So the White House said its priority was to lift the weight of a near dead economy off a jobs market stalled at 9.1% unemployment. It has tried to do this with massive stimulation of the renewable energy industry but to no avail. A series of high-profile bankruptcies of solar firms and dissapointing green job numbers sent the White House back to the drawing board for the president’s jobs plan.
We hope it will be effective. And in that spirit we offered some modest advice of our own: If you want to find out where the new jobs are, look at the industry that is creating them. Throughout the week following Labor Day, the NMA advertised the coal industry’s remarkable job creation record, an 8.5% increase over the past decade. We say “remarkable” not only because it was accomplished in a brutal recession that crushed other industries, but remarkable because we did this not with the government’s assistance, but often in spite of its opposition. While renewable energy companies got millions of dollars in federal stimulus money, coal companies got the EPA.
In addition to pointing out how Washington can create jobs, we also observed how not to create them. Obviously you won’t create employment opportunities by systematically destroying the industry that has provided them. “Obvious,” that is, to most people. But maybe not to the folks running the Sierrra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign dedicated to blocking power plant construction.
If you don’t know about the Beyond Coal Campaign, you should. It proudly takes credit for halting construction of 150 coal-based power plants in 36 states. The program is staffed with more than 75 lawyers who block permits and stifle plant construction at the local level. Contributions come from wealthy donors who are delighted with the program’s obstructionism and eager to rid the country of its most affordable energy source.
To help these folks understand why preventing coal-based power plant construction actually prevents jobs tied to these plants, the NMA recently ran some numbers for them. Using the club’s own claims for the plants they’ve stalled and power plant employment numbers taken from federal and private sources, the NMA found the club is responsible for the potential loss of up to 1.24 million jobs in 36 states. Altogether, we found the Beyond Coal campaign can assume responsibility for destroying almost 117,000 permanent jobs—mostly in plant operation and maintenance—and 1.2 million construction jobs represented by the power plants prevented from being built. Ten states heavily reliant on coal bear the brunt of these lost jobs, including Illinois, which was denied 126,612 jobs, and Texas’ 122,065.
“Only two conclusions are possible from this analysis,” said NMA President and CEO Hal Quinn. “Either the Sierra Club is exagerating the success of its program in stopping power plant construction, or it is succeeding but at the cost of hundreds of thoudands of high-wage jobs for American workers.” Surveying the number of plants stymied, one coal company lobbyist said it’s as if “the EPA just out-sourced its coal demolition work to a Sierra Club hit squad.”
This would be bad news for any economy, let alone in the grip of jobless recovery that for millions of Americans feels like a ruthless recession. Ironically, Beyond Coal also stymies cleaner electricity by blocking new plants with technologies that reduce more emissions than those they replace. As the president said, why let China build these plants when American workers can? Why, indeed.
The president is surely right that infrastructure projects can create jobs and quickly, too. That’s why blocking coal plant construction in the name of green energy only puts the economy deeper in the red.
Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.