Friday, May 20, 2011

Green jobs? Oh, right...

Mount Tom's owner, GDF Suez, has more good news for renewable-energy workers. So long as those renewable-energy workers are in Europe, of course. The company is investing in three new wind farms in the English Channel in partnership with the nuclear-power company Areva. I don't begrudge Europeans their economic recovery, but I have to ask: How do we bring some of those green jobs to Western Massachusetts?

Part of the answer is public policy. Just as renewable-energy action plans in the member states of the European Union are spurring job creation across the Atlantic, more action on the part of our state government would help. To that end, on Wednesday, May 18, a committee of the Massachusetts Legislature heard testimony about two Sierra Club-sponsored bills that would (1) move Massachusetts beyond coal toward a clean-energy economy and (2) regulate hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Later that day I spoke with Steve Hoeschele on his new TV show, Mass Political Action, about why we need to phase out coal, beat back fracking, and generate jobs. If you follow the link to watch the show, don't let the 10 seconds or so of black screen at the start put you off!

My testimony to the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy explained the link between HB 2612 (the coal phase-out bill) and HB 3055 (the beat-back-fracking bill) which is this: Under 2612, power companies have until the year 2020 to either retire their coal-burning facilities or repower them to renewable energy or to natural gas. If they choose natural gas, perhaps as a step toward generating electricity from hydrogen, they have to meet HB 3055's new public-health standards. Under 3055, the companies would have to publicly disclose the chemicals used in the natural gas extraction process and certify that the process didn't poison people's drinking water.

Right now we get about half of our electricity from natural gas. It emits less CO2 than coal, but the natural-gas extraction process (fracking) has serious public health impacts. So HB 3055 requires power companies to certify that they didn't pollute drinking water while bringing their natural gas to the surface. If you'd like to know more about the dangers of fracking, you can skim this recent congressional report. Be sure you're sitting down, by the way.

Generating green jobs in Massachusetts means leveling the playing field between renewables and fossil fuels. That involves forcing power companies to internalize more of the costs society as a whole has been paying for dirty air and polluted water. When the new EPA regulations come into effect they should do just that -- stimulate green jobs -- as this report from the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, explains. Disclosure: I'm working at PERI but had no part in writing the report.

While the EPA regulations will help, we shouldn't expect much more from Washington, D.C., in the near future (see previous Mass Greens blog posts). But in the absence of federal legislation, there are steps we can take here in Massachusetts to accelerate the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy, e.g. enacting HB 2612 and HB 3055. That's what Steve Hoeschele and I discuss on the show, so please check out the interview on Mass Political Action -- or selected highlights -- and let me know what you think.

No comments: