

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, said it would “put millions of Americans out of work.”

Battle lines have been drawn with the first major U.S. proposal to tackle climate change in nearly a decade: Does stopping global warming mean wrecking the economy? Or is failing to act worse?

In the coming months, Voice of America will explore the prospects for salvaging the environment without killing off jobs.

We will meet winners and losers in the energy transition. Our first stop will be in Markey’s home state of Massachusetts, where an energy transition is well underway. We will visit a town where one of the state’s last coal-fired power plants closed, shedding coal jobs but gaining a cutting-edge solar farm. We will see how Massachusetts’ investments in the green economy are paying dividends in jobs and economic growth.

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FILE – U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) hold a news conference for their proposed Green New Deal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019. VOA

Though the Senate has voted down Markey and Ocasio-Cortez’s nonbinding Green New Deal resolution, the proposal has put climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions back on the agenda on Capitol HIll. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a steadfast opponent of measures to reduce carbon emissions, now acknowledges global warming is a real and human-induced threat.

Trump, by contrast, has called climate change a hoax and sees unfettered production of coal, oil and natural gas as the path to economic expansion.

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Pressure is growing on elected officials to do something. The impacts of climate change are increasingly obvious. VOA

Hotter, drier, wetter

Pressure is growing on elected officials to do something. The impacts of climate change are increasingly obvious.

Eight of the 10 hottest years on record have piled up in just the last decade.

Hotter and drier conditions in California helped spread the wildfires that caused $24 billion in damage and claimed 106 lives last year. Those fires broke the record for area burned, a record that was set just the year before.

A warmer atmosphere holds more water, making epic soakers like last year’s Hurricane Florence more likely. That $24 billion disaster followed 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which did $127.5 billion in damage to Houston and the surrounding areas.

And this is just the beginning. Scientists from 13 government agencies estimated that if emissions remain high, extreme heat would slice $155 billion annually from labor productivity by 2090 as more days are too hot to work. Dwindling water supplies for cities and industries would take a $316 billion toll each year. Annual health care costs for West Nile Virus, just one of several diseases expected to rise with warming temperatures, would be $3 billion higher.

Polls show Americans feel the threat of a changing climate more strongly than ever. Seventy-three percent say global warming is happening, and 62 percent say it is mostly human-caused. Both figures are the highest since the Yale Program on Climate Communication started polling in 2008.

Two-thirds say they are “worried” or “very worried” about global warming. For the first time, that includes a third of conservative Republicans.

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That has left states, local governments and businesses to fill in the gap. But it will not be easy or cheap. VOA

Meanwhile, the federal government is moving in the opposite direction. Trump has moved to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty. His administration is working to loosen Obama administration regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicles.

That has left states, local governments and businesses to fill in the gap. But it will not be easy or cheap.

Pricing pollution

One possible tool: Put a price on the carbon pollution that is causing global warming in the first place.

Raising the price reduces demand for more-polluting fuels and encourages companies and consumers to find cheaper, cleaner alternatives, economists say.

Pricing carbon would also raise revenue that can be returned to taxpayers or invested in reducing emissions.

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Participants walk past the main entrance of the One Planet Summit, in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris, France, Dec. 12, 2017. VOA

Nine U.S. states price carbon through a cap-and-trade system, a market-based approach in which polluters buy permits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. California has its own program.

And economic growth in these states has continued as greenhouse gas emissions have declined.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric about how a carbon tax or a greenhouse gas tax would wreck the economy,” said Brookings Institution economist Adele Morris. “There’s absolutely no peer-reviewed evidence that supports that assertion.”

But these policies are not politically popular. A national cap-and-trade proposal died in Congress in 2010. Last November, Washington state voters rejected a carbon tax.

And they would not solve the problem on their own. Pledges the United States and others made in Paris will not achieve the ultimate goal of the accord: Keep global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

That would take a carbon price of at least $40 to $80 per ton, rising to $50 to $100 by 2030, according to a World Bank-backed commission. It’s only about $15 per ton in California, and $5 in the nine-state market.

“There’s an open question whether politically, it’s achievable to hit some of the temperature targets that scientists have recommended,” Morris said. “That’s the conundrum. What’s the willingness to pay (in carbon taxes) of the American electorate? How far can we go before we hit a wall?”

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FILE – Kristin Cook, right, of Potomac, Md., joins a rally outside the White House in Washington. VOA

Filling the federal vacuum

As Trump moves to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty, many states are moving forward on their own.

Most require power providers to source a percentage of their energy from renewable or zero-carbon sources. Several have recently increased these requirements. New Mexico recently joined California in aiming to be 100 percent renewable by mid-century.

And the private sector is stepping up, as well.

After Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris agreement, more than 2,000 businesses and investors declared that they continue to support the climate accord.

A group of large investors managing more than $30 trillion in assets is pushing major corporations in their portfolios to get on board.

ALSO READ: The Big Question in U.S.; Does Stopping Global Warming Mean Wrecking The Economy?

“Any company that’s a high-emitting sector, we need to work with them to radically change their emissions or divest from them,” said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit. Ceres is a founding partner of the initiative known as Climate Action 100+.

Under pressure from the group, oil giants Shell and BP recently said they will tie executives’ bonuses to reaching climate goals. Major mining corporation Glencore agreed not to expand its coal mining business.

For investors, Lubber says, the economic risk comes not from fighting climate change. “If we don’t stop global warming, we wreck the economy,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Solar Installation in Massachusetts to Fight Climate Change

Ed Martell is on the job, helping build an 8,000-panel solar farm outside the town of Wales, 110 kilometers southwest of Boston

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Does Fighting Climate Change Mean Wrecking the Economy? VOA

It’s minus eight degrees Celsius on a late winter morning in western Massachusetts. But electrician Ed Martell is on the job, helping build an 8,000-panel solar farm outside the town of Wales, 110 kilometers southwest of Boston.

Martell says solar installations have been going nonstop for the past several years.

“I thought it was going to be a flash in the pan a couple years ago,” he told VOA. “I’ve seen solar keep going and going and going.”

Although sunshine is not the first image that comes to mind in connection with Massachusetts, policy decisions have propelled the state to third place nationwide in solar jobs, behind sunny California and Florida, which is known as the Sunshine State.

Martell says the industry has been growing at a time when there has not been much other work for electricians.

“If it wasn’t for solar, there would have been a two-year period when I wouldn’t have worked at all,” he added. “So, yes, it’s very good for us.”

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FILE – This undated handout image provided by NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Michigan, shows the Four Corners area, in red, left, the major U.S. hot spot for methane emissions in this digital map, showing how much emissions varied from average background concentrations from 2003-2009. Dark colors are lower than average; lighter colors are higher. VOA

Greenhouse gases

As the planet heats up, experts say the world needs to stop burning the fossil fuels that have powered civilization for centuries and switch to energy sources that do not release greenhouse gases that drive up the Earth’s temperature and produce weather extremes.

The transition will not be easy. There will be winners and losers, economists say.

The smokestack and the rusting remains of the 1960s-turquoise turbine are the last identifiable remains of the Mount Tom Station coal-fired power plant located 145 kilometers west of Boston in Holyoke, Mass.

Former maintenance engineer Clancy Kaye kept the plant running for more than 30 years.

But between expensive environmental upgrades, the plunging price of natural gas, and concerns from neighborhood groups about climate change and air pollution, the plant’s owners pulled the plug in 2014.

They then built one of the largest solar farms with battery storage in New England just down the street.

Eighty people worked at Mount Tom at its peak. When it finally closed in 2014, the number was down to 28. Some of them retired. The company offered a generous severance package, Kaye said. But about a dozen employees had to take other jobs with 30 percent to 50 percent pay cuts and fewer benefits.

“It’s been really a very rude awakening for many people who used to make some very good money. And some very highly skilled people,” Kaye said.

As coal-fired plants close across the country, he added, “the good jobs — and I mean good paying, good benefits, good pension — those jobs are virtually all going away for your average middle-class person.”

More than half of the 530 coal-fired power plants that were running in 2010 have shut down or plan to by 2030, according to the Sierra Club, an Oakland, California-based environmental group.

There have been losses in Massachusetts.

Winners in state policy

But experts say the state’s policies to fight climate change have created more winners.

While Congress and the White House have feuded for years about what, if anything, to do, Republican and Democratic leaders in the Bay State have taken innovative steps to reduce greenhouse gases.

In 2008, Massachusetts was among the first U.S. states to set a greenhouse gas reduction target. By mid-century, the state aims to have cut emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels.

Accompanying legislation requires utilities to buy increasing amounts of renewable energy and charges power companies for carbon pollution. The state created aggressive programs to promote energy efficiency.

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U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is silhouetted near the words “Clean Energy” during a photo session after the opening ceremony of an international clean energy conference in Beijing. VOA

“Some detractors did say that this is going to turn the economy upside down, this is going to cost people more,” said Mark Sylvia, former Massachusetts energy resources commissioner.

“But in fact,” he said, “it did the exact opposite.”

With a clear signal from the government, the market responded. Clean energy is now a $13 billion industry in Massachusetts. Its workforce has grown 84 percent since 2010. The sector now employs more than 110,000 workers, three percent of the state’s workforce.

In Washington, the climate debate is polarized between Democrats calling for an end to fossil fuels and Republicans saying these proposals will destroy jobs, when they acknowledge the problem at all. Only recently did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky acknowledge that human activities are responsible for climate change.

Climate policy

But Massachusetts’ Republican Gov. Charlie Baker took over from a Democrat, Deval Patrick, and held firm on climate policy.

“In Massachusetts, climate change is not a partisan issue,” Baker told the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources in February.

“While we sometimes disagree on specific policies,” he added, “we understand the science and know the impacts are real because we’re experiencing them firsthand.”

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, left, watches as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker speaks while they testify before the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on climate change, on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

Baker noted that since he took office in 2015, the state has suffered damage from record snowfall, record storm flooding and record drought. Rising temperatures have hurt the state’s winter sports industry and fisheries.

“While many of these challenges are not new, they are more frequent and more damaging than ever,” he said.

Baker’s position on climate change has evolved since his unsuccessful 2010 run for governor. At that time, he told The Boston Globe newspaper he was “not smart enough to believe that I know” whether humans were responsible for global warming.

But in his testimony, he called for a federal target for greenhouse gas emission reductions, a proposal congressional Republicans have repeatedly rejected.

He noted that since the state set its target in 2008, “far from being an economic burden, we have seen close to a 70 percent increase over 1990 levels” in the state economy.

Baker recently rolled out an updated incentive program for solar power and is planning major offshore wind installations that are expected to create 3,600 local jobs.

And to pursue the jobs of the future, the state has provided more than $2 million in loans and grants to Greentown Labs, a business incubator for startups working on clean technologies.

The growth will not help everyone, however.

In the power generation business, “if you want to know where the jobs are, take an aerial view of the parking lot,” said Donnie Colston, head of the utility department at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

A coal plant may have 150 to 200 cars in the lot, Colston said.

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FILE – The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo. VOA

Workers

But a solar farm? No parking lot.

“We have members that will clean them, they’ll maintain them, they’ll make sure that they’re running properly,R