Green group proposes nearly $6T infrastructure and clean energy stimulus plan

Source: By Rachel Frazin, The Hill • Posted: Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Sierra Club is putting forth a nearly $6 trillion, 10-year stimulus plan that aims to create millions of jobs in both traditional infrastructure and clean energy.

The group commissioned a report from economists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which was shared first with The Hill. The report proposes a plan for creating 4.6 million jobs to upgrade infrastructure annually and another 4.5 million jobs to transition to a clean energy economy annually. 

“Congress needs to enact a plan for economic renewal, not a return to the unjust status quo,” Ben Beachy, the director of the Sierra Club’s Living Economy Program, told The Hill.

“Congress needs to enact a forward-looking stimulus package that would put millions of people back to work while building an economy that supports cleaner air and water, higher wages, healthier communities, greater equity and a more stable climate,” Beachy said. 

The traditional infrastructure jobs included in the proposal would be for improving roads, schools, public parks and recreation and other areas. The clean energy and agriculture jobs are in areas such solar and wind energy, energy efficiency and land restoration. 

The report follows the House’s passage of a $3 trillion stimulus package earlier this month that includes funding to help low-income households pay for water and energy, but does not include specific assistance for the clean energy industry. At the time, environmentalists including the Sierra Club had called for something more ambitious.

“The package that Congress passed would provide essential relief for families and workers,” Beachy said. “As we look forward, we also need a plan to put millions of people back to work building a healthier, more equitable economy.”

Other environmental groups have also put forth stimulus proposals. A group of former presidential campaign staffers for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) proposed a $1.5 trillion plan this month. 

Republicans, meanwhile, have criticized the idea of promoting environmental measures in coronavirus stimulus legislation. 

For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in March said that Democrats were “willing to extort a crisis to try to advance their political agenda.”

Environmentalists have argued, however, that stimulus legislation should move the country toward a clean energy future rather than continuing the status quo. 

Of the 4.5 million clean energy transition jobs outlined in the Sierra Club’s new report, about 3.2 million would be in clean energy, 700,000 would be in energy efficiency and 500,000 would be in land and agriculture. 

These clean energy jobs would entail a $320 billion public investment annually. The report assumes this public investment would be matched with an equal private investment. It estimates that the $640 billion spent annually on clean energy in total would lower carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent by 2030. 

“We have to recognize that the climate crisis isn’t going away just because we have a pandemic,” said economist Robert Pollin.  “The climate crisis won’t end unless we take decisive, structural action to move out of our fossil fuel-dominant energy system onto  clean energy system.”

In a summary of the report, the Sierra Club calls for the jobs created to fit specific environmental, labor and equity standards, including that at least 40 percent of infrastructure spending should be invested in communities that are low-income, nonwhite or facing disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic or climate change. 

The Sierra Club has also previously called on Congress to pass stimulus investments that would help the environment. 

Meanwhile, the clean energy sector appears to have been hit hard by the pandemic. A recent analysis has found that nearly 600,000 clean energy jobs have been lost since its start. The economy at large is also suffering, with the national unemployment rate at 14.7 percent.