According to presidential candidate Joe Biden’s website:
“We need millions of construction, skilled trades, and engineering workers to build a new American infrastructure and clean energy economy. These jobs will create pathways for young people and for older workers shifting to new professions, and for people from all backgrounds and all communities. Their work will improve air quality for our children, increase the comfort of our homes, and make our businesses more competitive. The investments will make sure the communities who have suffered the most from pollution are first to benefit — including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of color, and Native communities. And, Biden’s plan will empower workers to organize unions and bargain collectively with their employers as they rebuild the middle class and a more sustainable future.”
Biden’s $2 trillion plan promises to massively raise taxes; eliminate jobs in the coal, oil. and natural gas and construction industries; and raise energy prices. Biden is pushing extreme policies that would severely hurt the economy when it is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. Biden’s plan to mandate a transition from gas-fired power to renewable energy will hasten the decline of union jobs and add to the strife the industry is already feeling due to the pandemic.
The Energy Job Market
Biden’s proposed transition from oil and gas to renewable energy would result in lower pay for blue-collar workers and possibly lower benefits as well. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for May 2019, the average annual pay for gas and oil extraction workers was $96,600—twice that for solar panel installers ($46,850) and almost 60 percent higher than the average salary for a wind turbine technician ($61,270). Further, workers who have completed an apprentice program or otherwise dedicated years of their lives in a profession do not want to see their skill sets devalued or be thrown into junior positions in a new occupation. Laid-off workers will not be able to immediately find a new job at the same wage, but will likely spend a significant amount of time searching for work, and will most likely need to accept a lower wage in the new job market.
Further, new jobs may not be available where workers currently live, requiring them to relocate. Workers, who may own a home and have raised a family near a current job, may not want to upend their careers. And, those who are near the end of their careers would probably have difficulty transitioning to something so different than their current occupations. For those facing major industry upheavals, the path to a new career is often unclear and the outcome uncertain. While this applies for all job-changers, it becomes especially acute for those presented with a government embargo on their chosen field of work deliberately. This is precisely what Joe Biden’s plans to phase out the U.S.’s predominant fuels.
Biden’s promise of union jobs is also unrealistic since the renewable energy sector largely lacks union representation. According to a January 2017 report by the U.S. Department of Energy, only 3.4 percent of solar photovoltaic workers were unionized and only 4 percent of workers in wind power generation were unionized, compared to a national workplace average of 11 percent.
Along with losing high-paying jobs, keeping conventional fuels in the ground in the United States would amount to giving up billions of dollars in annual oil and gas exports along with related jobs and tax revenue, as well as that economic and national security leverage such exports have only recently given us. Dozens of states from Appalachia to the Gulf Coast to the Rocky Mountain region are critically dependent on fossil energy for jobs and for state and local tax revenues.
Even if the United States were to remake its society, industry, and economy and even if the nation achieved 100-percent decarbonization, it would not accomplish the goal of limiting global warming to targets of 1.5 or 2 degrees Centigrade proposed by the Paris climate accord. Estimates using EPA-approved climate models suggest reductions of at most 0.14 degrees Centigrade by 2100 if U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are reduced immediately.
Further, nothing the United States does alone will slow the increase in greenhouse gas emissions. New coal-fired and natural gas-fired capacity by other countries would likely offset any carbon emission reductions achieved. Shutting down carbon emissions in the United States merely invites a proportional increase in emissions abroad.
Biden does not describe exactly how he would pay for the $2 trillion in new spending that he needs to kick-start his plan. Some of it, according to advisers, would be through stimulus funding, which would add to the growing federal deficit, and/or Biden may rescind the tax cuts pushed by President Trump and approved by Congress in 2017, and/or he may “ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.” Even if Biden wins the presidency, much of his climate plan would require legislation from Congress—a tall order even if Democrats take back the Senate and win the White House.
Retraining programs have been tried before and have not worked well due to lower salaries, less benefits, relocation complexities, and age issues. The retraining that Biden’s plan would entail would be enormous and difficult to implement especially when the economy is suffering from the devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic. His promises of well-paying union jobs are just that—promises. Americans, especially those working in the energy industry, should carefully examine Biden’s plan, its costs, and its ramifications before endorsing it.