As Congress continues to debate whether and how to keep helping workers and businesses impacted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, over three-quarters of House Democrats sent a letter Monday urging the lower chamber’s party leaders to ensure the delivery of further relief to the “crucial” clean energy industry, which has been “decimated” by the public health crisis and resulting economic fallout.
“With more support and resources for clean energy, we can save thousands of good American jobs, create new ones, and ensure that we don’t go backward in our fight against the climate crisis, but we must act now.”
—Rep. Mike Levin
“The clean energy industry, which includes renewable energy, clean vehicles, energy efficiency, and energy storage, is an integral and broad part of the American economy,” says the letter (pdf) to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), which was spearheaded by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), and Mike Levin (D-Calif.).
“As the coronavirus pandemic continues to undermine every sector of our economy, we cannot forget about the clean energy workers who are so desperately needed to help combat the climate crisis and protect our planet for future generations,” Levin said in a statement. “With more support and resources for clean energy, we can save thousands of good American jobs, create new ones, and ensure that we don’t go backward in our fight against the climate crisis, but we must act now.”
The letter, signed by 180 House lawmakers, explains that the clean energy sector involves “capital-intensive projects that require significant upfront costs,” and many of these projects are now in limbo due to various problems related to the pandemic, including social distancing requirements, delays in permitting, tax credit deadlines and reductions, and constrained financing and supply chains.
As the letter says:
To put it simply, this is a project pipeline problem—if these companies do not have projects to work on, they cannot keep their workers employed. We urge you to enact a series of policies that will provide relief and certainty to this sector. This includes providing relief and certainty for constrained tax equity financing by allowing tax credits to be received as a direct payment. Additionally, by delaying the phasedown of existing renewable energy tax incentives, we can ensure that we actually see the benefits of policies and provide more certainty.
“Now this industry needs economic relief, and Congress must act soon,” the letter adds. “Investments in clean energy pay back dividends because of the breadth and geography that are impacted—either job losses will devastate the communities we represent, or economic relief for this sector will help them weather this crisis.”
The letter—which references figures from mid-May about how many clean energy jobs have been lost since the pandemic starting causing lockdowns across the United States earlier this year—was sent to Democratic House leaders as a new numbers were released in an analysis of the Department of Labor’s unemployment data Monday.
From March through May, at least 620,590 workers lost jobs in the clean energy sector, which “was among the U.S. economy’s biggest and fastest-growing employment sectors” before the pandemic, according to an analysis conducted by BW Research Partnership for Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), E4TheFuture, and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).
In May alone, over 27,000 clean energy jobs were lost. The groups that commissioned the analysis said in a joint statement Monday that “while May saw an improvement in new unemployment claims over March and April, the findings represent the sector’s third straight month of significant job losses across solar, wind, energy efficiency, clean vehicles, and other industries.”
“With coronavirus cases once again rising in many states and companies beginning to run out of the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) funding that has helped small businesses keep workers employed,” the groups warned, “the report increases concerns the sector will be unable to resume its economy-leading jobs growth in the short- or long-term without a significant policy response.”
E2 executive director Bob Keefe said that May was “sadly an improvement in the rate of jobs shed but make no mistake: There remains huge uncertainty and volatility ahead. It will be very tough for clean energy to make up these continuing job losses without support from Congress. Lawmakers must act now. If they do, we can get hundreds of thousands of these workers back on the job today and build a better, cleaner, more equitable economy for tomorrow. And who doesn’t want that?”
The lawmakers’ letter and unemployment analysis about the clean energy industry come amid widespread demands for a green and just recovery from the pandemic that prioritizes creating millions of decent jobs to swiftly transition to a zero-carbon future and providing aid directly to communities and workers rather than shareholders, executives, and corporations that aren’t committed to tackling the climate crisis.
Despite those demands for building back better—and some recent federal relief for renewable energy projects prompted by a letter from three Republican senators to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin—the Trump administration has come under fire from environmentalists for “exploiting this pandemic to bailout Big Oil companies that have been struggling long before coronavirus,” in the words of Friends of the Earth.
Bolstering arguments and analyses that the planet-wrecking fossil fuel industry is “dying”—and its demise could be hastened by the pandemic—BP announced Monday that it will write down nearly $18 billion in existing assets. In response to that news, Jamie Henn of Fossil Free Media and Stop the Money Pipeline told Common Dreams that “Big Oil is finally admitting what we’ve been saying for the last 10 years.”