Experts say jobs will sway voters on clean energy

A screenshot of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaking to the Making Progress 2014 policy conference in Washington D.C. Wednesday.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says clean energy means more jobs. She gave the keynote address at the Making Progress 2014 policy conference in Washington D.C. Wednesday. Screenshot from a livestream.

By Michael Epstein

Environmental leaders stressed job opportunities as a key strategy in advocating for environmental policies, such as the push for more clean energy.

Experts gathered a pair of environment-themed panels at the Making Progress 2014 conference Wednesday in Washington D.C. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s keynote address connected the Obama administration’s 56 months of private-sector job growth to the renewable energy sector.

“Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar,” McCarthy declared.

“If you talk in generalities, if you talk from the point of view of the globe and if you talk from the point of view of science, you’re in a lot of trouble, ” said clean energy lobbyist Thomas Steyer. “For this issue to resonate, you have to speak on a hyper-local basis and you have to speak on a human basis.”

Steyer, the billionaire former hedge fund manager at Farrallon Capital, switched careers to become an environmentally minded political strategist and campaign financier in 2012. He relayed his experience working campaigning on environmental issues during the 2014 midterms elections, with an eye towards how they may define future races.

More than anything, moving beyond buzzwords and connecting issues to local problems that will have a serious impact on voters’ quality of life, Steyer said.

“It is unrealistic to ask the voters in Florida to lie awake at night thinking about the drought in California,” Steyer said. “And it’s unrealistic to ask the voters in Iowa to lie awake at night worried about the fact that salt water is running down the street of Miami Beach.”

McCarthy’s keynote focused on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which tasks individual states with implementing a set of carbon emissions standards that will reduce the carbon dioxide output of the nation’s power plants to 30 percent below 2005 levels.

According to the plan’s projections, that reduction will be driven by expanding natural gas and renewable energy markets that can compensate for a reduced output from coal. The challenge to the coal establishment may be at the heart of the controversy surrounding the plan, according to a report from the Brookings Institute.

McCarthy tied the Clean Power Plan to job creation on several fronts. She described the expansion of natural gas and renewable energy resources as an opportunity for new investments as well as jobs.

“We don’t regulate to drive regulations,” McCarthy said. “We regulate to drive markets. That is how we’re going to win.”