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Koch-Funded 'Inconvenient Energy Fact' Gets It All Wrong

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Politico's Morning Energy reported Wednesday that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has assigned 110 staffers to meet a court-ordered July 1 deadline to produce a study of the agency's impact on coal jobs.


This many staff on the job may be overkill, particularly since a recent Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy report already quantified the impact of EPA regulations on coal.

While President Trump and Scott Pruitt have always been eager to blame the EPA for the fall of coal, the folks at Columbia Center found regulations for a scant 3.5 percent of the industry's decline. The biggest winner in the so-called War on Coal has been, as we and others have said, natural gas. Per the Columbia Center report, natural gas is responsible for half of the coal industry's decline, while reduced demand (thanks to energy efficiency) is responsible for a quarter and renewables 18 percent.

We're guessing these findings are not what the Trump administration wants to hear, so it will be interesting to see how the EPA report lines up with Columbia Center's.

Let's take a look at what stats the oil and gas lobby are propping up. A new post and graphic from the Koch-funded American Enterprise Institute (AEI) purports to prove that it takes 79 solar workers to produce the same amount of energy as one coal employee (or two natural gas workers). In other words, AEI is trying to argue that fossil fuels are better because they provide less employment—not quite as silly as it may seem in the context of Trump's incessant "coal jobs" drumbeat.

Before you get too excited about slamming AEI and praising solar's 80x job creation benefit over coal, remember the parable of the broken window. You can break windows and hire people to fix them, but that doesn't really grow the economy since that money could have been spent on anything else without having destroyed the windows. Solar is certainly creating lots of jobs, but that doesn't mean you should buy into AEI's framing. Jobs don't exist just for their own sake, it's the value they create over the long term that really matters to the economy.

That's not to say that AEI is right in its criticism (and no, we don't think solar jobs are a broken window-type issue). What's more, even if you were to accept AEI's premise, it didn't even get the numbers right. Peter O'Connor at the Union of Concerned Scientists checked the math and found AEI's figures to be wrong by roughly half (so only 35-50 solar workers to one coal job, instead of 79).

But there's an even bigger problem with AEI's comparison. A solar worker installs a solar panel that will then produce power for decades, whereas coal labor is measured on an annual basis. Factoring in this crucial distinction cuts the figure down considerably. By O'Connor's rough estimate, it's actually only two solar jobs per coal job.

There's more! O'Connor continues by pointing out that because of the incredibly risky nature of coal jobs and the fact that even unsubsidized solar is now cheaper than coal, solar is making a more efficient use of materials and labor, which is a more economically valid metric.

So while the Trump administration seems to be intent on going back to a time when coal was the undisputed king, the data clearly shows that there's no coming back for the industry.

We'd suggest Republicans update their talking points ASAP to reflect this new reality, but given the stream of highly concerning leaks that have been Russian out of the White House, we'll "let this go." (At least for now…)

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