Too many Americans are out of work or need better-paying jobs. While Congress and the president have been distracted on other issues, our nation’s unemployment remains too high and prospects for recovery too dim. We must return to a real jobs agenda that neither raises taxes nor kills existing jobs.
When the administration or its supporters do mention jobs, it is usually sheep’s clothing hiding a wolf. I am talking about cap-and-trade bill proponents trying to hide the pain of their proposals behind a green jobs curtain. But the American people are duly skeptical of the potential for green jobs to overcome the burden of new energy taxes or the existing jobs that will be lost.
This Congress, the Senate created a subcommittee focusing exclusively on green jobs and the new economy, on which I am ranking member. In closely examining green jobs and programs that subsidize them, I found that some green jobs, such as wind and solar, require heavy taxpayer subsidies to create. Green jobs often offer sub-par wages to workers. Paying for green jobs subsidies with revenue from cap-and-trade taxes will kill existing jobs. Adding insult to injury, most of the good, new manufacturing green jobs are actually going overseas to cheaper manufacturing countries such as China and India.
A report I issued last spring, “Yellow Light on Green Jobs,” reviewed findings of green jobs, labor and environmental groups themselves. A coalition including the Sierra Club, International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union found that state and local taxpayer subsidies of tens of millions of dollars often produced only a few hundred jobs. Taxpayer subsidies worked out to $100,000 or more for each green job created. They were also critical of the quality of many of the subsidized green jobs. They found that many green jobs, whether in a wind turbine plant in Ohio or a solar plant in Portland, paid only $13 an hour, much less than needed to support a middle-income family.
Even subpar wages are too much for some renewable manufacturers. Solar companies that testified before our green jobs subcommittee this year are building all their new manufacturing plants overseas in Malaysia and China. No wonder, since the average Chinese engineer makes $7,100 per year and the average Chinese manufacturing worker earns $4,000 per year. For those green jobs advocates who say we should be more like China in renewable energy manufacturing, I don’t think the American people should accept wages less than $10,000.
Others, including the president, say we should be more like Europe and follow their green jobs and renewable energy lead. They cite Germany as a success story we should mimic. It is true that we could greatly expand the number of solar panels across America, but then we would also need German electricity bills, which are triple what Americans pay in order to subsidize expensive solar power.
I do believe there is a federal government role in spurring the creation and widespread adoption of affordable clean energy technology. I have voted for renewable energy tax provisions, but if wind and solar are ever to gain widespread use, they must get their costs down below the exorbitant $20-plus per megawatt hour generated federal taxpayer subsidy, now paid to the producing companies. The federal government with my support is also active in developing, deploying and subsidizing initial market entry of biofuels technology, clean coal technology and our next generation of nuclear technology. Each of these technology sources will produce the clean, domestic energy the American people need and create massive numbers of new jobs at the same time.
What we should not do is intentionally kill jobs as part of our effort to create new jobs elsewhere. Cap-and-trade legislation proponents are willing to kill millions of existing American jobs in order to create new jobs. They want the American people to suffer with higher priced energy — “putting a price on carbon” is their euphemism — so that the American people will use less traditional energy. Green jobs activists then want to divert climate tax revenues to fund their green jobs subsidies.
Unfortunately, that will also kill jobs in energy-intensive manufacturing sectors such as steel, cement, fertilizer, plastics, chemicals, glass and auto assembly. Communities across the manufacturing- and coal-dependent Midwest will suffer. Adding insult to injury, as blue-collar workers are fired from their traditional jobs in states such as Michigan and Missouri, they will pay new climate taxes to subsidize the creation of green jobs in China. That is not the jobs agenda America wants or needs.
Sen. Kit Bond is a Republican from Missouri.