Quantcast

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

Popular

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…)

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pro-environment demonstrators on the streets of Washington, DC during the Jan. 20, 2017 Trump inauguration. Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Dr. Brian R. Shmaefsky

One year after the Flint Water Crisis I was invited to participate in a water rights session at a conference hosted by the US Human Rights Network in Austin, Texas in 2015. The reason I was at the conference was to promote efforts by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to encourage scientists to shine a light on how science intersects with human rights, in the U.S. as well as in the context of international development. My plan was to sit at an information booth and share my stories about water quality projects I spearheaded in communities in Bangladesh, Colombia, and the Philippines. I did not expect to be thrown into conversations that made me reexamine how scientists use their knowledge as a public good.

Read More
Mt. Rainier and Reflection Lake on Sept. 10, 2015. Crystal Geyser planned to open a bottling plant near Mt. Rainier, emails show. louelke - on and off / Flickr

Bottled water manufacturers looking to capture cool, mountain water from Washington's Cascade Mountains may have to look elsewhere after the state senate passed a bill banning new water permits, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
Sponsored
Large storage tank of Ammonia at a fertilizer plant in Cubatão, Sao Paulo State, Brazil. Luis Veiga / The Image Bank / Getty Images

The shipping industry is coming to grips with its egregious carbon footprint, as it has an outsized contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and to the dumping of chemicals into open seas. Already, the global shipping industry contributes about 2 percent of global carbon emissions, about the same as Germany, as the BBC reported.

Read More
At high tide, people are forced off parts of the pathway surrounding DC's Tidal Basin. Andrew Bossi / Wikimedia

By Sarah Kennedy

The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC overlooks the Tidal Basin, a man-made body of water surrounded by cherry trees. Visitors can stroll along the water's edge, gazing up at the stately monument.

But at high tide, people are forced off parts of the path. Twice a day, the Tidal Basin floods and water spills onto the walkway.

Read More
Lioness displays teeth during light rainstorm in Kruger National Park, South Africa. johan63 / iStock / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Ahead of government negotiations scheduled for next week on a global plan to address the biodiversity crisis, 23 former foreign ministers from various countries released a statement on Tuesday urging world leaders to act "boldly" to protect nature.

Read More