Where the Jobs Are: the Clean Energy Sector Continues to Grow and Employ Americans

Tonight President Obama will present his plan for putting Americans back to work. He's got no small task in front of him. There aren’t any easy answers for how to create jobs in this dismal economy.

But there is one bright spot that's likely to get short shrift tonight on both sides of the aisle, so let me shine a bright light on a corner of our economy that is actually growing jobs: clean energy.

This sector grew nearly twice as fast as the overall economy between 2003 and 2010.

In fact, more than 2.7 million people are working in the clean economy right now. That’s more than the entire fossil fuel industry employs, a new report by the Brookings Institution found.

Nearly 90,000 Americans make their living building wind turbines, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2001, the U.S. had one-tenth of the wind capacity it does today. Now it provides 3 percent of our nation’s electricity and 8 percent in Texas, and machinists, steelworkers, and construction workers have more opportunities to apply their skills. 

More than 150,000 Americans currently have jobs assembling clean cars—hybrids, electric cars, and other advanced vehicles that weren’t available 10 years ago. They work at facilities in 43 states, according to a report published by NRDC, the United Auto Workers, and the National Wildlife Federation.

Some pundits claim that green jobs have failed to materialize. They seem to think because green jobs did not single-handedly fix a global economic crisis caused by bad mortgage debt that clean energy is not a good path for America.

These numbers prove them wrong. They demonstrate that the clean economy is not only providing millions of jobs, it is also already reducing our dependence on dirty fossil fuels, strengthening our national security, and leading America into a cleaner, more competitive future.

And it is doing this against all odds. The clean energy sector is growing even in the midst of the worst economic recession in decades, and at a time when corporations are sitting on nearly $2 trillion in cash instead of investing in new ventures. It is also emerging in the total absence of new national legislation to promote clean energy. If it can thrive under these conditions, imagine what clean energy will do in the presence of smart policies and strategic incentives.

Many of the jobs within the clean economy didn’t exist 10 years ago; now they are providing paychecks for American workers. This confirms that the way to create jobs is through innovation—not degradation.

For months, extreme voices within the GOP have been attacking the environmental safeguards that make our air clean and our water safe to drink. When their efforts failed to gain traction in Congress, House Majority Leader Cantor repackaged their anti-government rant and passed it off as a so-called jobs plan. But no matter what they call it, the goal remains the same: making it easier to pollute.

That’s not a jobs program; it’s a polluter bailout program.

President Obama offered his own dirty giveaway last week when he decided to postpone setting stronger limits on smog pollution. The new standard would have saved thousands of lives, but Obama chose to curry favor with dirty industries and their Congressional allies instead.

Since when has going backward to dirtier, darker days ever helped America move forward?

New technologies, more innovation, better health, greater efficiency—these are the things that will propel us into a prosperous future. And the nearly 3 million people already working in the clean economy are pointing the way.